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Are Feminine Hygiene Products Safe for Treating Vaginal Odor?

Proper vaginal hygiene is essential, as it can prevent and reduce the chances of infection. Despite the vagina’s self-cleaning ability, it requires extra care to stay healthy. Many people with vaginas may turn to feminine hygiene products to clean their vulva if they’re experiencing odors. These products, available over the counter at grocery stores and pharmacies, promise users they can remove vaginal odor and keep the vagina clean, but are they safe?

Key takeaways:

Here’s a look into what feminine hygiene products for odor are on the market and whether they are safe for maintaining vaginal health.

What causes feminine odor?

Before examining feminine hygiene products, it’s crucial to understand what factors contribute to feminine odor. For example, the vagina can give off a natural scent that varies with each individual. This smell is typically mild, sour, or musky, but not unpleasant.

Here are some factors that can cause vaginal odor to develop:

  • Sweating. Genital perspiration in and around the vagina can cause a natural, pungent odor.
  • Bad hygiene. Certain lifestyle habits, such as bad hygiene, play a role in developing an unpleasant vaginal odor.
  • Poor diet. Similar to hygiene, having an unhealthy diet can contribute to changes in vaginal scent. Diets high in sugar, meats, and dairy products can kill healthy bacteria in the vagina. In addition, specific foods, like garlic, spices, onion, broccoli, coffee, and asparagus, can alter vaginal odor.
  • Menstruation. During menstruation, the vagina can release a metallic, copper-like odor due to a mixture of blood, sweat, and vaginal secretions.
  • Pregnancy. Expecting mothers can experience a mild or strong vaginal odor throughout pregnancy.
  • Sex. Vaginal odor can change during and after sex due to contact with sweat, semen, and other bodily fluids mixing with vaginal fluid. In other cases, a fishy, off-putting order may signify a sexually transmitted disease (STD).
  • Bacterial vaginosis (BV). BV is a vaginal infection that occurs when vaginal bacteria become unbalanced. People with BV can experience a fishy odor. Sexual intercourse and douching can cause BV to develop, though it is not an STD.
  • STDs. As mentioned earlier, certain STDs, like trichomoniasis (or “trich”), chlamydia, and gonorrhea, can cause a change in vaginal odor.
  • Forgotten tampon. A retained tampon can release a foul vaginal odor and discharge until it’s removed. If the vagina continues to emit an unpleasant odor after removing the tampon, it could be a sign of a health issue.
  • Recto vaginal fistula. This condition occurs when holes develop between the vagina and rectum. Childbirth and pelvic surgeries can cause a recto vaginal fistula. One symptom that can arise from having a recto vaginal fistula is foul-smelling vaginal odor and discharge.
  • Cervical cancer. Cervical cancer can cause a heavy vaginal discharge with a strong odor.

Types of feminine odor products

To fend off strong or unpleasant vaginal odor, some people purchase feminine hygiene odor products. These products are available in most grocery stores, corner stores, and pharmacies over the counter.

Common types of vaginal cleaning products include:

  • Cleansing wipes. Like baby wipes, feminine cleansing (or body) wipes are used to clean the outer part of the vagina to reduce odor.
  • Feminine oils. Yoni, lavender, tea tree, and peppermint oils are often used to address vaginal odor. The user applies the oil to the labia to help control odor.
  • Feminine spray. There are scented sprays that aim to freshen the vaginal scent. They are not sprayed directly inside the vagina, but on the outer parts.
  • Feminine deodorant. Feminine deodorants are scented products applied outside the vagina to reduce perspiration (sweat) and vaginal odor.
  • Vaginal probiotics. Many brands offer vaginal probiotics that aim to help restore the vagina’s pH balance. Some probiotics come in pill form that can be swallowed or as suppositories, which are inserted into the vagina.
  • Feminine cleansing wash. Available as bar soap or body wash, feminine cleansing washes are commonly used to wash away feminine odor and discharge.
  • Douches. Douches are products containing a mixture of water and other fluids that are directly inserted into the vagina to eliminate odors and cleanse the inside of the vagina.

Are feminine odor products safe to use?

For the most part, many feminine odor products on the market are unsafe to use on the vagina. In addition, continued use of feminine cleansing products may make people with vaginas develop certain health conditions.

Using these products can cause adverse health outcomes, such as:

  • Bacterial vaginosis (BV);
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID);
  • STDs;
  • Urinary tract infections (UTI);
  • Ovarian cancer.

In addition, there’s just not enough evidence that proves feminine hygiene products for vaginal odor are beneficial for vaginal health. Remember, the vagina is a self-cleaning organ, so harsh products can affect the vagina’s ability to protect itself from harmful bacteria.

However, if a feminine hygiene product must be used to address vaginal odor, probiotics are the safest method. Vaginal probiotics can balance the flora in the vagina, help regulate endocrine function, and prevent cervical cancer progression. For those experiencing BV, vaginal probiotics can help treat this vaginal infection.

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How to prevent feminine odor

To avoid strong or unpleasant vaginal odor, try these safe and alternative methods for optimal vaginal health.

  • Practice good hygiene;
  • Use warm water and mild, unscented soap to clean the vagina;
  • Drink enough water;
  • Eat a balanced diet;
  • Wear breathable clothing;
  • Avoid douching;
  • Wear condoms and use unscented lubricants.

How to treat vaginal odor

If these tips are ineffective, a healthcare professional can prescribe antibiotics like clindamycin, metronidazole, and tinidazole to treat strong vaginal odor. For sexually active people, getting regular STD tests can help to get an early diagnosis if sexual intercourse has caused an unpleasant vaginal odor or discharge. If you notice that you’re experiencing itching and burning alongside a foul-smelling vaginal odor, please visit your healthcare provider.

If you have any concerns about your vaginal health, please consult your doctor to receive professional medical advice.

People with vaginas can develop a strong vaginal odor due to sweat, bad hygiene, menstruation, pregnancy, and STDs, among other reasons. Unless you use vaginal probiotics, feminine hygiene products should be avoided. To prevent vaginal odor, incorporate healthy lifestyle habits, and use warm water and unscented, mild soaps to clean the vagina. The recommended way to treat vaginal odor is with medications prescribed by a doctor.

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