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Vulva serums, masks, moisturisers; what products do our vaginas actually need?

Shona Hendley explores the world of vaginal and vulva products and how necessary they really are. 

So, lockdown hey?! I, like many of you, have found online shopping about one of the only perks right now, even if it is window or screen shopping.

This is where I found myself recently (when I should have been working, shhh don’t tell anybody), perusing online beauty websites in search of, well I don’t know really. Something.

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Anyway, as I scrolled away, I think I viewed probably hundreds of different products, including:

  • Serums
  • Masks
  • Cleansers
  • Blemish cream
  • Sunscreen
  • Mists
  • Moisturisers
  • Exfoliators
  • Wipes
  • Scrubs

And these were just for the vagina or vulva. Yes, that’s right, not your face, for ‘down there.’

Now, I am not a beauty expert but when I started seeing serums and sunscreen for vulvas, I did a double take. I mean is our vulva really seeing that much sun?!

And not only are there an abundance of these products, there are luxury brands on the market charging hundreds of dollars for them.

Take one vulva care brand, Two Lips who even have beauty sets, including:

A Brightening Set, Discovery Set (for kickstarting your personal journey), and one kit is especially for your T-zone (because your vagina apparently has one of those)?

The prices of these packs which had 2-3 products within them, started (yes started) at $270 US dollars.

Shocked, yet intrigued, I clicked to read more about these sets; I mean how do they supposedly work? What do they do? But when I read the product information I wasn’t even exactly sure where one would apply them because there was a very notable absence of the words vagina or vulva or any any body part for that matter.

After exiting this ‘intimate product’ rabbit hole I came out wondering, am I just really cynical and behind the times? Should I be using vaginal and vulva beauty products? Does my vulva need SPF 40?

Are these products necessary? And most importantly are they safe?

I asked Dr Elizabeth Farrell, gynaecologist and Medical Director of Jean Hailes for Women’s Health for her expert insight.

And without beating around the bush (no pun intended) and the answer was a resounding no. No, they are not necessary and no, they are potentially not safe.

Dr Farrell says that in relation to the vagina, it comes down to the microbiome that exists within it.

The microbiome, which is the bacteria that exists in our body, is present in various combinations in the female reproductive tract – the vagina, cervix and endometrium. It’s primary function, to allow the vagina to protect itself.

“The vagina is actually very complex and extraordinary. Vagina bacteria has a function that stops pathogens entering the body that can cause major infections,” she says.

And in relation to the vulva, Dr Farrell says because it is an end organ with loads of nerve endings, it is especially sensitive.

“The skin of the vulva is also very delicate, so vulval irritation is very common,” she explains.

When products are put onto the vulva or into the vagina it can cause an imbalance of bacteria, impact their ability to do their job which can create a variety of health issues from vaginal and vulva irritation and thrush. Symptoms of which can include redness, swelling, itching, discomfort and/ or burning pain. Sometimes there is a vaginal discharge or inflammation.

So, why have intimate beauty products become so popular?

In Dr Farrell’s opinion the demand comes from an incorrect view in society that the vagina or genital area is dirty.

But in reality, she says, the opposite is true. In fact, “the vagina actually cleans itself.”

She also suggests there is a component of sexism in this view, asking, “do most men clean or put products on their penis?”

Then what should we be putting on our vagina and vulva?

According to Dr Farrell, pretty much nothing! She says that if the ingredients in a product are words you can’t pronounce or do not know, or if they contain fragrance you shouldn’t be using them.

In fact, Dr Farrell says the only thing women should use to clean their vulvas are water and soap-free wash but even this isn’t usually necessary.

If you do though, she says never to scrub due to the abundance of nerve endings and delicate skin that exist there.

But perhaps most importantly, Dr Farrell urges men and women to “leave vaginas and vulvas to do their own thing, proclaim that our genital areas of our body are normal, be kind to them and embrace what our bodies do.”

Shona Hendley is a freelance writer and ex-secondary school teacher. You can follow her on Instagram here.

Dr Elizabeth Farrell AM is gynaecologist and Medical Director of Jean Hailes for Women’s Health.

Any products featured in this article are selected by our editors, who don’t play favourites. If you buy something, we may get a cut of the sale. Learn more.

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