Intimate Grooming: What Women Need to Know (cont.)

Harsh soaps and cleansers can also interfere with the body's pH balance. And as much as you might enjoy those fragrant soaps and gels, it's best just to use mild, unscented soaps and water for cleansing, because scented soaps and gels sometimes contain perfumes and other ingredients that can be irritating to delicate tissues, O'Connor says.

There is no need to clean internally, either with intimate products (which usually come with the disclaimer "for external use only") or through douching, O'Connor says.

The word "douche" -- French for "shower" -- means to wash inside the vagina with water, or a mixture of water and vinegar, water and baking soda, or water and iodine. The mixtures come prepackaged in a bottle, or you can make your own. They are then squirted into the vagina through a tube or nozzle.

But O'Connor says the vagina maintains itself by creating a mucous discharge that keeps pH balanced and supports the "healthy" bacteria that can keep infections at bay. If this balance is disrupted or washed away, you may end up with bacterial or yeast infections.

Medicated douches, vaginal suppositories, or vaginal creams can sometimes be prescribed or recommended by your doctor, if necessary, to treat certain types of infections. Otherwise, routine douching should be avoided.

Bikini Bottoms

Whether you're getting ready for swimsuit season or just want to look your best in that sexy new thong, you've probably given some thought to removing the hair along your bikini line.

Many companies that sell shaving products -- such as Philips, Remington, and Hair Care Down There -- market bikini-area trimmers designed to be as precise as possible and friendly to sensitive skin.

Shaving the Bikini Area

If you opt to shave your bikini area, you can avoid irritation by following these tips from Julie Harper, MD, clinical associate professor of dermatology at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, and a spokeswoman for Philips Healthcare:

  • Treat razor burn and ingrown hairs by gently exfoliating the affected area with a washcloth in the shower. You can also trim the hair short (avoid shaving) until the redness and irritation has subsided.
  • Resist the urge to perform DIY surgery on razor bumps and ingrown hairs. The bump could get infected and you might be left with an ugly scar. You can try gently lifting ingrown hairs with a toothpick, but don't use anything too sharp. If the hair doesn't lift easily, stop, and if the area is tender or hot to the touch, see your doctor.
  • Refrain from taking hot showers or baths for several hours after removing hair. If the water is too hot, pores can become irritated, causing unwanted bumps and discomfort.
  • Steer clear of workouts and tight clothing immediately after grooming to avoid irritation. Skin can be extra-sensitive to bacteria, moisture, and chafing from your workout clothes.