First things first, let’s clarify what we mean by “down there.” Sometimes the vagina and the vulva get lumped together, but they are very different body parts. The vagINa is on the INside and the vulva is on the outside.
DON’T: Wash the Vagina
Do not, we repeat DO NOT, wash your vagina. The concept of internal vaginal cleansing became mainstream in the late 1800s when Lysol started promoting its product for use as a douche. Yikes. Other products followed suit, and soon douches and other products targeting vaginal odor filled the shelves. Thankfully, we now know that you shouldn’t use commercial-grade chemicals on your sweet spots, but we also know that the vagina is self-cleaning. Need proof? Look no further than discharge. Anything that doesn’t belong or is no longer needed gets flushed out all on its own. The vagina doesn’t need help doing its job. In fact, internal cleansing can actually disrupt the natural balance of vaginal flora and lead to issues like bacterial vaginosis.
One notable exception here is for trans women who have undergone gender reassignment surgery. Post-op douching may be recommended to help minimize complications.
DO: Respect All Skin
Cleansing your most sacred skin is a personal choice - your body, your rules! Because vulvar skin is skin, it’s prone to the same bacterial buildup and odor as the rest of you. For some, feminine wash is part of their everyday routine. Others find just rinsing with water works wonders. But even if you’re not specifically washing your vulva, gravity is still a thing. So whatever products you’re using to cleanse the rest of your body are likely to come into contact with vulvar skin.
Back in the early 2000’s, SweetSpot Labs founder Shari Creed noticed itching and irritation and assumed it was a yeast infection. In reality, she was experiencing contact dermatitis triggered by sulfates in her body wash and shampoo. She was frustrated to find that most body washes and even feminine washes contained irritants, allergens, and ingredients that disrupt the balance of intimate skin. So, she decided to create a solution that could be safely used from chin to toe and everywhere in between. She quit her job and dedicated herself to cleaning up the personal care aisle with vulva-safe products that put skin health above all else. Thanks to her leadership, feminine wash has come a long way, but there are still formulas out there that can compromise vulvar skin.
Ingredients to Avoid in Feminine Wash
Many soaps contain harsh surfactants that can strip away natural oils and bacteria that are part of the skin’s natural defense mechanism, leaving it prone to dryness and irritation. What’s more, soap, which often has a high pH of 8 - 10, undergoes a chemical reaction when mixed with water that can increase the skin pH to 10 - 11 – throwing healthy vulvar skin (which is more acidic, around 5.3 – 5.6) completely off-balance. Regular exposure to a pH of 7.5 or higher can damage the skin barrier, making it more vulnerable to microtrauma. This is especially true as we age and lose estrogen, causing our skin barrier to become weaker and therefore even more susceptible.
Your vagina is even more acidic, at a pH of about 3.5 - 4.5 and cannot be regulated by products made for external use. That’s why SweetSpot Labs washes are balanced to vulvar skin (the ‘outside’) and not the vagina (the ‘inside’).
Sulfates & Other Irritants
“Clean” and “natural” are common terms in personal care these days, but they don’t mean the same thing for every brand. When it comes to choosing a feminine wash, look for one that’s free from sulfates and other irritants. Keep in mind that even some common ingredients can spell trouble for vulvar skin. Here are a few of the biggest offenders:
- Essential oils can be irritating.
- Glycerin can feed yeast, leading to overgrowth.
- Coconut oil can lead to ingrown hairs.
- Fragrance can irritate sensitive skin. If you’re a scent-lover, opt for formulations with low levels of fragrance like this one.
For a complete list of ingredients we leave out of our washes, click here.
Every body is different, so there’s no one answer to this question. But in our almost two decades of experience, we’ve heard from many SSL customers who use our cleansers for a range of reasons. Here are a few of the most common:
Whether it’s during your menstrual cycle, pregnancy, or menopause, most of us experience changes in odor over time. Not only is it super common, but it’s totally OK! You don’t have to smell like anything other than your natural self, but if you want to - we’ve got you.
Aside from the itching and burning, the discharge and secretions that come with a yeast infection are exactly zero fun. A gentle cleanser like this one can help lift away buildup and support healthy, balanced skin.
Many choose to use a feminine wash during their period to help minimize irritation and discomfort.
“I’ve tested it during my monthly cycle and not only does it prevent smells - it keeps those pesky pads from irritating my skin.”
Pregnancy & Postpartum
What to expect when you’re expecting? Hormonal shifts that can lead to changes like the ones @jessimalay experienced.“My natural body odor changed so much during pregnancy that I smelled like a different person. I started using SweetSpot Labs Unscented Gentle Wash all over my body - even down there - just to even things out.”
Remember - there’s absolutely nothing wrong with your natural scent. But if you want to freshen up before sex, a gentle cleanser can help. After sex, cleansing can help minimize your risk of developing UTIs and other issues like itching.
People who experience incontinence are at risk for developing skin issues like redness, irritation and yeast infections. Keeping the skin clean and dry is key, so having a mild, soap-free cleanser or wipe on hand can make all the difference.
If you shave or wax, cleansing the area should be the first step in the process to help minimize razor burn, bumps and ingrowns.
Which Feminine Wash is Right For Me?
The best feminine wash for you will depend on your skin type. If you have sensitive skin, you should opt for an extra-gentle, unscented cleanser that will suit your needs. If your skin is fairly tolerant, you can go for a lightly-scented formula that still respects the V. For our friends that frequently experience yeast imbalance, we recommend a balancing cleanser like this one to support healthy skin flora. If you’re prone to dryness and irritation, look for a soap-free feminine wash that’s rich in moisturizing ingredients like our new Moisture Restoring Cleanser.
As with all things below the belt, the decision whether or not to wash down there is entirely up to you! If you’d like to join us in our mission to change the conversation around intimate skin health, click here to subscribe to our newsletter or follow us on social media.