Common infections of the intimate area are a common health issue that affects millions of people each year. They can cause discomfort, pain, and inconvenience in our daily lives. UTIs, or urinary tract infections are an example of this and around 50% of women will experience a UTI in their lifetime.
When it comes to preventing infections, maintaining good personal hygiene is often emphasised. But can soaps, particularly scented ones, actually cause infections such as UTIs? It is essential to understand the relationship between soaps and infections to make informed choices about personal care products.
Here, we will explore the link between soaps and infections, providing helpful tips on how to prevent these infections effectively.
To understand the potential connection between soaps and UTIs, let's first explore the basics of urinary tract infections. UTIs are often caused by bacteria, most commonly Escherichia coli (E. coli), which normally resides in the intestines but can enter the urinary tract through various means.
Several factors can increase the risk of developing a UTI, such as:
- Sexual activity, which can introduce bacteria into the urethra
- Urinary tract abnormalities or obstructions
- Weakened immune system
- Diabetes or other chronic illnesses
- Menopause (due to hormonal changes)
- Catheter use
- Poor personal hygiene
Unfortunately, recurrent UTIs are a part of life for many, and we can’t be expected to stay abstinent or miraculously not experience the menopause in order to avoid UTIs. In fact, of the above factors, only one can really be avoided, which is poor personal hygiene. However, even though using soap is a part of a good hygiene routine, some people are under the impression that soap can actually cause UTIs. Let’s examine the science:
The Connection between Soaps and UTIs
While there is no definitive evidence that soaps directly cause UTIs, some types of soap can potentially irritate the urethra and make it more susceptible to infection. This is especially true for fragranced soaps and those containing harsh chemicals.
Fragranced soaps often contain artificial scents and additives that can disrupt the natural balance of bacteria in the genital area. This disruption can create an environment that is more conducive to the growth of harmful bacteria, increasing the risk of UTIs.
Harsh chemicals, such as sodium lauryl sulphate and parabens, are commonly found in certain soaps and can also disrupt the natural bacterial balance. These chemicals can cause irritation and inflammation, making the urethra more vulnerable to infection.
So, as you can see, it isn’t as simple as saying ‘soaps cause UTIs’ rather, certain soaps can cause a bacterial imbalance or cause the body to react in a way that makes it more susceptible to an infection.
Tips to Prevent Infections
To minimise the risk of developing UTIs, it is crucial to adopt good hygiene practices and choose suitable personal care products. Here are some tips to help prevent infections effectively:
Choosing the Right Soap
Avoiding fragranced soaps: Fragranced soaps can be irritating and disrupt the natural balance of bacteria in the genital area. Opt for unscented soaps instead where possible.
Opting for gentle, unscented alternatives: Look for mild, hypoallergenic soaps specifically formulated for sensitive skin. These are less likely to cause irritation.
Avoiding harsh chemicals: Check the ingredient list and avoid soaps containing harsh chemicals like sodium lauryl sulphate and parabens. These ingredients can irritate the urethra and disturb the natural bacterial balance.
Using pH balanced soaps for the genital area: pH balanced soaps help maintain the natural acidity of your intimate areas, which is important for preventing infections.
Avoiding antibacterial soaps: While the idea of using antibacterial soaps may seem beneficial, they can disrupt the natural balance of bacteria, including the beneficial ones that help protect against infections. You only want to get rid of the bad guys, not the good ones too!
Maintaining Proper Hygiene
Importance of cleanliness in preventing UTIs
Keeping the genital area clean is essential for preventing UTIs. However, avoid excessive cleaning, as it can strip away the natural protective layer of the skin.
Proper wiping techniques after using the loo
Always wipe from front to back after using the restroom to prevent the spread of bacteria from the anus to the urethra.
Urinating before and after sexual intercourse
Emptying the bladder before and after sexual activity helps flush out any foreign bacteria that may have entered the urethra.
Avoiding douching and excessive use of feminine hygiene products
These practices can disrupt the natural balance of bacteria and irritate the urethra, increasing the risk of infections.
While there is no direct evidence that soaps can cause UTIs, certain types of soap can irritate the urethra and disrupt the natural balance of bacteria in the genital area, making it more susceptible to infection.
It is important to choose gentle, unscented soaps and avoid harsh chemicals to minimise the risk of UTIs. Additionally, practising proper hygiene, such as wiping techniques and urinating before and after sexual intercourse, can help prevent the recurrence of UTIs.
- Can using scented soaps cause UTIs?
Using scented soaps can potentially irritate the urethra and disrupt the natural balance of bacteria in the genital area, increasing the risk of UTIs. It is advisable to opt for unscented alternatives.
- Are antibacterial soaps safe to use for genital hygiene?
Antibacterial soaps can disrupt the natural balance of bacteria in the genital area, including the beneficial ones. It is recommended to avoid using antibacterial soaps for genital hygiene.
- What are some other risk factors for developing UTIs?
Aside from soap choices, other risk factors for developing UTIs include sexual activity, urinary tract abnormalities or obstructions, weakened immune system, diabetes or chronic illnesses, menopause, catheter use, and poor personal hygiene.
- How can I maintain proper hygiene to prevent UTIs?
Maintaining proper hygiene includes wiping from front to back after using the restroom, urinating before and after sexual intercourse, avoiding douching and excessive use of feminine hygiene products, and keeping the genital area clean without excessive cleaning.
- Is it necessary to see a doctor for every UTI?
While mild UTIs may resolve on their own with home remedies and over-the-counter treatments, we always advise that you consult a doctor for proper diagnosis and appropriate treatment, if you experience the symptoms of a UTI.