Vagisil, the manufacturer of medically unnecessary over-the-counter creams and wipes for the vulva, has released a whole new line of products, specifically marketed toward teens.
The products are all spunkily named OMV!, and the ad copy and branding around it sounds similarly disconnected and Gen Z-dystopian. “The intimate care line that’s all about your glow up,” reads the OMV! slogan, followed with: “This is intimate care designed with teens and the experts at Vagisil. So period funk and bikini itch don’t get in your way.”
The OMV! products themselves (which use the term “vulva” and “vaginal area skin” interchangeably) have been rightfully dragged by parents and gynecologists, including gynecologist and author Jen Gunter, who said in a Twitter thread that “it should be illegal to market ‘feminine hygiene’ products like washes, wipes and sprays to teens; in fact, as those products are unnecessary, someone should have to be 18 or older to purchase.”
The problem with OMV! is the same as the problem with the rest of Vagisil’s products: There is no scientific or medical reason for using separate cleansers or wipes for the vulva, and especially not for the vagina. Rebecca Brightman, an ob-gyn in New York, told VICE that an unscented, gentle soap—like Dove or Cerave—or even just plain water is perfectly sufficient for keeping the vulvar skin clean. It definitely does not need specific soaps or anything that smells like “vanilla-clementine.”
Brightman emphasized that the vagina especially is self-cleaning—a well-established fact that Vagisil incorrectly refers to as a myth on its website. (VICE has reached out to Vagisil for comment on the “myth” that vaginas self-clean and will update this article if and when Vagisil responds.) Beyond that, no cleansing products should ever be used inside the vagina; it maintains its pH balance and stays “clean” on its own. Everyone’s scent varies slightly and some sort of slight odor is perfectly healthy, Brightman said. If the “funk,” to use Vagisil’s term, is ongoing, noticeably different, or particularly strong, that may signal an STI or bacterial or yeast infection, and a doctor should take a look to see if any sort of prescription or intervention is necessary.
Brightman added that there’s something particularly sinister and predatory about targeting teens and introducing them to an additional area of body insecurity, just as they’re going through puberty and experiencing a whole lot of changes. “I feel so badly for these young people; they’re made to think that they now need to worry about yet another aspect of hygiene, and it really upsets me,” Brightman said. “It creates insecurity and it’s another thing that, because it exists, young people think they should be using it.”
Aside from the shame aspect, Brightman also said that using any sort of scented or special cleanser around the vulva and vagina can result in missing out on abnormal changes that need medical attention. That “vanilla-clementine” scent may be covering up an abnormal change in one’s natural odor that could signal an infection, and while the bikini itch stuff may provide temporary relief, it certainly won’t treat, say, an infected ingrown hair—a not-uncommon outcome of pubic hair removal and cause of itching, particularly in teens.
The backlash to Vagisil’s OMV! line has been so swift and severe that the company ended up issuing a statement on Twitter last week, in which it states that, despite being marketed it as a vulva wash, the “All-Day Fresh Wash” is actually “an all-over body wash” that just happens to be “pH-balanced for sensitive vulvar area skin.” Vagisil, as always, also promised that skincare experts were involved in the products’ development, though which “experts” weighed in remains unclear. And the company claims that real teens who “worry about period hygiene and odors”—in other words, typical teen insecurities that could be resolved with proper education—were involved in the conception of these products.
There is and never has been utility in spending money on special vulvar cleansers. The water that comes from your faucet works just fine. If it’s too late and you’ve already bought some of this stuff, the good news is that it apparently makes a pretty decent face cleanser, just in case you’re running low on Dove.
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