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Answered by the gynaecologist Professor Janice Rymer
Yes! Many women think it’s mucosa (moist tissue that lines particular organs and body cavities throughout the body, including your nose, mouth, lungs, and gastrointestinal tract); but it is skin which is delicate in make up and needs careful looking after.
Irritation can be caused by a change in pH level (how acidic or alkaline something is). The pH−balance of the intimate skin is different to the pH of body skin and is naturally more acidic to prevent and discourage infections. This low, acidic nature is caused by good bacteria ‘Lactobacilli’ that naturally inhabit the intimate area, helping to keep it clean and healthy. But there are times when this delicate pH−balance changes, leaving you prone to irritation and infection.
pH levels change with age: before puberty and then again with the onset of the menopause. In between, there are a number of factors that can cause your pH to fluctuate such as:
• Antibiotics – which can wipe out your ‘good’ bacteria, leaving you at an increased risk of infection.
• Pregnancy – the hormone levels alter the pH during pregnancy. The pH changes in breast feeding women too.
• After sex – sweat and abrasion during sex can be an irritant and semen is alkaline so may alter the pH.
• Contraceptive pill –The pill provides constant hormone levels but some women may experience some irritation in the week that they are not on the pill.
• Heat and sweat – caused by wearing tight underwear or jeans, exercising, and intercourse.
• Monthly cycle - hormonal changes during your monthly cycle alter the pH−balance and it’s least acidic on the days just before and during your period leaving you prone to infection. Sanitary protection products can also be irritants, particularly perfumed liners which can cause irritation especially if they are worn all day.
• Some perfumed or high pH wash products - In the same way your body skin can be irritated by perfumed shower gels and creams if you have sensitive skin, the delicate skin down there can be easily upset. This is a very common cause of irritation.
The most common symptom is itching. When the intimate environment becomes irritated you want to naturally scratch which can lead to infection. Once you upset the vaginal pH−balance the skin naturally becomes sensitive and you are open to bacterial infections which will need to be treated by a doctor. The best advice I would give women is to understand their body and take note of things that do cause irritation and stop doing it!
It’s purely down to skin type. Some women can do anything and never get a reaction. Also, women’s urethra, vagina and anus are naturally close together so bacteria can be easily spread. There is also a huge variation in the distance between the vagina and anus in women - some can be as close as a few mm apart and this closeness may mean they may be more prone to cross infection. Bacteria can be passed by wiping the wrong way after going to the loo or during sex too so it’s essential to keep the area as clean as possible.
About half of all women have at least one bout of cystitis. For many, only one or two bouts occur in their lifetime. However, recurring bouts of cystitis occur in some women. This most commonly occurs in women in their late 20s, and in women over 55 and is usually down to bacteria pushed into the urethra during sex or bad hygiene habits, for a minority there is a significant problem and re-occurring attacks require medical investigation. If you are suffering re-occurring attacks you should discuss it with your GP who may decide to investigate further.
Understanding your body is key to maintaining a healthy intimate environment; for example, if you know you always get thrush at a certain time of the month as part of your cycle make sure you take extra care at limiting irritants at those particular times.
• Drink cranberry juice for cystitis or try cranberry tablets from a health shop.
• Take in plenty of water to flush bugs through the system.
• Urinate before and after sex to flush through any bacteria passed from the vagina to the urethra. If you suffer badly, shower straight after or use a suitable intimate cleansing wipe.
• Avoid alcohol as it’s dehydrating.
• Choose a suitable pH−balanced shower wash like femfresh all over Body Wash or Intimate Wash that are formulated to be pH−balanced and hypoallergenic. By washing with these you are encouraging the right pH in the area which is a really good thing.
• Don’t Douche! Vaginal douches, which are very popular in America, can actually cause problems as they remove the normal bacteria in the vagina and their protective benefits along with them.
If you have an infection the most important thing is to limit irritation to sensitive skin, so advice in the past has been to restrict any use of soap or body washes. But we are talking about skin here and just as you want a clean face or underarms we all want to feel clean in that area too. There’s a good option in femfresh washes which are specifically formulated and safe to use to get clean in this area.
Yes. The key thing in avoiding irritation is maintaining a healthy intimate pH and all femfresh products are formulated to be pH−balanced so they promote a protective environment in that area. So femfresh plays a protective role. femfresh may not solve an existing problem (consult your doctor or pharmacist for treatment if you think you have an infection) but may help to reduce the symptoms caused by fluctuating pH levels.
Femfresh intimate hygiene products have been gynaecologically and dermatologically tested which means they are designed to not be irritating to this area. The washes, wipes and deodorant spray are hypoallergenic too which is great as so many products give you skin irritation.