Are feminine wipes good for you? Are they safe to use?Yes, feminine wipes could be a great addition to your daily hygiene routine, but it really depends on the ingredients that are used to produce the wipes. Ideally, feminine wipes help you to wipe away impurities that accumulate during the day without disturbing the balance of beneficial and opportunistic bacteria that live on the skin around your vagina. However, in the worst case scenario, feminine wipes (and baby wipes) could be associated with a variety of issues: they can cause allergic reactions, a burning feeling, yeast infection, and they can even contribute to urinary tract infections. Not to mention, wet wipes could clog toilets if you flush them.
What are feminine wipes used for?Feminine personal wipes are great for refreshing on the go when you do not have an option to take a shower or use a bidet. Use wipes to clean the outside area of the vagina, called vulva, as well as the anal area. However, be sure not to use feminine wipes inside your vagina. In fact, you should not use any daily hygiene products inside your vagina. If you are healthy, your vagina should have a slight smell that is normal and isn’t offensive. On the other hand, a strong, foul smell might indicate an infection. Likewise, if you notice a sudden unusual change in your vaginal discharge, talk to your doctor. There is lots going on in our genital region that can contribute to an unpleasant smell. Daily showers, fresh underwear, and the use of feminine wipes are great hygiene habits when used in moderation.
SweatFirst of all, both men and women have odor-producing apocrine glands around the groin, similar to the ones in your armpit. Skin bacteria consume the sweat that is naturally produced and their activity can produce an unpleasant smell. Using feminine wipes a couple of times during hot summer days could be a great way to reduce the body odor.
PoopLet’s be real: dry toilet paper just doesn’t clean well. Using a wet wipe after going to the bathroom is a great way to clean up. Just don’t rub your anus aggressively! Instead, pat gently or you’ll cause more harm than good.
MucusWomen have a pair of Bartholin’s glands located to the left and right of the opening of the vagina. They secrete mucus to lubricate the vagina and this is what you normally see on your panties or liner by the end of the day. However, the everyday mucusy discharge should be a slight nuisance, not a major hygiene problem. If you notice a change in how your vaginal discharge looks or smells, check in with your GYN.
PeriodsMost women of childbearing age have regular menstruation. On average, you lose up to 80 ml of blood during several days of your period. That’s almost 1/4 of a cup! Tampons, pads, and menstrual cups are going to pick up most of the blood but some of it will be left on your vulva (the skin surrounding the vaginal opening). Unfortunately, your ever-present skin bacteria love to munch on the menstrual blood and break it down to foul-smelling stuff. This is why many of us use a bidet, baby wipes, or feminine wipes to clean up during the day during periods. There is another issue with menstrual blood – it changes your vaginal pH. Typically, vaginal pH is 3.5 to 4.5. This acidic environment is ideal for beneficial bacteria and hostile for opportunistic bacteria that cause odor and infection. However, blood has a pH of 7.4 and it upsets your healthy vaginal pH. That’s why many women notice that they are more prone to yeast or BV infections right after their periods. Therefore, it’s a good idea to use products that can help you to support your beneficial bacteria while providing a mild cleansing effect.
Can feminine wipes cause a UTI or a yeast infection?Some say that it is possible that feminine wipes could cause a UTI, itching, a yeast infection, and even a BV, however, there is no conclusive proof to support this claim.
Feminine wipes concernsA 2018 Canadian study looked at the use of feminine hygiene products and its correlation to a variety of urogynecological problems. While the study found that the participants who reported using feminine or baby wipes had almost double the odds of reporting a UTI, the study was not able to establish whether there was a causative relationship between using the wipes and getting a UTI. It’s a bit of a “chicken or egg first” question. Basically, we don’t know whether the women who have frequent UTIs are more concerned about their cleanliness and, therefore use feminine wipes, or if you are destined to get a UTI when using wet wipes. “These products may be preventing the growth of the healthy bacteria required to fight off infection,” said O’Doherty, one of the researchers in this study. He also noted that emerging evidence has linked the disruption of vaginal microbial systems with health problems. For example, pelvic inflammatory disease, cervical cancer, reduced fertility, ectopic and pre-term pregnancies, and bacterial and sexually-transmitted infections are among the problems related to an abnormal vaginal microbiome, he said. But it’s a stretch to assume that using feminine wipes could seriously harm your microbiome. At least, we do not have evidence to support this assumption.
Feminine wipes endorsementAt the same time, another recent paper reviewed research available on global feminine hygiene practices and women’s health and arrived at a slightly different conclusion. “Gentle vulvar cleansing is desirable, and evidence suggests that it is an important aspect of female intimate hygiene and overall vulvovaginal health.” The authors also note that “a properly designed feminine hygiene product should have targeted antimicrobial activity, mitigating transient pathogen invasion (such as Group B Streptococcus) while supporting the commensal flora”. That’s why Wipegel, for example, includes prebiotics that are designed to naturally support your healthy bacterial flora. Some ingredients, such as lactic acid, also could be useful to ward off infections. Lactic acid is naturally produced in your vagina by Lactobacilli, the beneficial bacteria that protect you from pathogenic bacteria and even viruses. Some evidence shows that products with lactic acid could be beneficial for feminine hygiene. And in fact, some brands like Always Wipes include lactic acid as one of the ingredients. However, if you feel dryness or irritation, or if feminine wipes burn your skin, stop using the product and try a different brand.
Are baby wipes and feminine wipes the same?Yes, baby wipes and feminine wipes are essentially the same product. “Baby” wipes and “feminine” wipes are just marketing terms. Also, in some cases, baby wipes are thicker and larger than feminine wipes. There are no official FDA guidelines that regulate the ingredients used in feminine wipes or baby wipes. Therefore, the ingredients used in baby wipes and feminine wipes, or personal wet wipes, differ from brand to brand but are in general very similar. Hemorrhoidal wipes are the only type of wipes that need to comply with the FDA requirement to include certain ingredients that help to soothe the irritated anorectal area. Therefore, most hemorrhoidal wipes include 30-60% witch hazel to satisfy the requirement.
What are the ingredients in feminine and baby wipes?The main ingredients of feminine wipes added to the cloth-like material, include:
- Water to provide the moisture and make the wipes wet.
- Mild surfactant, mainly to remove oil and dirt from the skin.
- Moisturizer to offset the oil-stripping effect of the surfactant and moisturize the skin.
- Preservative to prevent the growth of bacteria and mold on the wipes inside of the container. Some preservatives are better than others and most have the potential to negatively impact the natural microbial balance of your skin.
- A pH regulator, especially for wipes that claim to be “pH-balanced”.
- Plant extracts (mostly at low amounts) added for their smell and marketing claims.
- Some products, like Wipegel, also include prebiotics to support natural good bacteria.
Parent’s Choice Baby Wipes:
- Cocamidopropyl Pg Dimonium Chloride Phosphate, Glycerin (skin moisturizer and conditioning)
- Phenoxyethanol, Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate (preservatives)
- Chamomilla Recuitita (Matricaria) Flower Extract, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Extract, Tocopheryl Acetate (skin conditioning & marketing)
- Citric Acid (pH regulator)
Amazon Elements Baby Wipes:
- Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Tocopheryl Acetate (skin moisturizer and conditioning)
- Disodium Phosphate, Citric Acid (pH regulator)
- Polysorbate 20, Disodium Cocoamphodiacetate (surfactants)
- Disodium EDTA, Phenoxyethanol, Sodium Benzoate (preservatives)
Summer’s Eve Simply Cloths:
- Glycerin (skin moisturizer)
- Decyl Glucoside (surfactant)
- Citrus Aurantium Dulcis (Orange) Flower Extract, Citrus Grandis (Grapefruit) Fruit Extract (fragrance and marketing)
- Lactic Acid (pH regulator, conditioning & tested to be beneficial for female hygiene)
- Disodium EDTA, Sodium Benzoate, Potassium Sorbate, Sodium PCA (preservatives)
Always Wipes Individually Wrapped:
- Citric Acid, Sodium citrate (pH regulator)
- PEG-40 hydrogenated castor oil, Sorbitan Caprylate, BIS-PEG/PPG-16 Dimethicone (surfactants)
- Sodium Benzoate (preservative)
- Xanthan gum, Disodium EDTA, Caprylic triglyceride (viscosity adjustment for the overall feel of the product)
- Witch hazel (skin conditioning)
- Prebiotic blend (to support healthy bacteria)
- Carbomer, Sodium hydroxide (gelling agents)
- Fragrance (a natural preservative that smells like almonds)
Can I use feminine wipes while pregnant?Yes, you can continue using your favorite feminine wipes while pregnant. As with any other personal hygiene product, stop using it if you develop a rash or an allergic reaction to any of the ingredients. If you are choosing a brand for yourself or your baby, go for a product without harsh chemicals. Try to avoid:
- DMDM hydantoin
- Undisclosed fragrance
- Parabens. The common ones are butyl, ethyl, methyl, and propyl (and they all end in paraben)
- Methylisothiazolinone (MIT)
- Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfate (SLS)