While you can get them in any drugstore, some feminine hygiene products may have less safety testing than you might think. For example, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn't require testing for cleaning products like non-medicated vaginal wipes and douches (since they're considered cosmeticsand nope, those aren't tested either), although the FDA does require that tampon manufacturers test their products for safety before they go to market.

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"Menstrual pads and other class 1 devices [including vaginal cleaning products] don’t need to be tested because they’re low risk; they cannot, however, contain toxic substances like lead, dioxin, or arsenic, to name just a few examples,"Deborah Kotz, press officer at the FDA, explained to Health. "Such products would be considered adulterated and are not legally allowed on the market."

That said, the more important question might be whether you need some of the these "hygiene" products at all.

Your local drugstore is likely packed with items promising you cleaner nether regions. From douches to vaginal wipes, companies are trying to sell you on claims that you will have a fresher-smelling vagina, and softer skin if you rid your skin of bacteria.

However, “the bacteria in there are actually good, and there’s no reason to try and get rid of them,” says Iffath Hoskins, MD, an ob-gyn at NYU Langone Medical Center. “It’s a fallacy that douching or using these products will clean what’s in there.”

Instead, you can sit back and relax, because your body generally takes care of cleaning it for you.

“Your vagina is part of you; it’s a living person,” Dr. Hoskins says. “New healthy cells lie underneath, coming to the surface and creating a liquid-y sensation, similar to the way your mouth creates saliva. It’s a self-cleaning part of your body.”

Creating unnecessary risk

Dr. Hoskins emphasizes that using vaginal sprays, wipes, and douches isn’t necessarily toxic, the real issue is that you may be creating an unnecessary risk.

“If you’re going to put something inside the vagina, obviously there’s a possibility of having a problem,” she explains. “There’s always a concern that you can insert an infection. The pH in the vagina regulates itself, and douching is going to change the equilibrium. My mindset is there’s no reason to do it.” Frequent douching has been linked to yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, and pelvic inflammatory disease.

“Don’t bother spending your time and money." says Dr. Hoskins. "You could get the same thing by standing in the corner and closing your eyes for a few minutes,” she says.

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What you can do

While using douches or wipes won’t help you and may even be harmful,  it's fine to wash the outside of your vagina (technically, your external genitalia are called the vulva) during your shower as you do the rest of your body, says Dr. Hoskins. The most important thing to keep in mind isn’t the product you use, it’s that you dry off fully after stepping out of the shower, she says.

“Make sure that the area is dry before you get dressed,” she says. “Moisture is what causes that area to grow bad bacteria.”

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Should a new bill pass?

Dr. Hoskins is in favor of reintroducing the Robin Danielson Act, which would provide funding for research to confirm that the chemicals and synthetic fibers in feminine hygiene products are completely safe for use.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York first introduced the bill, named for a woman who died of Toxic Shock Syndrome (the rare infection that tampons boxes are required to warn against) in 1997, but it’s been brought before Congress and subsequently killed a whopping nine times before even going to a vote.

“We need more dedicated and substantial research to address unanswered health concerns regarding the safety of feminine hygiene products,” Maloney told RH Reality Check.

In an op-ed for The Guardian, Maloney explains that over the course of the average woman’s lifetime, she’ll go through more than 16,800 tampons, yet there’s not enough research about how they can affect you over time.

“Regardless of what you’re using—a douche, wipes, or a tampon—you’re putting it into an area that’s very absorbent,” Dr. Hoskins says. “You need to know what’s in there.”

More than anything, though, Dr. Hoskins would like to educate the public that many vaginal hygiene products are unnecessary.

“The vaginal environment is a healthy, natural environment,” she says. “The research should be increased, but on the other hand the public should be educated to know you just don’t need it.”

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