Douching, which is washing out the vagina with water or other mixtures, is common in the United States despite it being widely discouraged by medical professionals. It is estimated that around one in four women between the ages of 15 and 44 use a vaginal douche to get rid of unpleasant odors and feel fresher. However, douching affects the levels of bacteria and the acidity of the vagina, and can increase the risk of infections, pregnancy complications, and various other health problems.
A new study published in the journal Environmental Health suggests that vaginal douches have another problematic effect on women’s health: douches may lead to higher exposure to phthalates, which are potentially harmful chemicals. Phthalates are found in hundreds of products such as adhesives, detergents, plastics, and even personal-care products. These chemicals can disrupts the action of hormones, particularly reproductive and thyroid hormones. Phthalates have been shown to have a great effect in the womb, meaning that they are most problematic and concerning for women of reproductive age.
The data for the study came from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, in which 739 women between the ages of 20 and 29 reported their use of feminine hygiene products, such as pads, tampons, vaginal douches, etc., and provided urine samples to be tested. The urine samples were tested for phthalates levels and researchers found that douches were the only product that showed a significant link to higher levels of the chemical. This means that douching is leading to increased exposure to chemicals that can lead to health problems later in life, which is another reason for concern about the practice.
The authors of the study explain that more research needs to be done about the specific consequences of increased exposure to phthalates. This is one of the first studies that explores the link between feminine products and chemical exposure, and it will hopefully lead to more research in this area as vaginal health is an important women’s health issue.
To read more about douching and why it is not recommended for women, click here.