Can personal hygiene products lead to health problems? Researchers at the University of Guelph say maybe.
In a new study, the Canadian researchers found that vaginal hygiene products such as gels and washes may cause more harm than good. The study found that women who use vaginal hygiene products have a three times greater risk of developing a vaginal infection than women who do not.
They also found that some women who purchased these products did so to address an existing vaginal health concern or vaginal discomfort.
The study found that 95 percent of Canadian women have used vaginal hygiene products.
The Guelph study, published in the BMC Women's Health Journal, is the first of its kind and establishes a foundation for information regarding how Canadian women manage their vaginal health. It also identifies the source of potential health problems.
During their research, the study authors polled nearly 1,500 Canadian women regarding their vaginal hygiene practices, the products they used and the frequency with which they experience vaginal health issues.
After collecting responses, the researchers found that the most frequently used products included feminine wipes, anti-itch creams, moisturizers and personal lubricants.
They also found connections between these products and specific vaginal infections. One conclusion from the study found that women who used gel cleansers had an eight times higher risk of developing a yeast infection.
Women who used these gel sanitizers also had a 20 times greater risk of developing a bacterial infection. Participants who reported using washes or gels as part of their vaginal hygiene practices were also two and a half times more likely to develop urinary tract infections (UTI).
Women who used feminine wipes doubled their chances of developing a UTI compared to women who did not use them.
The study could not definitively conclude that vaginal hygiene products cause infections or if the products were used by the women to treat the symptoms of an already existing infection.
Other research has shown a connection between vaginal hygiene products and a disruption of the vaginal microbiome. One theory is that these products could be preventing the healthy bacteria in the vagina from fighting off infection-causing bacteria.
"Like many other areas of the body, the vagina has bacteria that exist to keep it healthy," said Dr. Mona Alqulali, a Bettendorf, Iowa, OB-GYN.
In addition to bacterial infections, yeast infections and UTIs, other conditions related to changes in the vaginal biome include cervical cancer, sexually transmitted diseases and pelvic inflammatory disease, a painful condition that causes inflammation.
Other conditions caused by vaginal biome disruption include ectopic and pre-term pregnancies.
The current Guelph study is not the first time this research team has investigated vaginal hygiene products; previous research with Canadian women found that those who use them do so to feel clean and were unaware of health problems linked to these items.
"Some women may see a commercial about a feminine hygiene issue that features a particular vaginal hygiene product and believe the product will help treat that issue," Alqulali said.
Instead of attempting to treat the issue with over-the-counter washes, wipes and gels, Alqulali suggests that patients make an appointment with their physician.
"If a patient is experiencing any vaginal discomfort or has concerns about their vaginal health, they should schedule an appointment with their physician," Alqulali said.
Sales of vaginal hygiene products in North America total over $2 billion each year.
University of Guelph. "Feminine hygiene products and infection: Concerning connection." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 April 2018.