In this article, I'd like to address the topic of feminine hygiene. The topic is one of interest for almost all women; for those with VVS, however, it becomes significantly more complicated due to pain levels and sensitivities. Therefore, I'd like to go bring up some solutions to common problems that often come up for women with VVS.
But to begin, I'd like to address the most common question I hear when it comes to hygiene (and will set up the discussion in the rest of the email).
"Does a vaginal really need just water to be clean? Don't you need soap?"
Yes, the vaginal really can just be cleaned with water; you don't actually need soap down there to stay clean. This is largely due to the fact that a vagina has its own unique flora of bacteria that dictates pH levels, ability to fight infections, cell turnover, etc. Because of this ability to regulate the flora, the vagina doesn't really need the help with "staying clean". On the contrary, too much washing and how the washing is done (douching, for example) can lead to a disruption in the vaginal flora, causing problems such as overgrowth of unfriendly bacteria and skin problems. As a result, most health care providers urge women with VVS to stick to only warm water when cleaning the vagina.
(Note: This answer is what I've found in reading books, journal articles, and websites written by health care professionals. And it makes sense to me as well.)
Ok so that being said, I'm pretty 99% of you won't care about that at all.
"I want to wash down there and that's that for vaginal flora," I can hear you say. And I can't blame you. After particularly sweaty work outs, I don't think twice about washing with Cetaphil. You want a clean vagina, particularly if it's going to get any visitors, right? (Which is usually one of the reasons we want it not to hurt, after all.)
But as you've probably experienced, women with VVS have to be particularly choosy about the soaps/washes they use because of delicate/sensitive vaginal skin. Because of this, I've compiled a list of some of the soaps I have found/tried/read about that work for women with VVS. It's been a sort of trail-and-error for me but having a list of possible solutions to go off of has shortened the search considerably (and saved myself a lot of pain and suffering); I'm hoping this list cuts down on the need for trail-and-error even further.
I've organized this list in order of "for-least-sensitive-skin" to "for-really-sensitive-skin".
"Soap" Options for Women with VVS
1) Dove Sensitive Skin Bar Soap
This is a fragrance free soap that is one of the mildest out of the most popular brands available at stores. One drawback is that it does have a good number of ingredients that aren't exactly easy to pronounce. The website wouldn't let me copy and paste the list of ingredients but here's the link to them if you are interested.
2) Sappo Hill Bar Soap
This is a natural soap and I recommend the one with no fragrances. The list of ingredients are as follows: saponified oils of palm and coconut, fat obtained from the fruit or seed of the palm tree or kernels of coconut (so that it lathers readily and cleanses skin), glycerin (humectant, mild emulsifier, and emollient used to hold moisture). That's about it except for the fragrances or colors in the scented bar soaps, if you choose to go for those.
3) Cetaphil Soap
This is a non-soap cleanser; here are the ingredients if you are interested: Water, Cetyl Alcohol, Propylene Glycol, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Stearyl Alcohol, Methylparaben, Propylparaben, Butylparaben. This is one of the softest body cleansers (in the traditional sense...you'll see what I mean below) out there although later I'm going to propose how to make it even gentler if you're still bothered by it.
4) Non-soap face wash
Cetaphil has a face wash that is even more gentle (and there are several other similar brands that you'll be able to find in your local stores) than the body wash. The idea behind this one is that if the wash is sensitive enough for thin skin such as around the eyes, it'll be easier for your vagina to handle.
5) Baby Soap
One of the ones I like is by Aveeno but a more natural version that can be found is made by Burts Bee's (more organic ingredients and fewer harsh chemicals). One of the women I email with swears by baby washes (she was bothered by just about everything else).
6) Soapy Water
You can dilute any soap that you're using to make it less potent. This is a sort of compromise between using soap and using just water. A water bottle is good to use to make a batch so that you don't have to remake it every time you want to shower/cleanse. Even if you're bothered by something "gentle" like Cetaphil, you can always make it even more sensitive-skin-friendly.
7) Moisturize with oil--sea buckthorn, coconut, olive--before you use soap (or whatever)
This is the same thought pattern that explains using a conditioner before shampooing your hair. It creates a barrier between your skin and the soap while still allowing the cleanser to remove dirt/bacteria/etc.
So now that I've covered some (hopefully helpful) ways to maintain hygiene without causing more pain, I'd like to bring up another common point of concern.
Dealing with Discharge
Because I have yeast problems (and I can imagine that it is similar for other women with infections, hormonal imbalances, etc), I find that I always seem to have a relatively abundant amount of discharge. All in all, it's a problem that seems to always make me feel a bit unhygienic.
The most common answer to this is the constant use of pantyliners. While I do use them at times, I've found that pantyliners (especially certain brands) are irritating to the vulvar skin. As a result, I've started to buy several six packs of plain cotton underwear so that I can change several time per day. It's a bit more of a hassle because it creates more laundry (and sometime I have to stick a pair in my purse which looks a little strange if you ever let someone else see it) but seems to cause less pain overall (and I'd rather do laundry than be in even a little more pain).
I would recommend changing underwear over the alternative option of washing down there multiple times per day (see details and watch me contradict myself below) since messing with the vaginal flora does not usually resolve the matter of infections.
But really, "How many times a day should I wash?"
Turns out, it's a question that is almost impossible for me to answer because of the incredibly large variance between how women feel. My best suggestion on this topic is striking a happy medium between feeling clean and causing yourself pain. If washing with "soap" once every two days is what works, don't try to go following the advice of "wash after every time you urinate to minimize burning". It may have worked for some women (hey, that could be you too in which case you can throw my above advice completely out the window) but this is one of those topics that defies hard and fast rules so listening to what your body is telling you is the smart choice.
In my lists and articles at large, I know I don't always think of or cover it all; if you have found something that works for you in terms of feminine hygiene, please share it in the comments section of this article so that other women can benefit!