Aids Weekly Plus
Researchers have found that products inserted vaginally can damage vaginal tissue and increase the user’s susceptibility to STDs such as herpes, chlamydia, and HIV. The most commonly used products were for washing, douching, or as commercial lubricants. Joelle Brown of the University of California, Los Angeles, and colleagues recruited 141 women in Los Angeles who completed questionnaires about product use and were administered lab tests for vaginal infections at entry into the study and one year later.
The researchers found that 66 percent of participants reported washing, douching, or inserting commercial lubricants and over-the-counter products other than tampons in the previous months. Approximately 45 percent of the study participants reported using washes, 70 percent used commercial lubricants, 17 percent used petroleum jelly, and 13 percent used oils. Lab tests showed that 40 percent of the women who used petroleum jelly had bacterial vaginosis, compared to 18 percent who did not use petroleum jelly. Also, 44 percent of participants who used intravaginal oils tested positive for Candida, the fungus that causes yeast infections, compared to 5 percent of those who did not use oils. The researchers suggest that the infection may have resulted from the products upsetting the women’s internal pH and beneficial microbe communities, allowing harmful organisms to multiply.
Since the study did not aim to identify the causes of the infections, it did not prove products were to blame. Brown noted that commercial sexual lubricants that were designed for internal use were not associated with increased risk of infection in the study, but that they require further evaluation. She commented that women were exposed to a great number of products on the market that were targeted to modifying the vaginal environment. Brown explained that the Food and Drug Administration “strongly urges” cosmetic manufacturers to test their products for safety but does not require it.
The full report, “Intravaginal Practices and Risk of Bacterial Vaginosis and Candidiasis Infection Among a Cohort of Women in the United States,” was published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology (2013; 121(4):773-780).