Should You Use Scented Tampons?

Let’s be blunt: Your vagina is not dirty and does not need to be cleaned. If it’s a healthy vagina, it will not smell bad, even during your menstrual cycle.

Vaginas are self-cleaning. They don’t require any sort of soap, chemical or perfume to make them “clean.” Scented feminine products—tampons, pads, douches and sprays—can interfere with a vagina’s natural ability to stay clean. This can lead to irritation or an infection that causes exactly what you are trying to prevent—a fishy, smelly odor.

So why do you and millions of other women feel you need a scented tampon or other feminine product? Because companies have targeted one of women’s biggest insecurities to sell you a product you don’t need.

pink tampons no applicator

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Your Vagina Cleans Itself

For the most part, vaginas are self-sufficient. They constantly renew their cells and microorganisms and wash away the old ones, even during menstruation. It’s an ongoing process that doesn’t need help from any special so-called “hygiene” product.

Vaginas are also sensitive. Introducing something new can quickly upset the balance of bacteria, as well as the pH level. Good vaginal bacteria protect against infection and disease-causing organisms.

The overgrowth of bad bacteria brought on by a scented tampon or other foreign body can cause uncomfortable itching or irritation, or even a more serious problem, such as a yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis.

If left untreated, bacterial vaginosis will spread and may cause serious infections in the uterus and fallopian tubes. This increases the risk for sexually transmitted diseases, such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HIV, and can make it more difficult to get pregnant.

What to Do If You Smell…Well…Fishy

If odor is a legitimate concern, scented tampons aren’t the answer.

Should you experience a white, gray, or yellow vaginal discharge—and particularly if it smells like fish—make an appointment with your doctor instead of trying to cover it up with fragrance.

Along the same lines, if a scented tampon or other feminine product has made you itchy or irritated, stop using it immediately. Your vagina should revert back to its normal state in a day or two. If your discomfort does not disappear, or you itch or burn around the outside of your vagina, see your doctor.

It’s best that you do not ignore your symptoms. Although it’s tempting to self-diagnose the problem and treat it with an over-the-counter medication, this can delay healing and even make the problem worse. It’s generally better to see a physician and have an evaluation to determine the most likely culprit.

Tips for Good Hygiene

As an OB/GYN who sees many women with problems caused by scented tampons and other such products marketed for use “down there,” my advice is to avoid them completely. You may find it helpful to avoid scented detergents and fabric softeners, as well.

Practicing good personal hygiene will help keep this very special reproductive organ healthy and put your mind at ease. Increase your confidence by:

  • Cleaning your vaginal area by washing it gently while bathing and rinsing it thoroughly.
  • Wiping from front to back after using the toilet.
  • Keeping the area dry by wearing panties with a cotton crotch.
  • Avoiding tampons or pads with added chemicals used to increase absorbency. In other words, choose the lowest absorbency product you need to control your flow.
  • Using tampons for the least number of hours necessary and switching to pads when sleeping.
  • Never leaving a tampon in place for more than eight hours.
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