Feminine hygiene products linked to increased risk of vaginal infections

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New Canadian research has raised concerns over vaginal hygiene products, suggesting that they could actually do more harm than good for women's health.

Carried out by researchers at the University of Guelph, Ontario, the study surveyed 1,435 Canadian women about their vaginal health habits, products they used, and how often they experienced any health problems.

More than 95 percent of the women reported using at least one product in or around the vaginal area, with the most commonly used products including anti-itch creams, moisturizers and lubricants, and feminine wipes.

The study also found, for the first time ever, that women who use these products were three times more likely to experience some type of vaginal infection, even though in some cases women bought the product to actually help an existing problem.

Specific products were also linked with specific infections, with women who used gel sanitizers eight times more likely to have a yeast infection and almost 20 times more likely to have a bacterial infection, while women using feminine washes or gels were almost 3.5 times more likely to have a bacterial infection and 2.5 times more likely to report a urinary tract infection. Those using feminine wipes were twice as likely to have a urinary tract infection, and those using lubricants or moisturizers were 2.5 times as likely to have a yeast infection.

"The study does not establish whether it is the products causing the infections or whether women are using the products in an attempt to address the infection," said the study's lead investigator Kieran O'Doherty, "However, the results do provide important evidence for strong correlations that need further research."

"These products may be preventing the growth of the healthy bacteria required to fight off infection," explained O'Doherty, who also added that recent research has also linked a disruption of vaginal microbial systems with other more serious health problems, including pelvic inflammatory disease, cervical cancer, reduced fertility, ectopic and pre-term pregnancies, and also bacterial and sexually transmitted infections.

A previous study by O'Doherty which looked into why Canadian women were using these products found that women are unaware of the potential health problems, instead believing that the products will make them feel clean and fresh.

"Our society has constructed female genitalia as unclean, and the marketing of vaginal hygiene products as something women need to attain the ideal is contributing to the problem. These products are viewed as a physical need rather than a choice. But the reality is, there are potential health risks to using these products."

The results can be found published online in the journal BMC Women's Health.

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