Okay, so this is a spin on words and by no means is this blog about a soldier lost in Burma. However, this blog can be just as gripping, because all of my blogs rattle those who read them (that is definitely an exaggeration). This is also loosely based on an actual conversation with a small group of ER nurses. But before we submerge ourselves below the belt, I must give you a quick debriefing on how this topic sprouted.
I work every so often in the ER on the night shift as a staff RN. This job can be pretty busy and serious at times. There may be no time to eat, pee, or chit-chat with peers. However, there are some nights when it can be fairly calm, giving RNs moments in time to discuss some pretty
unusual yet serious things about life in general. Well, one night, during a lull and after staff had ingested snickers, coffee, monsters, peanut butter crackers, or whatever else satisfied their caffeine and sugar needs, we all sat around discussing summer. We talked about tans, swimsuits, different techniques we used to keep our legs soft and hairless, and eventually hygiene. Needless to say, the conversation rolled into a discussion over women's health and how to prevent urinary tract infections, bacterial vaginosis, and other illnesses women may be prone to even if their hygiene is perceived as perfect. I love women's health and this conversation triggered a memory of research I just recently reviewed so I could educate my clients on ways, as women, we can stay healthy. There were so many directions this conversation could have gone, but I really wanted to share what I had learned and hopefully shed some light on women's hygiene to this already knowledgeable group of female RNs. So, after a few immature giggles (let's be real here) I dove into this hairy topic (or hairless for some). Women, read up because I will now share this information as well as other preventative health measures we can take to maintain healthy genitourinary systems through the summer and all year long.
Our long awaited awkward topic one: To shave or not to shave?
There are many women who feel it is beneficial and even more hygienic to shave their vaginal area. This has become a huge trend since the 90's (though it has been occurring for thousands of years). This most recent trend is so popular that the Brazilian Wax is now a
large part of a multibillion dollar hair removal industry! There are many theories as to why more women shave, wax, or have laser hair removal of their bikini line and beyond! But I am not here to discuss the mystery behind the bare vagina trend. I am here to tell you about the increased risks of infection and other complications that may occur when a woman decides to participate in this popular hairless fad.
Back way back in the 15th century, in an adult female, a bare vagina was not a sign of health or fashion. It was actually a side effect of mercury injections given to treat syphilis (an STD). A bare vagina could also mean an infestation of pubic lice.
Today, baring all is not a sign of illness, but it can lead to illness. All forms of hair removal can cause micro-abrasions in our body's first line of defense, our skin. So, if we shave, we open up little portals that give opportunistic viruses and bacteria a better chance of creeping in and making us ill. "But I am clean! I shower every day. I take care of myself. I eat yogurt." Great! All of that helps keep your skin clean and your immune system strong. Those are some things we all need to do. Keep taking care of yourself. However, reconsider the hair removal part. There was a study recently released by BMCs Women's Health (see link below) that indicated women who practiced what they considered proper vaginal health hygiene (including shaving, waxing, hair removal) were three times as likely to develop a genitourinary infection.
Ever heard of molluscum contagiosum? This is in no way shape or form related to Harry Potter. It is a "watery wart" caused from the poxvirus. This virus is spread pretty easily from person to person. It can be contracted more easily on bare skin. The bumps are usually painless but they can be itchy. Did you know it can take 12-18 months before this pesky virus clears up? By the way, this virus loves warm moist environments. Oh, so does candida. Candida is the lovely culprit of a vaginal yeast infection. Yes, there are studies that have supportive evidence indicating a good shave down below can increase risks of yeast infections as well. Other infection risks include bacterial vaginosis (because pH can be thrown off by shaving) abscesses, ingrown hairs, it correlates with an increased risk of vulvar dysplasia, and the deadly necrotizing fasciitis. I have attached a link to one woman's battle with this deadly disease after shaving.
Topic number two: To bathe or not to bathe?
Bathing feels so good after a long day at work, a hard workout at the gym, or even just for a little general R&R. I love a nice hot bath on occasion. I will typically take the hottest bath possible and just sink down into the water until my face is the only thing the cool air can touch. Just thinking about a relaxing bath makes me want to take a bath. They are so good for our moods. However, what does bathing do for our vaginal pH?
Normal vaginal pH is 3.8-4.5. Bathing and soaking in bubble baths, essential oils, using bath bombs, can increase the pH of the vaginal area. If this happens, women put themselves at risk for bacterial vaginosis (BV). BV is one of the most common causes of discharge women
complain about. It can have a very "fishy" odor, discharge may be grayish in nature, the vagina may feel itchy and irritated. A woman with BV may also complain of burning on urination and report symptoms similar to a urinary tract infection. The more a woman bathes, the more she is at risk for BV. BV may resolve on it's own, but if symptoms persist or worsen, treatment is needed to eliminate the infection. Other ways to avoid BV: Do not douche, avoid intercourse with multiple partners (consider waiting until married), use condoms, avoid skin irritants in vaginal area, AVOID shaving vaginal area.
Another reason not to bathe frequently is the increased risk of a urinary tract infection (UTI). When we bathe, we contaminate the clean water with our skin's normal flora. That water easily reaches the vaginal area where our urethra (bladder opening) is located. Though our skin may be accustomed to certain bacteria, our bladders are not and if the opportunity presents itself, those bacteria will cause a UTI. Quick note too, the most common bacterial cause of a urinary tract infection is from e.coli. Do you know where the e.coli comes from? It is a normal bacteria that lives in your stool. I believe you can figure out where I am going with this. So, to prevent this, do not take frequent or extended baths, do not use bubble bath, and do not use any soap that irritates the sensitive skin in the vaginal area. Other ways to help prevent a UTI: Avoid using spermicidal lubricants because they affect the normal flora on the vaginal wall, drink plenty of water, urinate every four hours, wipe front to back, do not wear tight clothing, AVOID shaving the vaginal area. ;0) If you still plan on bathing frequently, keep your bath time to approximately 15 minutes or less so you don't drown your vagina. She will thank you in the long run.
If you find yourself having frequent episodes of urinary tract infections in spite of adequate hygiene, visit your provider. There may be other underlying reasons for frequent UTI's.
Got all that? So, though we may want to feel pretty and look vibrantly young down below, our bodies have a natural defense system set up to protect us from infection. Our hair, our pH, our skin, all serve a protective purpose. When we begin to break those defenses in order to please an eye, we increase our risk of injury and disease.You may be causing more harm than you know. I am not saying we shouldn't want to look healthy and vibrant, but we do not have to over do it. Spare some hair ladies and take more showers. You don't want to end up like this lady.......
Well, that's my story. I hope you learned a little bit! Happy Summer!