The truth? Your best bet when it comes to cleansing your vagina is doing next to nothing. Gently wash the external areas (the vulva) in the shower with water or a mild, unscented soap—that's it. Be careful not to scrub too hard, which can cause tiny abrasions that make you vulnerable to infections. Then dry off completely before getting dressed; moisture helps bad bacteria breed.

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Remember: You're not supposed to smell like roses down there. So if you're using any scented soaps, wipes, douches tampons, herbal inserts—whatever!—​to feel fresher, you should stop. These products can alter the vaginal pH, which puts you at a higher risk of irritation. Plus, frequent douching, in particular, has been linked to bacterial vaginosis, yeast infections, and pelvic inflammatory disease.

While some people have been known to apply talcum powder below the belt to keep moisture at bay and prevent chafing, I don't recommend it. Certain studies suggest that using talcum powder on the genitals may increase a woman's risk of ovarian cancer (other research indicates no such increase). One theory is that talc particles travel to the ovaries via the vagina, uterus, and fallopian tubes; the thinking is that talc may cause inflammation, which could heighten the risk of cancer. (Though some talc in its natural form contains asbestos, the American Cancer Society notes that consumer talcum products in the U.S. have been asbestos-free since the 1970s.) You've probably read about recent lawsuits in which victims and survivors of ovarian cancer have alleged that the use of talcum powder led to the development of their disease.

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If you really feel the need to dust yourself with powder down below, stick with one made from cornstarch. Even better: Avoid any unnecessary products on your private parts. Your vagina is like a self-cleaning oven—​it does a good job taking care of itself.

 

Health’s medical editor, Roshini Rajapaksa, MD, is assistant professor of medicine at the NYU School of Medicine.