johnfoto18/ShutterstockNo, you shouldn’t start wearing your underwear in the shower to avoid cleaning your vagina, but you don’t need to scrub it like you would your armpits or your feet—a simple splash of water will do. “I always see folks who think they need to get a strong soap and scrub it, but plain water to rinse is more than enough. Scrubbing that area can make the vulva very raw and a scented soap can irritate it if you’re sensitive,” says Tosin Goje, obstetrician gynecologist at the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio. If you do want to use some sort of cleansing agent, look for a mild unscented hypoallergenic soap and just use your hand, never a loofah or washcloth.
Roman-Prishenko/Shutterstock“For patients with a sensitive vagina, I always tell them to stop using pantyliners when they’re menstruating,” says Dr. Goje. “Sitting in a liner all day can irritate the vulva.” If you like to wear a liner instead of tampon when you’re just spotting, look for an all cotton liner and be sure to change it regularly.
Running errands in dirty gym clothes
Africa-Studio/ShutterstockIt might seem like you’re saving time by running to the grocery store after you’re done running on the treadmill, but you could end up wasting more time in the long run when you’re sitting in your gyno’s waiting room with a yeast infection. “For the sake of your vaginal health, you need to take off your gym clothes down to the skin as soon as you’re done working out. Sweat is a breeding ground for infections, especially yeast because it thrives in a moist area,” says Dr. Goje. If you do need to grab groceries or toiletries on the way home, try to rinse off in the gym’s shower and keep an extra pair of underwear and sweats in your gym bag so you can change into something dry. Should you wear underwear with your workout clothes?
Your thong obsession
Maryna-Pleshkun/ShutterstockWe all have our panty preference and if a thong is yours, you may be putting your vagina at risk. “Not everyone who wears a thong regularly will develop infections or irritation, but in people prone to that I tell them to stay away,” says Dr. Goje. The shape of a thong means it tends to cover the front of your groin area and then tapers toward the back; since the vaginal opening is actually closer to your anus, this means it doesn’t get full coverage, she says, leaving an open door for bacteria to settle right in. This is the best underwear for your butt shape.
benjamas11/ShutterstockIf you have chronic vagina infections like bacterial vaginosis (BV), your cigarette habit could be to blame. Doctors have been unsure of the exact link between smoking and increased BV risk, but a small study in the journal BMC Infectious Diseases found that female smokers had a greater imbalance of their vagina’s natural flora than non-smokers, which can lead to recurrent BV. Here's how to quit smoking for good.
You never go commando
Africa-Studio/Shutterstock“Go commando when you’re at home! Wearing your sweats or PJs without underwear allows that area to be dry and breathe without moisture accumulating in the vaginal or anal area,” says Dr. Goje. She even suggests going panty-less all the time if you’re comfortable with it, except when you’re wearing tight pants like skinny jeans or leggings, which can cause germs to be pushed into the vulva and up into the vagina because of the direct contact.
Africa-Studio/ShutterstockYour vagina has a specific pH balance and its own flora profile that keeps things in order, so douching with anything will throw all of that off, leading to infection or irritation. “The normal flora helps it stay acidic, which is the normal pH, so douching may make people feel better psychologically but it can be very disruptive and irritating to the vagina itself. It can even leave it with zero lubrication, which isn’t good,” says Dr. Goje. Find out the answers to the questions you've always been too embarrassed to ask your gyno.
Daniela-Staerk/ShutterstockIt may be time to embrace the natural look whether your partner’s on board or not. You both might like how you look when shaving downstairs, but pubic hair is beneficial for your vaginal health. The follicles form a natural barrier between your skin and clothing and allows for air to flow, cutting down on the growth of moisture-loving infectious bacteria, writes Jessica Black, MD, on her website. Try grooming only your bikini line, which she said puts you at no greater risk for infection. If you do feel the need to get rid of everything, be extra careful not to nick yourself and wear loose-fitting bottoms sans underwear to get proper airflow.
Self-diagnosing an issue
Adam-Supawadee/ShutterstockYou probably don’t want to run to the doctor every time your vagina feels a little itchy or off, but it’s a good idea to give your gyno a call and explain your symptoms instead of heading to the drugstore and treating yourself with over-the-counter anti-itch or anti-fungal medications. “Taking a medication without knowing the problem can make things worse and cause a pH imbalance,” says Dr. Goje. “You’re just introducing more substances into the vagina, so I encourage patients to always talk to their doctor and never self-diagnose.”
A poor diet
Foxys-Forest-Manufacture/Shutterstock“Eating right is important for good vaginal health,” says Dr. Goje. A high sugar diet can cause an overgrowth of candida, the bacteria responsible for yeast infections, and certain foods or spices can change your vagina’s natural pH, which in turn may alter how it smells or tastes. One thing to get enough of: probiotics, which help keep your gut bacteria balanced and may also do the same for your vaginal flora, too.