Today women are increasingly concerned about the products they use on their body and the food they eat. What most women don’t know is that the products they put into their vagina have an impact on their overall health as well. I’m talking about two very underrated products in particular: tampons and vaginal lubricant.
Let me break this down for you…
Vaginal Ecology 101
Each area of your body is an ingeniously self-protecting, unique environment with a specific pH, microbiome, and cell structure – quite simply: each has its own ecology. Your vagina is no exception. Maintaining the natural ecology of the vagina protects you from common ailments like yeast infections and Bacterial Vaginosis (BV). Bacterial Vaginosis occurs when the normal balance of good bacteria in the vagina is disrupted and replaced with an overgrowth of harmful bacteria, which can happen as a result of vaginal pH changes. Maintaining a proper vaginal pH also protects you from contracting more serious infections, including HIV. Vaginal ecology also has an impact on urinary tract infections and can even affect your sexual pleasure. Given that at least 40% of women 25 and over have sexual dysfunction often due to vaginal dryness, vaginal ecology starts to seem pretty important!
Breaking Down the Lube Problems
Unfortunately, the ingredients in some traditional lubes you may have used can dramatically disrupt the vaginal ecology. The majority contain glycerin, petrochemicals, and parabens, which have all been identified by the World Health Organization and other important public health groups and researchers as threats to a woman’s health and to our partners. Here are a few things you should know about traditional lubes:
- They create changes in vaginal osmolality. Vaginal tissue is meant to be moist to maintain health. Many lubes are hyperosmolar because of the glycerin they contain. This means they actually pull moisture out of vaginal tissue, leaving it dry and damaged. Damaged tissue makes sex much less comfortable. Damaged tissue is also more susceptible to vaginal infections – a main reason traditional lubes are a personal and public health issue.
- They increase your risk of contracting BV, which then requires you to use medication to treat the infection. Not only that, having BV can increase your risk of contracting other vaginal infections (including HIV) by 60% -- all because of that damaged tissue. It also increases your risk of passing STIs onto your partners by 30%!
- Changing pH means feeding the bad bugs: Many lubricants on the market today have pH levels that are incompatible with the normal pH of the vagina. As mentioned above, changes in vaginal pH can interfere with your vaginal ecology and increase your risk of getting BV. Furthermore, glycerin not only changes vaginal pH but can also feed yeast the same way sugar does, so exposure through lube can amp up your risk for yeast infection.
When choosing a lubricant you want to make sure you choose something like Sustain's organic water and aloe-based lube that's free of parabens, glycerin, and petrochemicals.
Women use on average 11,000 tampons in their lifetime, so what's in them matters. It actually can be harder than you might think to avoid accidentally putting, say, synthetic perfume right on up inside yourself every month. Like, even when you don’t mean to, because these ingredients are in most tampons. You know what else is in tampons? Conventionally grown cotton, rayon, deodorant, and other synthetic ingredients. Furthermore, conventionally grown cotton is one of the most heavily sprayed crops around. Again, in order to not mess with you vaginal ecology it's important to know what's in your tampons.
I usually recommend using 100% organic cotton tampons.
To put it simply, a healthy vagina is important for a healthy, happy life. Choose your products wisely, and #thinkwithyourvagina !
- Dr. Aviva Romm
Dr. Aviva Romm, a Yale trained M.D. who specializes in integrative health and medicine for women, offers her perspective on why it’s critical to understand the difference between traditional and natural personal lubricants.
Aviva Romm MD