At one point, you've probably heard stories about someone's dad or boyfriend using feminine wash on their face, thinking it was a cleanser. It's equal parts funny and cringe-worthy, and it oddly happens way too often as well (read those labels, boys!).
In their defense, however, feminine wash does create a decent lather and rarely ever stings, so who'd suspect that it's actually not a facial foam cleanser but something meant to be used "down there?" Believe it or not, some people actually use those pH-balanced bottles on their faces—on purpose!
When we first heard about it, we thought it was crazy, too. But we decided to dig deeper, and we realized the theory actually makes sense. Keep reading to find out why!
First of all, what's in feminine wash anyway?
Being designed for the intimate area, feminine wash has to be gentle. It's not like your average facial wash that could contain just any age-defying ingredient, because we are talking about our private parts here. To be effective, most brands maintain a slightly acidic pH level (sowewhere between 3 and 5.5) in their formula to help balance the micro flora in the intimate area. pH Care and Sebamed disclose their products to have a pH of 5 and 3.8 respectively.
Some also contain ingredients that protect the area from infection, which varies from every brand. For example, Lactacyd is formulated with a milk derivative called lactoserum that helps "stabilize and maintain the vulva's protective environment," according to their website. The product also has lactic acid for the same purpose, balancing the good bacteria in the area to prevent irritation. GynePro, on the other hand, is an antiseptic feminine wash that protects the intimate area from genital infection and irritation.
How similar is it to facial wash?
Dr. Windie Hayano of The Skin Inc. Dermatology and Laser Center says that facial and vaginal skin are both slightly acidic or lower in pH, and both contain good bacteria that protects us from irritation. These similarities explain why some facial and feminine washes might share mostly similar ingredients, particularly those with slightly acidic pH. Accordingly, both aim to balance the cleansed skin and shield it from irritation.
However, Dr. Michael Chua of Imperial Dermatology stresses that despite these similarities, the two are formulated differently for a reason. "Generally, the anatomy and skin characteristics of facial skin are different from the mucosa of the female genital area, so we don't normally recommend using feminine wash for the [face]," he says.
This is especially true for products with a high concentration of lactic acid (a form of AHA), fragrance, methol, and some whitening agents, which both dermatologists say could alter the natural flora of the skin and make us prone to irritation.
Can using feminine wash as a cleanser really help clear acne?
Dr. Michael notes that cleansers are not the general answer to curing acne. "A good cleanser can help in preventing breakouts and ingredients like lactic acid may help in cleansing and exfoliating the skin, but there is no 100 percent guarantee that it can yield excellent results," he explains.
In other words, using any cleanser with a slightly acidic pH can help balance a damaged moisture barrier over time, but if your breakouts are being caused by something else, even cleansing with a feminine wash won't do the trick. An appointment with your dermatologist should help you start on the right foot, or you can read our guides below:
All that said, the dermatologist says that he doesn't completely condemn the practice. He clarifies, "I know of people [who have] used [feminine wash as a cleanser] and it works very well for them, but logically and responsibly, I would recommend mild facial cleansers designed for the face alone."
So for you adventurous souls out there, do consult with your derm if you're interested in trying this technique. We recommend switching to a gentle, low pH cleanser first though, and seeing if that makes a difference before jumping into the feminine wash train. The two may be very similar, but it does make more sense to use products designed for the face on your face.