Care for the most intimate part of your body with three simple tips (that could also save you money.)
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While frantically running a razor over my bikini line before an unexpected trip to the beach (hey, we’ve all been there), it dawned on me: I devote time and money to my eyebrows and toenails. But, um…what about my vagina? (Yep, I’m looking at you, razor burn and yeast infection.)
Am I neglecting this womanly, intimate body part?
I hopped out of the shower determined to discover ways to care for and navigate my vaginal health without compromising my budget or comfort level. I didn’t want to try out vaginal steaming (a la Gwyneth Paltrow) or stick jade eggs up there. After digging into the science and talking to an expert, here’s are three simple, practical tips I discovered:
Get more ‘good’ bacteria
Yes, there’s such a thing. The vagina naturally contains healthy bacteria, often referred to as the “vaginal flora.” While many strains of this “good” bacteria exist in the vagina, one of the most common types is lactobacillus. It helps fight and prevent dreaded urinary tract infections (UTIs), yeast infections, and bacterial vaginosis (another common and treatable infection).
Here’s how this works: Lactobacillus produces hydrogen peroxide (the same stuff that’s in your medicine or kitchen cabinet) inside the vagina. Hydrogen peroxide fights the harmful bacteria that causes the aforementioned issues, the same way you’d use it to disinfect a wound.
How does one load up on lactobacillus? Taking a daily probiotic supplement is one option, but bottles can be pricey, ranging anywhere from $10 to $75. Eating probiotic-rich foods like sauerkraut, kombucha, kimchi, kefir, pickles, yogurt, tempeh, miso soup, and dark chocolate can be more affordable (not to mention tasty) ways to keep your vaginal flora in bloom. Try adding an extra dollop of yogurt to your homemade smoothie, or grab a kombucha instead of going for your usual afternoon latte.
Stop using specialty products
But here’s the thing: Lactobacilli can only survive in acidic environments, meaning it’s critical to keep the pH of your vagina in an acidic range. Fortunately, the hormone estrogen enables this pH to naturally exist. However, using products like douches, wipes, sprays, or body washes down there can disrupt the vagina’s pH. Not only can this increase the likelihood of infection (since the healthy bacteria can no longer thrive and put up a good fight), but it also reduces the vagina’s natural cleansing capability.
The good news? Since douches, sprays claiming to make your vagina smell better, or even regular body wash can often be more harmful than helpful, there’s no need to spend your money on these items. For example, I used to always squirt extra body wash onto my hand and use it to wash my vagina (the internal canal). Now, I only wash with warm water, because I know the hydrogen peroxide-producing lactobacilli have got me covered (my armpits could use the extra suds, anyways).
If you choose to remove, add at-home exfoliation—not pricey treatments
I recently read about a new spa offering called the “vajacial.” Yep, that’s a facial for the vagina, or rather, the vulva (the vulva refers to the area where hair is typically removed, whereas the vagina is actually the internal canal). The main purpose of the vajacial is to remove any ingrown hairs caused by waxing or shaving through extractions, which unclog and drain ingrown hairs as well as blackheads or acne in this area.
After praising the marketing genius that came up with the term “vajacial,” I experienced a wave of self-consciousness. Glancing at my own razor bumps from shaving and waxing, I wondered if a monthly vajacial might make me feel more confident in bed or at the pool.
I asked Dr. Leah Millheiser, a gynecologist at Stanford Health, about the safety and effectiveness of this technique, which can cost over $100. To my surprise, she told me to save my money and take things into my own hands. “Vajacials are not medically necessary nor tested, and I do not recommend them,” she says. “Most aestheticians performing vajacials are not trained on the impact of hormones and hormonal changes on the vulva, whose skin is much more sensitive than the face.”
Because of this, Dr. Millheiser warns that vajacials can actually put women at risk for infections, inflammation, and irritation—the very same afflictions most are actually trying to avoid by getting a vajacial. Instead, she suggests using a gentle exfoliator on the vulva (not the vagina) three times per week to keep ingrowns and clogged pores at bay. I picked up an $10 scrub from CVS and have been enjoying a smoother, more even-toned bikini line ever since.
Who knew that in some cases, taking better care of my vagina could actually help me avoid spending? Warm water and at-home exfoliation for the win! Plus, what’s more empowering than taking care of your body and knowing the way you’re doing it is practical and pragmatic?