There’s no need to smell of strawberries ‘down there’

14 August 2018 - 18:24 By Wendy Knowler
Dr. Sindisiwe van Zyl has warned women against using intimate washes, saying they may cause vaginal infections
Dr. Sindisiwe van Zyl has warned women against using intimate washes, saying they may cause vaginal infections
Image: 123RF/vladimirfloyd

She calls a vagina a vagina - and she’s got a big problem with the makers of “intimate washes” shaming women into thinking they need to invest in products to make their “lady bits” smell good.

Dr. Sindisiwe van Zyl‚ based in Kempton Park, Gauteng ‚ east of Johannesburg‚ is known for dispelling health-related myths on social media‚ particularly Twitter‚ where she has more than 72‚000 followers.

And intimate washes are one of her favourite topics.

“These products perpetuate the myth that vaginas are dirty and smelly and must smell fresh and clean or like strawberries‚” she said. “It creeps into our lives as young girls and is perpetuated throughout our lives.

“It’s just not true. The vagina regulates itself very well. It maintains the correct pH. All you need to do is wash with water - nothing else.”

Contrast that with the marketing message of Adcock Ingram’s popular Gynaguard intimate wash‚ a 140ml bottle of which retails for about R70: “Essential care‚ for you know where... gentle yet effective‚ [Gynaguard] is specially formulated to keep you feeling clean‚ fresh and confident… for daily use to gently rinse away odour-causing germs from your most sensitive areas.”

The product “protects and cares for your intimate comfort” and “supports and reinforces a healthy pH balance.”

But intimate washes are more than unnecessary‚ according to Dr. van Zyl - they can actually cause problems. “The use of intimate washes upsets the pH balance and can lead to yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis‚” she said.

Gynaguard’s brand manager Mama Bua said the company’s position was not that water was not sufficient as a vaginal cleanser‚ but that women should use an intimate wash as an alternative to soap‚ which was harmful.

The product’s website - which stated‚ among other things‚ “We understand that having embarrassing smells‚ discharge or irritation can be a cause for great concern” - has since been taken down.

A recent study - conducted by the University of Guelph in Ontario‚ Canada and published in the journal BMC Women's Health earlier this year - found that women who use intimate washes were three times more likely to experience some type of vaginal infection and more than twice as likely to report a urinary tract infection.

The study surveyed nearly 1‚500 Canadian women about their vaginal health practices and products‚ and how often they experienced problems.

"Our society has constructed female genitalia as unclean. The marketing of vaginal hygiene products as something women need to attain the ideal is contributing to the problem‚” the study found.

“These products are viewed as a physical need rather than a choice - but the reality is there are potential health risks to using these products.”

"I am so glad that my medical degree helped me to see the light on this issue‚” added Dr. van Zyl. “That ‘annoying’ musty smell is exactly how your vagina is meant to smell!”

 You can contact our consumer columnist Wendy Knowler with your queries via email: consumer@knowler.co.za or on Twitter: @wendyknowler

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