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Are Vaginal Supplements or Products Ever Necessary?

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Dear Beauty Editor,

Why do all these vaginal supplements and washes and sprays exist? They’re all over Pinterest and Instagram (not sure what this says about my targeted ads, but whatever). And every advertisement is somehow worse than the last, with reviews like, “My vagina smells so good now.” Please help women of the world know that they do not (hopefully, I think?) need these products.

Thank you,

Since you emailed me screengrabs of some of the advertisements you mentioned, I think I understand what’s bothering you: Many of these feminine-care products are marketed with messages of empowerment (“This gives you confidence!”), yet their existence also makes people question the natural function of their bodies in a way that perpetuates the sexist idea that vaginas are unclean. As if that weren’t enough to unpack, there’s a complicating factor: Some medical conditions do alter the odor of the vagina and do require treatment.

Before we judge the companies selling these products — and the people buying them — let’s talk about what’s normal and healthy. Jennifer Ashton, M.D., a board-certified OB/GYN and the chief medical correspondent for ABC News, says you should think about vaginas the way you think about armpits. “Generally, there is a smell but not necessarily a bad one,” she says. “If you bury your face in the crotch of your underwear, chances are good that there will be a smell, just as there would be if you smelled the armpit of your shirt. That’s normal.”

What’s not normal is when the vaginal odor you’re used to changes significantly and the scent doesn’t improve after bathing. “Some women use words like earthy, ripe, and even sour to describe their smell,” says Erica Montes, M.D., a board-certified OB/GYN. “Things such as intercourse, your period, your diet, and your hygiene habits can change the odor, but that isn’t a cause for concern unless there’s a foul odor that doesn’t improve after cleansing the vulva.” A strong post-shower odor could indicate you’re dealing with bacterial vaginosis or another medical issue and should make a doctor’s appointment for a checkup.

So what’s the right way to cleanse? “The vagina, or the internal portion of the anatomy, does not need to be cleaned,” Montes explains. But cleansing externally is important, and some people may find their regular soap or body wash irritates the delicate tissue of the vulva. In those cases, a specialized product makes sense. “There are some products that claim to make your vagina smell ‘good’ but contain ingredients that can be irritating to the vulva or harm the vagina’s natural bacteria, leading to other problems,” Montes says. “But there are also companies giving women the type of cleansers they need and want.” For example, she recommends pH-D Feminine Health Foam Wash for its gentle ingredients.

Ashton is also fine with feminine-care products designed for external cleansing — even if they’re marketed in ways some people may consider sexist. “Women should be supported in whatever choices they make about their own bodies — period, full stop,” Ashton says. However, she does recommend looking for products “with as few chemical ingredients and fragrances as possible, since both can be irritants and lead to dermatitis and skin irritation.”

As for the supplements that claim to improve vaginal odor, there’s no evidence that they work, according to the experts I spoke with. “In general, supplements taken orally stay in the gastrointestinal tract and should not alter the balance in the vagina,” says Judith Wenger, M.D., a board-certified OB/GYN. On top of that, the FDA doesn’t approve dietary supplements for safety and effectiveness, so there’s no way of knowing for sure that the vitamins you’re buying contain the same ingredients and levels listed on the label. “In terms of supplements, I would encourage people to proceed with caution,” Ashton recommends.

Now that I’ve confirmed your suspicion that some feminine-care products aren’t hygienically necessary or medically beneficial, let’s address the bigger question: Why do companies sell them? Truthfully, many of them are the legacy of a time when douches were popular and many people (incorrectly) believed the vagina needed to be cleansed after menstruation. “That old-fashioned idea helped perpetuate the idea of the vagina as unclean, and drug and beauty companies made products to promote the idea of the need for cleanliness,” says Wegner. These days, “products that sell will continue to be marketed and produced regardless of the need for them.”

If you don’t like that convoluted history and don’t want to use the products, don’t buy them. But there’s no reason to be concerned if other people are using them. “Suggesting that women are being brainwashed by companies to believe their vaginas smell doesn’t give women enough credit, in my opinion,” says Ashton. “If someone wants to use any kind of product for any reason, they should be empowered to do so, sans judgment.”

Jennifer Sullivan answers all your beauty-related questions with practical advice and zero judgment. Send your questions to (By emailing, you agree to the terms here.)

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Are Vaginal Supplements or Products Ever Necessary?