What’s the best way to keep the vagina clean? With all of the products out there that promise to keep lady bits lemon fresh, it can seem like everything that goes on naturally downstairs is out-of-whack to a grown-up – let alone a teen.
Proper feminine hygiene really isn’t that complicated, though, says Patrice Harold, the director of minimally invasive gynecology at Hutzel Women’s Hospital in Detroit. In fact, the vagina does a pretty good job keeping things flowing smoothly on its own.
Still, there are a few things that the doc says you can do to make sure she’s in tip-top shape. Here’s what parents should teach their daughters on this important subject.
Keeping it clean
Harold says that to clean the vagina properly, all you need is a plain mild soap, like Dove or Ivory. She advises that you don’t put the soap inside of the vagina but instead simply wash the lips and the outside area.
“You really don’t need any special products,” she says. “(In fact), that’s probably the wrong thing to do.”
A lot of the products marketed toward feminine hygiene have chemicals or scents in them that can irritate the vagina or change its pH balance, which can cause a fishy odor.
“The vagina should not smell like strawberry or peaches,” she explains. “There are bacteria in the vagina that eat up the old blood and keep it clean. You don’t need to assist that.”
As girls and women use the bathroom during the day, though, they can help prevent bad bacteria from the rectum from entering the vagina by wiping from front to back, she adds.
When a tween or teen is on her menstrual period, the doctor says not much changes when it comes to proper feminine hygiene – other than knowing how to use the feminine hygiene product of your choice.
“Make sure you’re changing feminine products as needed, about every three to four hours,” she says. “Take them off in the morning and clean yourself.”
If you don’t feel fresh while on your period, she recommends using baby wipes throughout the day to clean yourself off.
Parents should also talk to their daughter about puberty, periods and what products will work best for them. Then, they should supply girls with a little package of wipes and products that they can carry with them.
If a parent doesn’t know how to broach the topic or how to explain how to use a tampon or how to use a menstrual cup, they can take their daughter to her OB-GYN, who can offer information about proper feminine hygiene.
If your daughter starts her period before you get to talk to her — or if she hides her monthly period from you — check out our tips on how to talk to her after the fact.
The vagina gives off distress signals when something isn’t right – as does the body with any ailment. Be mindful of talking to your daughter about what’s typical and what isn’t.
“Discharge is normal, (because) vaginas aren’t dry places,” Harold says. “When the discharge is heavier, there may be an overgrowth of bacteria.”
Musty odors are also normal, she says, but if the odor is foul, fishy or if you’re experiencing itching, burning or bleeding while you’re not on your period, it’s time to see the doctor.
This post was originally published in 2018 and is updated regularly.