We are well aware that personal hygiene is important, especially when it is related to our lady parts.
Most of us will shower every day, which of course takes care of basic hygiene, but feminine hygiene requires slightly more maintenance in order to keep everything healthy and in balance.
The vaginal pH must be kept acidic, and the friendly lactobacilli bacteria must be kept in optimal numbers so that it continues to produce lactic acid.
Some species also produce hydrogen peroxide, which is a potent natural microbicide (microorganism killers).
Why is it important to keep up with feminine hygiene?
A healthy vagina will be able to secrete fluids and self-cleanse, but improper feminine care upsets the balance and causes infections that can lead to more serious problems like sexually-transmitted diseases, pelvic inflammatory diseases, infertility, increased risk of cervical cancer, birth complications such as premature delivery or neonatal infections and increased risk of neonatal death.
Here are some basic feminine care rules that you should follow:
Keep dry to discourage bad bacteria
Vaginal discharge, sweat and not drying yourself properly after using the toilet creates a wet environment in your underwear.
Bad odour will eventually occur due to bacteria growth, so it is advisable to keep dry at all times. A little talc-free powder after showers will help.
Change your sanitary pads or tampons regularly - it's not worth it to save money and keep your sanitary pads on for longer than you should.
Rash, bacteria and bad odour will also develop if you do not change out for fresh ones after five to six hours. You are also at risk of getting more serious infections.
Wear fitting, but comfortable bottoms
Your inner wear in particular should be a light and breathable kind, preferably made of cotton fabric to discourage excess sweat production.
Similarly, trousers, jeans and other types of leggings should have enough room to allow air and blood circulation.
Avoid wearing thongs for too long
The thin band of material at the crotch tends to move around, possibly transferring bacteria from one spot to another.
If you have a little bacteria - E. coli is the most common bacteria in the colon - in the back part of the fabric and you're physically active, that material may move. All it has to do is move an inch or two, and it's next to the vagina or urethra.
That thong may be depositing colonic bacteria into your vagina or urethra, predisposing you to vaginal or urinary tract infections.
Do not douche with harsh chemicals
Once a common practice, douching involves a chemical flush of your private parts, often done after intercourse as a form of spermicide (sperm killer).
Now, we know better. Our vagina naturally maintains a pH level of between 3.8 to 4.5, and douching, or even cleaning too often, with harsh body soaps and shampoos will upset that balance.
You could even permanently damage the vagina's self-cleaning function.
Choose a feminine wash that has natural ingredients that maintain optimal pH balance, as well as support and restore the growth of beneficial natural flora for protection against feminine discomforts.
It is important to make sure there is an adequate amount of these good organisms because they make it difficult for unhealthy organisms to thrive. The presence of prebiotics further promote growth of these friendly vaginal organisms.
Saliva, body fluids and remnants of condom fluids and lubricants are foreign particles that can upset your vagina's balance.
If you are sexually active, make it a practice to pee after intercourse to help flush out those foreign particles, and always clean your outer area with a feminine wash to eliminate bacteria.
Mow your 'lawn'
Pubic hair is an evolutionary part of our body that has helped buffer our lady parts from friction and injury.
These days, underwear and outer clothing serve as protection, so it's good practice to keep pubic hair short to minimise insulation down there and allow for air circulation.
It isn't necessary to remove pubic hair completely, however.
Too much shaving, waxing or tweezing can cause rash and ingrown hairs. Save that type of grooming for when you are heading off to that beach vacation.
Seek professional advice when you see abnormalities
Clear or slightly yellow discharge is normal, but if you see consistent discolouration that's green or yellow, that's a warning sign.
Unusually bad odour is also a signal that it's time for you to see your doctor.
Here are some cleaning and maintenance tips for female hygiene:
Preventing irritation and infection
Daily cleansing should include water to clean down below, and it is the best method of prevention. However, do not clean with harsh soaps, but use a feminine wash with an acidic pH.
Choose unscented toiletries for those that will come into contact with your nether region, preferably with antioxidants and moisturisers that neutralise unwanted odours.
It would be even better if the feminine wash contains prebiotics that will encourage the growth of lactobacilli in the vagina and keep the vaginal pH acidic.
Also read: What is vaginal steaming? Should you try it?
Keep dry for as long as possible
Change into dry underwear after exercising, and get out of your bathing suits as soon as you are done with your swim.
Also, avoid bubble baths as much as possible, as bath water is full of bacteria from the skin. Soaking in the tub too often enables bacteria to reach the genital region more frequently, and that can increase your chances of developing urinary tract infection.
How to wipe
Wiping, whether during showering or after using the toilet, should always be from front to back to reduce the chances of the vaginal area coming into contact with bacteria and particles from the anal region.
For handwashing, do it before using the toilet. Your hands are exposed to a lot of germs, especially when you are out and about in public. Prevent those germs from transferring to your nether region by washing before, as well as after.
Removing unwanted hair
There are many methods for hair removal, and it depends on individual preferences. These include plucking, waxing, chemical hair removal cream and shaving.
These methods are inexpensive and easily accessible, but may cause swelling, irritation or cuts.
A safer option is the painless diode laser for permanent hair removal that does not cause burns or discolouration, and only requires about five sessions, as opposed to the IPL (intense pulsed light) laser treatment that requires many sessions to see the best results, takes a few months, can cause pain and may make the skin look darker.
Finally, what you smell like down there is important for your own self-confidence. No one wants to be told that they smell bad!
The saying goes, "you are what you eat", and yes, your food consumption affects your body odour, including the one that comes from down there.
Reduce spicy foods, alcohol, garlic, onions, asparagus and red meat; and increase intake of fruits like pineapple and grapefruit, and fresh vegetables like cucumber and parsley, if you want to smell fresh.
The vagina and genitals are a sensitive area. Good feminine hygiene gives more self-confidence, a strong sense of femininity and satisfying sexuality, and protects women from serious problems.
But if you are keeping up with a regular feminine hygiene routine and detect that something is off with your lady parts, do not hesitate to seek help from a gynaecologist.
Datuk Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar is a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist. For further information, visit www.primanora.com. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader's own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.