gentle respect for your wellbeing
Written by Paul Musset, Doctor in Pharmacy | published on | updated on 30/03/2020
It is important to take a holistic, measured approach to personal hygiene. Of course, cleanliness is vital, but you should avoid being over-zealous. What can you do to feel confident and still maintain the optimal health of those delicate intimate areas?
A delicate but naturally balanced environment
A pH affected by a number of different factors
When we talk about feminine hygiene, we are referring to the following areas: the labia majora, the labia minora, the vaginal entrance and the area around the anus.
Consisting of skin and mucous membranes, the pH here varies enormously depending on the specific area in question and the woman’s age. For instance, a young girl's vagina has a mildly acid pH. However, once puberty occurs, female hormones cause the pH to gradually lower; in other words, becoming more acid in the range between 3.8 and 4.5. Following the menopause, it becomes less acid. In contrast, the external areas have a pH somewhere between 5 and 8 (a pH higher than 7 is known as a basic pH). The pH value also increases during menstruation.
A natural, specific microbiota
A further characteristic of the intimate area is its large number of microscopic inhabitants. The vagina is home to a microbiota comprising billions of microbes. 90% of this population is made up of lactobacillus flora, which is indeed the same genus of bacteria that turns milk into yoghurt. Many different strains of lactobaccilli are present. The remainder of the microbiota consists of microbes including streptococci, staphylococci, yeasts such as candida and many others. The lactobaccilli keep their numbers in check, but if an imbalance occurs and they grow too much, they can turn into pathogens.
Well-balanced vaginal flora protects against infection in many different ways. First and foremost, it takes up space. Secondly, due to hormones, the vagina produces glycogen-containing mucus which is used by the bacteria to produce lactic acid and other substances such as hydrogen peroxide and other molecules, all of which have an antiseptic effect on “harmful” microbes.
Factors causing imbalance in the intimate area
What can cause the break down of this delicate balance?
- The use of antibiotics: some women notice that they get vaginal thrush (candida) pretty much every time they take antibiotics. That is because antibiotics destroy some of the good bacteria, which are then replaced by yeasts.
- Hormonal fluctuations, especially drops in oestrogen levels, such as during the menopause. Oestrogen encourages the growth of lactobaccilli. Some contraceptive pills may also alter the balance of vaginal flora.
- Excessive personal cleansing or the use of products that alter the natural pH.
- Vaginal douching, which destroys the natural microbiota.
- Some conditions, such as thyroid dysfunction or diabetes, and certain types of treatment, such as chemotherapy.
- Lengthy baths.
- Chlorinated swimming pools.
What other problems may affect the intimate area?
The most common problems are:
- Fungal infections or thrush, caused by the growth of microscopic fungi;
- Vaginosis caused by the proliferation of harmful anaerobic bacteria, in particular gardnerella vaginalis. The latter can produce an unpleasant smelling discharge known rather evocatively as cadaverine or putrescine. These infections tend to be harmless but can be dangerous for the foetus if the woman is pregnant;
- A trichomonas infection, which is a parasite that can sometimes be present yet cause no or very few symptoms. Copious frothy discharge and discomfort may indicate the presence of infection. The condition is transmitted sexually in the same way as chlamydia, which is another common bacterial infection;
- Vaginal dryness is a further recurring issue. This is a typical symptom of ageing which often manifests itself following the menopause. The drop in the production of female hormones reduces the natural vaginal secretions that lubricate the vagina. It can lead to discomfort, particularly during sexual intercourse.
If problems recur, it may be useful to speak to your GP who can prescribe a pessary treatment containing lactobacillus to restore your lactobacillus flora.
Effective steps for good personal hygiene
What should you do for good intimate hygiene? Tips
- Personal cleansing should be carried out no more than once or twice a day, using your hand or a disposable wipe, never a flannel, and always from front to back.
- Avoid anything that encourages skin maceration, such as warmth combined with moisture and a lack of air flow. Wearing a damp swimming costume after the beach, wearing the same tampon for more than three hours and wearing a panty-liner all the time can all cause problems.
- If possible, don’t wear anything at night.
- Urinate after sexual intercourse.
- Use sanitary towels rather than tampons.
For natural intimate hygiene which respects the delicate balance of the intimate area, you can trust the gentle products selected by Cocooncenter. Our full range to care for your intimate health includes soap-free personal hygiene products, lotions and wipes that respect your body’s balance and lubricating gels to put an end to the problems of vaginal dryness.
Products for men Intimate hygiene is just as important for men, helping to prevent the development of unpleasant odours, as well as infections. Using a small amount of water combined with a soap-free cleanser once a day should suffice, unless you have taken part in sport (perspiration) or engaged in certain types of sexual activity (during menstruation, for example). It is natural for white secretions to accumulate between the head of the penis and the foreskin: this is smegma and is mainly produced by the preputial glands found behind the head of the penis. It is a mixture of sebum, which maintains the hydrolipidic layer, and dead skin cells. It is also a pheromone. Excessive smegma can lead to infection or inflammation. It is therefore necessary to retract the foreskin in order to gently clean this area, as the mucous membrane here is delicate. Circumcised men produce less smegma and this can be removed easily whenever they wash or shower. Smegma is also produced by women and can build up around the clitoris and in the creases of the skin if it is not cleaned away regularly.
The key to intimate hygiene is to wash the external areas using well-chosen gentle products, without touching the vagina or destroying the protective, natural microbial flora.
Three points to remember about intimate hygiene:
- Your intimate area has its own internal self-cleaning system, thanks to its cleansing secretions and its good bacteria. There is no need to disrupt this system if it is working properly!
- Warm, moist, confined conditions are an explosive combination that you need to watch out for! This creates the ideal environment for harmful microbes to thrive. So, whenever possible, you should let some air in!
- Unpleasant odours, suspicious discharge or discomfort are all symptoms that should not be ignored as they may indicate an imbalance or an infection.