Vaginal wipes must take into consideration the complexities of the bio flora to avoid triggering an imbalance that could result in a yeast infection or other types of irritation. Read more...
What is a vaginal wipe?
Vaginal wipes are similar to other types of wipes in that they are pre-moistened towelettes. They are referred to as "vaginal" wipes however it is safest to restrict their use to the vulva. The vaginal lining is technically "self-cleaning" through a complex interplay of yeast, bacteria, and mucus to maintain a pH making it less favorable for organisms to overgrow.
What is in a vaginal wipe?
I rarely see products disclose the fibers that make up a wipe. According to the FDA, "Cleansing wipes are made of materials such as polyester, polypropylene, cotton, wood pulp, or rayon fibers formed into sheets."
The moistened aspect of the wipe is mostly water- probably about 99%. Other than water most will have:
Preservatives to maintain the product. Examples of this would be Sodium Benzoate, Methylisothiazolinone.
Surfactants to remove oil, dirt, and debris. Examples of this would be Polysorbate 20, Sodium Lauryl Glucose, and Lauryl Glucoside.
Antimicrobials or disinfectants. Examples would be Carboxylate.
Exfoliants. An example of this would be Malic Acid.
Calming and conditioning agents such as Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Tocopheryl Acetate, and Amodimethicone.
Agents to preserve moisture. An example of this would be Propylene Glycol.
Should a vaginal wipe be used as a part of our overall skincare routine?
NO. These products should not be used and should not be encouraged. I feel so strongly about this point that I also feel strongly that companies that make or market these products should reconsider perpetuating the misconceptions these products promote. The reality is that the legacy of these products is rooted in deeply disturbing historical narratives surrounding women and their menstrual cycles.
Why are vaginal wipes a problem?
The vagina specifically creates an atmosphere to maintain a low pH to make it less hospitable for yeast and other organisms to overgrow. Any wipes or cleansing agents used in this area run the risk of disrupting this natural balance and can actually do more harm than good.
Are vaginal wipes in your category of "skincare halos"?
Vaginal wipes find themselves clearly in a category of what I have termed a "skincare halo". They certainly sound like they make sense but cause more trouble than good.
Conditions that can follow after routine use of vaginal wipes include:
Vulvar pruritus. The sensation of persistent itching with or without skin changes.
Allergic contact dermatitis. A recent study found that every single product on the market analyzed had at least one known contact allergen with a mean of about 3.5 allergens in each product.
Vaginal infections have been found to be associated with vaginal douching.
Pelvic inflammatory disease has a possible association with vaginal douching.
Although it can be tempting to use brands that claim to use only all-natural ingredients or wipes made of specific ‘natural’ materials. I do worry that focusing too much on the words "all natural" do not actually permit the consumer to understand that the true focus should be on maintaining the delicate balance and the low pH to avoid an overgrowth of yeast and bacteria and minimize the risk of irritation to the skin.
Have you ever seen patients that struggle with the consequences of using these products?
I have seen a wide range of issues from use of vaginal products.
I have seen patients who deal with chronic irritation and recurrent yeast infections that we struggle to manage until they discontinue use of these products.
I have seen patients misdiagnosed as having an STI when in fact the cause of their recurrent symptoms is the use of vaginal products. When I do have patients that suffer from significant non-infectious rashes, I often will do patch testing, a skin form of allergy testing, to determine the cause. Many times I find it is the preservatives found in several wipes that cause trouble. Consider the fact that when wiping the area these preservatives can be left behind and build up which can only lead to further irritation.
I have also had patients who have struggled in silence and worried to share their symptoms out of fear that the symptoms they are experiencing may be the result of an STI or other condition.
What are best practices when it comes to vaginal wipes?
The best practice is to not use them in the first place.