updated 4 Sep 2011, 01:28
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Thu, May 05, 2011
New Straits Times
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Intimate details
by Sushma Veera

HOW much do women spend a month on facial care? Many would admit to spending quite a lot on facial treatments and products hoping to look radiant at all times.

Our bathroom cabinets are most likely filled with branded cleansers and moisturisers and specially formulated shampoos and hair conditioners. Not to mention cosmetics to enhance our beauty.

But sadly, the most important part of a woman, the intimate area, is often ignored if not forgotten.

According to consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Tang Boon Nee, genital cleansing, or vagina care, is part of feminine hygiene that's often taboo for women to discuss. .

A talk on vagina care was recently organised by leading healthcare company Sanofi-aventis in conjunction with International Women's Day 2011. Sanofi-aventis is the maker of feminine wash Lactacyd, which contains lactic acid that enables women to maintain good feminine hygiene.

Face and vagina

Dr Tang says the face and vagina are pretty much the same, except the vagina is like the unwanted stepsister, often ignored and misunderstood.

Just like the face, the vagina consists of skin, hair and mucous membranes.

Awareness of feminine hygiene among Malaysian women, says Dr Tang, is still relatively low. This is despite the fact that 80 per cent of women are aware of products available in the market.

Often, women only resort to a feminine hygiene product when faced with problems in this area.

"They start using it upon consultation with their doctors and stop once the problem is resolved. They don't see the importance of using it daily," says Dr Tang.

What can go wrong

"Our face, when not cared for, may suffer from pimples, allergic reactions, dry, flaky skin and fungal infections. The same can happen in our perineum area (commonly referred as a woman's intimate area).

"Imagine pimples popping up in that area! It can happen. Just like our face, the perineum can be attacked by allergies, infections and inflammation. It's difficult to say what causes these problems. Common precipitants are prolonged contact with wet underwear, pad/panty liner allergy, and using cleaning agents which may be too harsh for the skin. All these may present as itchiness, dry, flaky skin and unusual redness," explains Dr Tang.

Other vagina-related complaints include vaginal discharges.

Dr Tang says: "Every woman has vaginal discharge. It's normal to have yellow or whitish stains on your panty. During ovulation, women would have stringy egg white-like discharge. This is also normal.

"But if you notice a change in the cycle, or the discharge makes you feel itchy and gives off an offensive odour or is discoloured, then that's abnormal. It's wise to see a doctor."

She also explains that irritation can be due to dryness in the vagina area and unsuitable lingerie fabric. She suggests cotton as it's a breathable fabric (allows air to circulate).

Infections in the area is a common problem in a tropical country like Malaysia, she says. "It's more common in women who are overweight and those suffering from diabetes. Wearing tight jeans can also make it worse."

Poor hygiene care can also cause Bartholin cyst, herpes, warts and cancer.

How to care for the vagina

"It's easy," says Dr Tang.

"Take note of any change taking place down there. Look at your vagina with a hand mirror at least once a month. It's good to be aware of what you look like. It can help you spot problems.

"Take daily showers and make sure that you wash outside your vaginal area with a proper feminine wash. Use the correct cleaning agent. This should be mild and gentle, so as not to remove too much sebum from the skin. Frequent changing of pads and panty liners helps as well."

Feminine hygiene tips

— Wear breathable cotton underwear.

— Don't stay in wet clothing, especially after swimming or a trip to the gym, as this may cause an infection.

— Don't wear tight clothing, especially tight jeans, as this will induce moisture which can lead to infection.

— If you're using panty liners, change them frequently. If you have an allergic reaction, go off it for a while or look for other alternatives.

— Clean your intimate area daily with a gentle and pH-balanced soap or wash.

— During menstruation, change your sanitary napkins and underwear regularly.

— Using a hair dryer is a good solution if you're not sure about drying your intimate area. This especially applies to women who may be overweight or limited in their movements (disabled). Just be sure to turn off the heat and use the cool setting.

— Always wipe your genital and anal areas from front to back, to avoid any infection in your vagina.

— Avoid douching of any kind unless specifically recommended by your doctor.

— Piercing of the genital area might be fashionable to some, but it's not advisable because the raw wound can cause infection. Some may be allergic to the jewellery.

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