There are lots of misguided information on how to clean your vagina could leave you anywhere between itchy skin and a full-on yeast infection. The truth? Your best bet when it comes to cleansing your vagina is doing next to nothing. Gently wash the external areas (the vulva) in the shower with water or a mild, unscented soap—that’s it. Be careful not to scrub too hard, which can cause tiny abrasions that make you vulnerable to infections. Then dry off completely before getting dressed; moisture helps bad bacteria breed.
Be gentle – The skin down there is very thin and sensitive and you don’t want it to break or cut – or you could get infections. So never wash your vagina in a rush, be gentle, and do it properly. And don’t use one of those portable shower heads to shoot water directly on it. It’s not a good idea because once again, you wash out all the good bacteria, and also it could do more harm than good.
Clean once a day – If you clean any less, you might not be getting rid of the buildup of sweat and secretions; if you clean any more than once a day, you could be disrupting the delicate balance of your vaginal area. When it comes to method, using a washcloth or free-handing it is better than using a loofah, which can create small tears and expose you to infection (and even increase your risk of STDs if you have unprotected sex).
Don’t douche – Here’s the thing about cleansing inside your vagina: There’s good bacteria, and there’s bad bacteria. By scrubbing down the insides, you’re getting rid of both. “The pH level is very delicately balanced,” says Shepherd. “If you take out the good bacteria, the bad bacteria has more opportunity to overtake the vagina.” This can lead to yeast infections and other issues like bacterial vaginosis, another type of infection.
Remember: You’re not supposed to smell like roses down there. So if you’re using any scented soaps, wipes, douches tampons, herbal inserts—whatever!—to feel fresher, you should stop. These products can alter the vaginal pH, which puts you at a higher risk of irritation. Plus, frequent douching, in particular, has been linked to bacterial vaginosis, yeast infections, and pelvic inflammatory disease. Never spray it with anything like perfume or deodorant.
While some people have been known to apply talcum powder below the belt to keep moisture at bay and prevent chafing, I don’t recommend it. Certain studies suggest that using talcum powder on the genitals may increase a woman’s risk of ovarian cancer. One theory is that talc particles travel to the ovaries via the vagina, uterus, and fallopian tubes; the thinking is that talc may cause inflammation, which could heighten the risk of cancer.