Repeat after us: Do. Not. Douche.
By Alexa Tucker
Scrubbing up in the shower is a pretty intuitive process... until you get to your most sensitive areas. What kind of soap should you use? Are you doing too much—or maybe too little?
Misguided information on how to clean your vagina could leave you anywhere between itchy skin and a full-on yeast infection. Yikes. We all know that when things are uncomfortable down there, things are uncomfortable everywhere.
Here's how to cleanse your vagina to keep it happy, healthy, and feeling fresh.
DO: Focus on the area surrounding the vagina
While the external part of your nether regions (a.k.a. the vulva) needs some TLC, the internal portion (a.k.a. the vagina) does a pretty good job of taking care of itself.
"The vagina has really great mechanisms within it to keep it clean and have its own little healthy 'ecosystem,'" says Jessica Shepherd, M.D., a gynecologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago and founder of Her Viewpoint.
DON'T: Feel obligated to buy special soap
Typically, the vagina has a pH level of about 3.5 to 4.5 (pH is measured on a scale of zero to 14). When you use hygiene products like body wash, which have generally have a pH of about eight, this can throw your pH balance out of whack, leading to itchiness, irritation, and odor.
"Unscented soaps are always better because they don't have [fragrances] that could be irritants," says Shepherd. What's more, bar soap is generally a better choice than body wash because it usually doesn't have as high of an alcohol content or as much of a scent, says Shepherd.
Just make sure to keep an eye out for constant itching, dryness, a change in discharge, or an increase in yeast infections—these are signs that you may need to use a more delicate soap.
DO: Stick to cleaning yourself 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).
Again, keep an eye out for itching, dryness, discharge changes, and yeast infections. Over-cleansing can cause these annoying symptoms, too.
We can't stress this enough. 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.
The bottom line: "The beautiful part of the vagina is that it's physiologically built to take care of itself," says Shepherd. So in general, the less you do to your va-jay-jay, the better. Trust us—you'll thank yourself later.
This article was originally published at Women's Health. Reprinted with permission from the author.