I remember that embarrassing moment when I first realized that my vagina was “bleeding” and my mom told me it was just my first period. That was the start of my adventure into the feminine hygiene products that take up shelves in the grocery store. Under the cold indoor lights, it started with pads and tampons, and gradually grew into other products like period cups, period underwear, wipes, sprays, and cleansing gels. Though there were different products, most of them had a common property: scented– flowery, tropic, rainy, or whatever natural scent that made our intimate body part smell fresh and clean.
Let’s pause for a second here. Since when does my vagina need to smell like a flower? Or since when do we associate its natural scent to uncleanliness, and some “fresh, flowery” scent to hygienic? True, hygiene is an important factor of health. However, this over-concern about the smell, which is usually biologically natural, of our genitals reveals certain levels of female insecurities that these scented products claim to heal. Artificial scent eliminates the “stink” and consequently embarrassment, so that I can walk confidently and shamelessly. It works around a similar set of social discomfort in the perfume industry. However, perfume does not come into direct contact with the most sensitive skin of our bodies. While genital hygiene is important, more and more commercial campaigns and product lines blur the line between effective cleansing and unnecessary over-treatment.
Look at this product: a scented dry shampoo that works around the vagina just like a normal dry shampoo for the hair and scalp. Sure, cleansing is necessary. However, scents and dry shampoo? Is it really necessary for us to buy into this? Hilda Hutcherson, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University, would laugh at this: “It plays directly to women’s insecurities about our natural scent. Why should I smell like peach blossoms? Am I trying to attract bees? Totally unnecessary.” In fact, she is quite right on the artificial scents. Chemicals and preservatives added to dry shampoos could be harmful for very sensitive skin. In fact, according to Shari Marchbein, a clinical assistant professor of dermatology at NYU Langone School of Medicine, “the vagina requires very little except for gentle cleansing with water and a very gentle body wash for the vulva.”
Next time, when shopping for cleansing products, before we reach for those nicely-scented feminine dry shampoos, give it a second thought, and look for some milder, and more natural formula for the sensitive skin of your nether region.