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Intimate Grooming: What Women Need to Know

What to know about cleansing and hair removal in the bikini area.

WebMD Feature

You shower, you wash your hair, and you put on deodorant. But what do you know about grooming for your more intimate area? For instance, how do you deal with vaginal odor? Should you douche? What about a bikini wax?

For many women, these things are all part of daily grooming. Here is what you need to know about your options.

Cleansing Down There

The number of intimate grooming products -- from cleansers and fragrance mists to on-the-go freshening wipes -- is growing. But they’re not really necessary, gynecologists say.

“You don’t need these products for routine use,” says gynecologist Christine O’Connor, MD, director of adolescent gynecology and well woman care at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore.

Even products marketed specifically for the female genital area can sometimes irritate or upset the normal pH balance, leading to irritations and infections. O’Connor says regular bathing, changing out of wet or sweaty clothes, and avoiding repeated use of tight, restrictive clothing will prevent unpleasant odors and infections. 

Harsh soaps and cleansers can also interfere with the body’s pH balance. And as much as you might enjoy those fragrant soaps and gels, it’s best just to use mild, unscented soaps and water for cleansing. Scented soaps and gels, O'Connor says, sometimes contain perfumes and other ingredients that can be irritating to delicate tissues.

There is no need to clean internally by either using intimate products (which usually come with the disclaimer “for external use only”) or douching, O'Connor says.

The word "douche" -- French for "shower" -- means to wash inside the vagina with water or a mixture of water and vinegar, water and baking soda, or water and iodine. The mixtures come prepackaged in a bottle, or you can make your own. They are then squirted into the vagina through a tube or nozzle.

But O'Connor says the vagina maintains itself by creating a mucous discharge that keeps pH balanced and supports the ‘‘healthy” bacteria that can keep infections at bay. If this balance is disrupted or washed away, you may end up with bacterial or yeast infections.

Medicated douches, vaginal suppositories, or vaginal creams can sometimes be prescribed or recommended by your doctor, if necessary, to treat certain types of infections. Otherwise, routine douching should be avoided.

Bikini Bottoms

Whether you’re getting ready for swimsuit season or just want to look your best in that sexy new thong, you’ve probably given some thought to removing the hair along your bikini line.

Many companies that sell shaving products -- such as Philips, Remington, and Hair Care Down There -- market bikini-area trimmers designed to be as precise as possible and friendly to sensitive skin.

Shaving the Bikini Area

If you opt to shave your bikini area, you can avoid irritation by following these tips from Julie Harper, MD, clinical associate professor of dermatology at the University of Alabama-Birmingham and a spokeswoman for Philips Healthcare:

  • Treat razor burn and ingrown hairs by gently exfoliating the affected area with a washcloth in the shower. You can also trim the hair short -- but avoid shaving -- until the redness and irritation has subsided.
  • Resist the urge to perform DIY surgery on razor bumps and ingrown hairs. The bump could get infected and you might be left with an ugly scar. You can try gently lifting ingrown hairs with a toothpick, but don’t use anything too sharp. If the hair doesn’t lift easily, stop, and if the area is tender or hot to the touch, see your doctor.
  • Don't take hot showers or baths for several hours after removing hair. Water that's too hot can irritate pores, causing unwanted bumps and discomfort.
  • To avoid irritation, don't work out or wear tight clothing immediately after grooming. Skin can be extra-sensitive to bacteria, moisture, and chafing from your workout clothes.

Many women prefer longer-lasting results and choose to get a bikini wax. Hair removal is one of the top three services requested in spas, according to Spa Trade, a spa industry business resource.

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