Using Feminine Wipes Right: Which Ingredients To Avoid & Why
It was during the dog days of summer, heat and sweat seeping into the crevices of my lady parts (if you know, you know), when I went on a serious goose hunt for a refreshing hygiene wipe. Frolicking around the city in search of a convenience store (if they were actually convenient, why does it take me so long to find one within walking distance?) drove me to seek extra sanitary assistance. So, naturally, I reached out to friends: “Hey fam, does anyone know of a scented vagina wipe? TIA.” Crickets. Not a word of advice from a single soul. That’s when I turned to my trusty sidekick, Amazon, to give me the reviews that I needed to make a wise purchase. But what I found was disheartening. Many people were commenting that the wipes they bought caused them irritation or even worse, an infection. One user pointed out that these hygienic formulas were not agreeing with some women because the ingredients triggered an imbalance with the vulva’s naturally acidic PH level.
This scientific jargon was all foreign to me. So, after doing my research, I reached out to a sexual health and women’s wellness educator, Nina C. Helms, who first started creating a line of intimate health products in 2007 called S+HE Intimate Fitness™. Nina saw a need to remove the stigma associated with ‘female issues’ by educating and raising awareness for women’s intimate and pelvic health issues. The seasoned yoga instructor of 24 years wants women to be “excited about the future of their vaginas.” I mean, SAME.
First things first, she believes that women need to educate themselves on their vaginas (internal), which is way different than their vulvas (external). For those of you, like me, who needed an anatomy refresher, follow along: The vagina is a more acidic environment compared to the rest of your body, so in order to keep it happy and healthy, women should refrain from using any product that’s neutral or more alkaline (a PH of more than 7). You may recall your high school health teacher telling you that douching actually doesn’t keep your lady parts clean. “When PH goes above where it should be, a low acidic level moving into a more alkaline territory, that’s when lactobacillus [good bacteria] gets elbowed out of the way and yeast infections or [bacterial vaginosis] can start,” Helms explains. So, the reason certain vaginal wipes could be causing infections is because it’s throwing off your PH balance with its low-acid ingredients.
Before Nina started AfterGlow [cleansing tissues for intimate fitness], she was purchasing a variation of her product in Europe. Now with her own line, she doesn’t get infections anymore and neither do her customers. “I’m not saying that they can act as a cure because I can’t. I’m not FDA approved, so I can’t make any claims. But consumers tell me, ‘it’s great I don’t have to get out of bed after sex… my husband loves them… my girlfriend loves them.'”
“Interestingly, sperm is PH of 7 which is alkaline. That’s why you’ll hear some women get yeast infections every time they have sex because they’re very sensitive to PH imbalance and the sperm is throwing off their PH right away,” she adds.
If not for sperm or poorly balanced hygiene ingredients, what else could throw off our PH levels? Nina’s answer panders my most burning question.
“Think of the vulva and the vagina as a rainforest. Things like medications, hormone imbalance [can alter PH]. Our biologies are all very different. Some women are sensitive to certain fabrics or have allergies to aloe on their vagina but nowhere else on the body. It isn’t a cleanliness thing because it’s so common. 75% of women have at least one genital infection in their lifetime and 50% of that 75% have more than one. But keeping your PH in balance helps with avoiding those infections. To give yourself a healthy edge to not getting these infections is proper intimate hygiene, using a cleanser that is designed for that body part, using wipes that are high quality with the right PH for that area that will be complimentary and that will also be acidic. It’s like you’re putting green on green, not red on green.”
But even with this knowledge, skincare companies continue to make products that irritate our genitalia because the FDA isn’t obligated to regulate companies who don’t make actual claims. It’s the same debacle with birth control pills. “They’re wonderful; they’re a great thing for women. But a couple of them alter a woman’s skin so that when you get older and past childbearing age, effects become painful and it permanently damages your skin. So yes, your skin looks great as a teen or when you’re pregnant but your sex life later in life gets severely compromised,” Nina says, adding that she personally experienced this.
If you know that you shouldn’t take your makeup off with nail polish remover, then you know you shouldn’t be cleaning your vulva with Dial soap (or any antibacterial soap), which strips the bad and good bacteria away, leaving women vulnerable to infections. In Europe, women’s intimate health is much more advanced.
“Europe, Asia, and the Middle East are a lot more aware of and sensitive to women’s intimate health. At least I know certain parts of Europe are a lot more relaxed. Topless beaches. America only started showing bra ads 10 to 15 years ago. But Europe never shied away from showing a butt cheek or a boob on an ad,” Nina claims. It’s this kind of national discomfort that only adds to the stigmatization of so-called “private parts.” And when we’re too afraid to talk about certain things openly, misinformation can spread rapidly and lead to pretty severe consequences — especially when it comes to feminine wipes.
Just by educating ourselves — and our friends, of course — on our bodies and the drawbacks of certain products, yeast infections, BV, and other bodily irritations can very easily be avoided.