You’ve likely heard from your health care provider by now that douching is a big “don’t” since “a healthy vagina self-cleans,” says Stacy Henigsman, DO and a practicing OB/GYN at Allara. But the vulva, aka the area just outside of your vagina (which includes the clitoris and the labia) does not have a self-cleaning mechanism, points out Dr. Henigsman, so you can cleanse that area—especially after sex. You may also feel the need to freshen up after a particularly vigorous workout, hot day, or if you’re on your period.
While some of us may experience musty or sweaty odors, know that this is totally normal, and doesn’t make us “dirty.” Whatever you do with your vulva is your prerogative entirely, but if or when you do give your nether regions a little refreshing, you’ll want to make sure you’re using safe and non-irritating products.
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What kinds of washes are safe to use for your vulva?
When it comes to what you’re washing with, it’s generally wise to think twice about lathering up your vulva area with whatever bar soap or shower gel you’ve got in the shower, though. In fact, many wash their vulva with warm water, which is normal and fine to do—you don’t have to use a soap to cleanse the area. However, if you choose to use a soap, know that most regular soaps that are okay to use for your bod may not be suitable for your vulva. “A [person with a vulva] would choose a feminine wash over regular soap because standard soap or shower gels are usually too harsh for the vulva,” says Dr. Henigsman. One thing to note is that bar soap is alkaline, and since your vagina and vulva are slightly acidic, regular soap can throw things off balance and may even wipe out the good bacteria.
“Lactobacilli are helpful bacteria that make the vaginal environment acidic and help prevent harmful bacteria from growing, says Dr. Henigsman. “The alkaline nature of regular soap can strip the vulvar skin and leave it irritated, but it also may kill the helpful Lactobacilli leaving the woman more prone to bacterial and yeast infections,” explains Dr. Henigsman. With that, not all feminine washes are equally great, so Dr. Henigsman recommends checking out the ingredient list below and avoid using them on your V.
8 ingredients to skip in your feminine wash, According to an OBGYN
Soaps: “Regular soaps are not pH friendly for the vulva area and they can cause dryness and irritation. Avoid regular soap altogether if you can,” says Dr. Henigsman.
Sulfates (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate): “Sulfates are compounds that act as detergents and foaming agents. They are main ingredients in shampoo, body wash and intimate washes. These sulfates have been shown to irritate skin, especially delicate vulvar skin,” she says.
Parabens: “Parabens are a group of chemicals widely used as artificial preservatives in cosmetic and body care products. They are known to cause skin irritation and contact dermatitis in individuals with sensitive skin,” says Dr. Henigsman.
Perfumes or Synthetic Fragrances: “Synthetic fragrances and perfume can contain hundreds of chemicals. These chemicals can cause severe skin irritation and can alter the pH of the vulvar and vaginal area which can make a woman more prone to vaginal infections,” says Dr. Henigsman.
Preservatives like Formaldehyde: “These preservatives can irritate the delicate vulvar area.”
Glycerin: “Glycerin is a sugar product that may increase yeast production and make you prone to yeast infections.”
Mineral Oil: “This can alter vaginal pH and infections can occur,” says Dr. Henigsman.
Dyes: “Dyes can be irritating to delicate vulvar skin.”
If you located more ingredients on this list in your shower than you’d like to admit, then keep scrolling for some doc-approved feminine washes that you can rest-easy that they won’t disturb your nether regions. (And just FYI: These soaps are only meant for your vulva—to be used externally—not your vagina).
Best feminine washes
Sweet Spot Labs Unscented pH-Balanced Creamy Full Body Cleanser — $15.00
This wash (which is cool to use on your entire body) is approved by Dr. Henigsman, since it’s pH-balanced and contains none of the ingredients she called out above. If you’d rather have a do-it-all body and vulva wash, this one is your best bet. What we love most about it is that it cleans the areas you want clean without completely stripping natural oils, leaving your skin cleansed, but still soft. Ingredients include: naturally-derived coconut surfactants (which gently scrub away at impurities and irritants), shea butter and emollient oils (for hydration), and aloe vera and sunflower oil (which are high in antioxidants and help protect skin).
Love Wellness pH Balancing Cleanser — $11.00
The Love Wellness pH Balancing cleanser has zero sulfates, fragrances, or other irritating agents and recommended by OB/GYNs—including Dr. Henigsman. Lo Bosworth (yes, that Lo Bosworth) is the founder and CEO behind this supplement and personal care brand, ICYWW.
Kushae Gentle 2-in-1 Wash — $20.00
If the idea of shelling out more than a few dollars on a wash makes you cringe, you can rest assured that you’ll squeeze every last dollar out of this one (which the brand claims will last at least 2 months), and it can double as a body wash and shave cream. Once you add up the costs of separate products for shaving, your body, and a feminine wash you’ll find the $19.99 price tag doesn’t sting after all. It’s also formulated by an OB/GYN and has the stamp of approval from Dr. Henigsman. Plant-based and icky ingredient-free, the ingredients include pomegranate extract, french green clay, and aloe vera to clean and hydrate.
LOLA Vaginal Wash — $7.00
Lola, which also makes period products like tampons and pads with organic cotton, developed this cleansing wash to be non-irritating and safe for sensitive skin. The foamy cleanser is also fragrance-free and I can personally vouch that this one is non-irritating and gets the job done.
Good Clean Love Daily Moisturizing Wash — $15.00
With no harsh ingredients (and instead, formulated with soothing additions like aloe), this gentle cleanser is a good stand-in for your body wash or bar soap, and it’s way more moisturizing. One reviewer said, “I started using this wash after having my second child. I definitely notice a difference from the previous wash I used. I don’t feel dry and feel much fresher throughout the day. Please don’t ever stop making this wash and don’t change it. It’s amazing!!”
Wisp Balancing Wash — $24.00
If I’m going to use a new feminine product, I’d prefer it’s developed and approved by a doc—like this wash from Wisp. With aloe, lavender, and marigold (all three are great for moisturizing and anti-inflammation) the formula keeps things fresh without any strong fragrance (in fact, it’s fragrance-free), or disrupting pH levels.
Rael Natural Foaming Feminine Wash (Pack of 2) — $17.00
A short ingredient list is a good thing in this case–there’s just less room for worrisome additives to sneak in. Rael’s feminine wash has only eight ingredients and all are intended to maintain your pH balance and avoid messing with anything else that throws things out of whack, or could irritate the vulva.
Osea V Cleanse — $38.00
If you, too, are obsessed with Osea skincare products, then allow me to introduce to the Osea V Cleanse that doubles as a face wash. Yes, really. Oh, and it’s tested by dermatologists and gynecologists, so yes, it’s really okay to use it both ways. “I’ve been on the hunt for a product like this for years. So happy I found it. I’m SUPER sensitive down there and most soap (even “sensitive” ***** soap from Whole Foods) stings really bad to the point of tears. This soap is amazing. No pain or residue. Highly recommend! Please never stop making this,” says a rave reviewer.
Maude Wash No. 0 — $22.00
Body wash, bubble bath, intimate-area cleanser—Is there anything this wash from Maude can’t do? It’s also pH balanced and contains a cocktail of good-for-your-skin vitamins. One reviewer said, “Cute bottle and very gentle formula! I’m sensitive to perfumes and harsh ingredients and this wash smells great [the formula is fragrance-free] with no irritation. Will be buying again and again.”
L. Foam Feminine Wash Period Care — $9.00
When you’re on your period, things can feel extra sensitive or just plain painful, which is why this wash is formulated without fragrance, sulfates, or parabens (as if you need to deal with another pain while on your period). Derm-tested and approved, this formula contains vitamin E and white tea essence for added moisture.
Editor’s note: We use the term “feminine wash” several times in this article, since this is the most popular term searched, but we realize this is a bit of an outdated word. However you call it (feminine wash, personal wash, vulva/vaginal wash), we’re here to give you the most accurate, trust-worthy information!
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