Navigating the Fem Care Aisle

Finding your way through the complex fem care aisle and its overwhelming array of items is no “walk in the park.” From feminine cleansers, powders, wipes, washes, gels, deodorants, tampons, lubes… to moisturizers, suppositories, home pregnancy tests, ovulation kits, prebiotics, probiotics and pH tests….try saying that ten times fast! While every item seems to make a different claim about feminine health it’s no wonder it leaves us confused and trying to figure out what’s good and what’s not. With so many choices to make and hundreds of items to choose from, wouldn’t it be nice to get a cheat sheet or some good solid advice?

Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, OB/GYN and Professor at Yale University, suggests, “Understanding the medical properties of the product available for sale is vital to getting the over-the-counter care you need.” Dr. Minkin offers the following advice.

Lubricants and Moisturizers:

So what’s the difference between a lubricant and a moisturizer? Did you even know there was one?

Lubricants like K-Y and Astroglide are primarily used for intimacy, and can provide a good source of temporary lubrication. According to Dr. Minkin, “Itching, burning and soreness usually describe chronic vaginal dryness which can occur after you’ve had a baby, during peri-menopause, when taking estrogen depleting drugs for cancer or diabetes, or during or after menopause. If left untreated, it can lead to more serious problems such as urinary discomfort, bladder infections, and painful intercourse.” So not okay!

A good long lasting vaginal moisturizer, like Replens has clinically studied  active ingredients and provide soothing relief, keeping your “sexy time” spontaneous and exciting. Be careful to avoid “double ganger” brands that make the long-lasting claim, but the active ingredients actually used can’t meet your expectations. Look out for a moisturizer that contains polycarbophil, an ingredient that coats and soothes dry vaginal cells.

Check out silicone lubes too. They are available online and although more expensive than water based lubricants you get at the drug store, they are so much less messy and last far longer. You’ll love them.

Feminine Sprays, Washes and Powders:

Gentle feminine washes and wipes can help clean sensitive areas without the irritation, when conventional soaps might be too harsh.

“The most toxic soaps that women can use are Irish Spring and Ivory on sensitive areas,” says Dr. Minkin. “The safest and most gentle soaps for feminine hygiene are White Dove and Neutrogena.”

Feminine sprays simply mask odor with perfume, in which case the fragrance can often be an irritant to sensitive tissue, causing allergic reactions and stinging (OUCH!). Just wash daily with gentle soap to stay clean.

Like feminine sprays, powders attempt to neutralize odor by masking scent.  “A powder may even cause a low-grade fungal infection,” adds Dr. Minkin.   When it comes to the vagina, we must keep in mind this area is home to the most sensitive skin on our bodies. No need to overdo it girls, a little bit goes a long way!

Some women can suffer from perineal odor caused by oils in sweat gland secretions. If you feel like you need to use a powder to deal with sweat, Dr. Minkin recommends a non-perfume powder or even corn starch should do the trick.

Here’s a little food for thought: Certain fatty foods like meat and pungent or spicy foods can have odorous oils that can be secreted in sweat. So the next time you want to indulge in an oversized platter of fajitas or the Indian buffet, remember, the more fat we ingest, the more oil we secrete.

Douches (And I don’t mean your ex-boyfriends):

Douching alone has been considered a big “no-no” by some doctors, especially if done too often (more than once a month.) Douching is a vaginal infusion of water and water has a pH of 7 – this elevates vaginal pH which can cause odor and irritation. However, 60 million women “Do the Dew-sche” just to feel fresh. If you must douche, make sure to balance pH afterwards with RepHresh Gel.

Feminine Anti-Itch Creams:

While feminine itch-creams attempt to soothe vaginal irritation, they often do not get to the “bottom” of our underlying symptoms.  Women with a persistent vaginal itch are advised to seek medical attention to rule out the possibility of bacterial vaginosis (BV) or a yeast infection.

“One third of the time women have a yeast infection, One third of the time they have BV, and One third of the time they have an allergic reaction to something as simple as diet, toilet paper, soap, or lotion,” says Dr. Minkin.  “If you have a yeast infection, Clotrimazole cream and Monistat can be useful.  Topical steroids like hydrocortisone cream will relieve itching but can lead to skin thinning or atrophy if used too often.”

Ladies, PLEASE visit the doc to properly diagnose the cause. You don’t want to self treat.

Home Pregnancy Kits and Ovulation Kits:

There are many kits available on the market that help women diagnose pregnancy and stay informed about their body’s natural cycle and when they’re fixin’ to start.

“While a home-testing kit can be useful for gathering preliminary data, it is no substitute for a test performed by a doctor,” said Dr. Minkin.  “Make sure to take all over-the-counter information with a grain of salt and to follow up positive results with a trip to an OB/GYN.”

Whether you are searching for answers to itching, dryness, or odor, there’s no need to freak out about fem care if you have all the facts.

I hope this guide to the land of lady products makes your next visit to the pharmacy a little less stressful. If you have questions regarding particular products and their use, ask your pharmacist which one would be most suitable to your feminine needs.

Good Luck!

Suzi Kirsh