Credit: Istockphoto

IstockphotoQ: My sister says its OK to wash your vagina with very mild soap in the shower, but I thought soap down there was bad. Whos right?

A:Your vagina actually does a really good job of keeping itself clean, and it doesnt need a lot of help from you to stay that way. But a gentle cleansing with a mild soap or warm water should be fine for most people. You just dont want be overzealous about the scrubbing and sudsing, even during your period—that could upset the balance of “good” and “bad” bacteria down there, leaving you with a yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis.

For a small number of women, some soaps, bubble baths, and bath gels and salts—even scented panty liners—can cause itching, redness, or hives. If you think you might be in this camp or have had trouble with such products in the past, do yourself a favor and avoid those with added fragrance or perfumes (check the ingredient list carefully).

Another smart move: Opt for pH balanced and hypoallergenic soaps, which are less likely to irritate your vagina. One that fits both criteria: Doves Sensitive Skin Unscented Beauty Bar ($6 for a pack of six; drugstores). ”All-natural” soaps may work for you, too, but first check the label for fragrances or added scents.

And remember: Rinsing gently but thoroughly is important. Any residual soap can become irritating if left on your skin.

Q:My breasts feel like theyre sagging more every day. Is this just natural aging?

A:Sadly, yes. As you get older, the ligaments that hold up your breasts lose their elasticity. Whats more, breast tissue becomes more fatty and tends to lose shape and perkiness, leading to more sag. Pregnancy, breast-feeding, and weight gain or loss, all contribute to sag, too: When breasts enlarge and then shrink, the skin doesnt do the same.

But there are things you can do to help. Avoid yo-yo dieting, and exercise regularly (it boosts skin and ligament elasticity). Chest exercises and lifting free weights help strengthen your pectoralis muscles, which help support the breasts. And wear a supportive sports bra (especially when exercising); look for one that has a thick back and sturdy straps.

Next Page: Bedbugs [ pagebreak ]



Q:Im afraid that we may have bedbugs. What should I do?

A: Cute bedtime sayings aside, its hard to deny the ick factor of a true bedbug infestation, as too many people worldwide have discovered in the past few years. Theres some speculation that were seeing more outbreaks of these bugs due to a decrease in insecticide use. People can pick the bugs up through human contact (park benches may be a culprit), during hotel stays, and from used mattresses. And kids may bring the uninvited guests home from camp or sleepovers.

Your first move should be to determine if bedbugs (pictured top) are, in fact, what youve got—and thats not always easy. The wingless, rust-colored creatures are oval, flat, and up to a quarter-inch long. And their bites result in small, itchy, red bumps that appear in clusters or in a row. There are several look-alike insects, though, so check out this bedbug image.

How to get rid of them if youve got them? The DIY approach: Remove all bed linens, including skirts, pillow shams, and comforters. Place the linens in paper or plastic bags, freeze them for at least 24 hours to kill the bugs, then wash them in 130-degree or hotter water. If the linens wont fit in your freezer, jump to the hot-water step, washing your sheets every three days until the infestation is gone.

Also, carefully inspect your furniture, mattress, curtains, and any clutter around your bed for signs of live bugs. Youll want to thoroughly scrub furniture, flipping over nightstands and removing drawers. And vacuum all cracks and crevices in furniture and along walls, then dispose of the vacuum bag or empty the canister immediately (deposit contents in a plastic bag, tie it off, and put it in the outdoor garbage). Cant do the job yourself? Call a pest-control service to bring out the heavy artillery.