We find so many products called vaginal cleansers that offer help for “vaginal odor” and vaginal discharge, and “keep you fresh”. From deodorant to cleaning with cucumber, “panty liners” flavored, and the latest “vaginal” vaporizing trend. These products actively promote the view that the woman’s vagina should be free of whiteness and odorless, or the scent of rose petals or vanilla.
Many women regard whiteness as unwanted and unnatural, even though it is physiological and normal. Data show about half of women use “panty liner” to absorb whiteness, with nearly 30% using it daily. Indeed Australian women are generally not big fans of “douching,” a French term for vaginal cleansing with a liquid spray, but it is still important to understand why cleaning the vagina is not recommended.
What is whiteness, and why is it important?
The vagina cleans itself, and vaginal discharge plays an important role in maintaining vaginal health. Since puberty, when estrogen is produced, the vagina is colonized by healthy bacteria from the Lactobacillus group that produces lactic acid.
Healthy whiteness comes from the fluid from the vaginal wall, mucus of the cervix and lactobacilli, and because the vaginal environment is affected hormonally, do not be surprised by the difference in whitish volume throughout the month, this is completely normal.
In addition to providing a protective environment, whiteness provides natural lubrication with about 1 to 4 ml of fluid produced every 24 hours. healthy whiteness has a distinctive aroma-and in some women the aroma may be stronger due to the large number of sweat glands in the pubic hair area. So although cleaning the inside of the vagina is not recommended, but it is important to keep the outer skin clean.
Disturbance in healthy vaginal environment
Anything put into the vagina potentially disrupts the vaginal environment and balance the vaginal flora, including tampons, penises, condoms, sperm fluids, fingers, and even clean sex toys.
In this case, the disturbance is almost always temporary and the vagina fixes itself immediately.
But this is not the case of vaginal cleansing products, or repeated douching. Homemade cleaning fluids usually contain water and vinegar, and commercial products contain antiseptics and fragrances that can reduce lactobacilli and reduce the whitish protective effect.
In Australia the “Miss V treatment” is the latest. Citing a promoted version on Gwyneth Paltrow’s website, GOOP:
You sit on something like a mini throne, then a combination of mugwort and infra red steam cleanse your uterus, and others. This is an energetic release-not just a steam cleaner-that balances female hormone levels.
Regardless of the risk of burning and blistering, there are many reasons not to do vaginal evaporation. Not only does steam have a drying effect on the vagina, it can also interfere with vaginal microbiomes and reduce the body’s natural protective against infection.
While steam will not actually reach the uterus, spraying hot herbal steam into these vital organs is useless and can be dangerous. There is certainly no benefit from this pseudo-scientific treatment of female hormone levels.
When to seek medical help
Although leucorrhoea is normal, should seek medical help when experiencing significant changes in volume, color, or whitish odor.
Changes in leucorrhoea may be a sign of infection, although most sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including chlamydia and gonorrhea, usually do not cause changes in vaginal discharge.
The most frequent causes are Candida (vaginal thrush) or bacterial vaginosis (BV) that occurs when the vaginal flora is colonized by excessive fungus (Candida) or other vaginal bacteria.
BV is a condition in which the vagina can not restore its normal state and become more alkaline. The alkalinity of menstrual blood may be associated with BV.
Lactobacilli is reduced and replaced by other vaginal bacteria that can be associated with increased whitish grayishness and odor. Although this condition is not considered harmful, for women living with BV, having a persistent and odorous whiteness can be debilitating and should see a doctor to discuss how to cope with the condition.
As doctors working on sexual health, we want to help women to do what is normal and what is not. It is important to stop these practices posing as clinical treatment but have no evidence base. Whitish is healthy and plays an important role in fighting infection. Trying to get rid of it does not make sense and it can actually be dangerous.
Dr. Ellie Freedman, Medical Director at the Northern Sydney Sexual Assault Service Specialist Clinic at the Royal North Shore Hospital co-authored this article.
Deborah Bateson, Clinical Associate Professor, Discipline of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Neonatology, University of Sydney