Oprah Gushes Over Expensive "Vagina Spritz" on Instagram
Here's how I wash my plebeian vulva
Instagram was abuzz with Oprah unboxing her gifts from Stella McCartney, which included products from the Dr. Barbara Sturm skincare line. Hilarity ensued, or rather what I suspect passes for hilarity with the obscenely wealthy. So much hilarity that comments on the post were limited the last time I checked.
You see, Oprah is apparently a fan of Dr. Sturm’s “vagina” wash and once suggested Sturm make a “V-spritz” and also include a travel size. And that was what was in the first box.
I’m gonna have to stop right here to point out that this product is for the vulva. The vagina is on the inside of the body and the vulva is on the outside (where the clothes touch the skin). The fact that even celebrities can’t say vulva is mind boggling to me. Truly. Even Oprah Daily flogged it as a vagina spray. So sad.
The V-spritz product isn’t available on Dr. Sturm’s site as of this posting, and as I only have a plebeian vulva and was not gifted the V-spritz, I can’t review it specifically, although I suppose the celebrity endorsement of Oprah gushing to her 23 million Instagram followers means it’s only a matter of time before V-spritz Day is upon us.
So instead let’s look at the V Wash. It looks like a gentle acidic cleanser. Here are the ingredients:
Aqua/Water/Eau, Glycerin, Coco-Glucoside, Lactococcus Ferment Lysate, Lactobacillus/Portulaca Oleracea Ferment Extract, Panthenol, Sodium Hyaluronate, Leuconostoc/Radish Root Ferment Filtrate, Lactic Acid, Xanthan Gum, Sodium Benzoate, Lactitol, Xylitol, Pantolactone, Sodium Chloride, Phenoxyethanol, Citric Acid.
I do not know why water is described with three words, aqua/water/eau, yet there are no French translations for the other ingredients. Why not glycerin/glycérine? Or radish/radis? I don’t actually care, but it’s funny to me.
The skin care line claims that the V Wash “contains prebiotics and probiotics, which help maintain the microbiome of the skin.” Here is a screenshot of their words:
The role of prebiotics and probiotics in topical products is poorly studied and their use in vulvar care products is completely unstudied, so the words “help maintain” are doing a lot of heavy lifting here. It’s true a gentle cleanser is better for maintaining skin pH than soap, but that has nothing to do with prebiotics or probiotics. This is because soap raises the pH of the skin and is drying, and a gentle, slightly acidic cleanser does not. If any peer reviewed data on the impact of the Sturm V Wash on the microenvironment of the vulvar skin versus a standard, gentle facial cleanser is ever published, I will of course eagerly review it.
The Lactobacillus/Portulaca Oleracea Ferment Extract might sound to some consumers as if the product contains lactobacilli. And hey, lactobacilli is in the vagina so putting it in the wash might be a good thing?! However, according to this site, it is “the extract of the product obtained by the fermentation of the whole plant, Portulaca oleracea by the microorganism, Lactobacillus.” But even if it were straight up lactobacilli, no study has ever convincingly shown any benefit for the vagina from any over-the-counter probiotic containing any species of lactobacilli. There are no quality studies involving the vulva.
Is there anything bad in this wash? As long as it doesn’t have a scent, then no. Fragrance, regardless of the source, plant extract or synthetic, can be an irritant and/or an allergen. In addition to causing discomfort, the resulting inflammation can potentially affect the skin barrier. This is why we recommend fragrance-free.
There is nothing about this wash that would make me endorse it over inexpensive cleansers, such as Cetaphil, CeraVe Gentle Foaming Facial Cleanser, or Eucerin. As many people have asked me how to wash their vulva, here is what I recommend and do. One pump in your hand and swipe along the vulva (the outside) and then another pump and swipe between the gluteal cleft (the fancy medical term for the butt crack) and then rinse. No scrubbing and don’t separate the labia minora (inner lips). Just an external swipe (you can use a facecloth if you prefer). You want to use a gentle, slightly acidic cleanser. Soap is drying and raises the pH of the skin, so don’t use that. Anything with a pretty color or a scent should be avoided as that will have fragrance or other additives that could be irritating.
I generally recommend against all feminine washes. In one study, using feminine washes was associated with a greater than three times higher odds of having bacterial vaginosis. Obviously, that is an association and not proof of cause and effect, but no study has ever shown that “intimate” washes are beneficial.
One important point here is the whole idea of an “intimate” wash. The implication is that the vulva is dirty and needs special cleaning so it doesn’t stink, or that it is so delicate and needs special cleaning so it doesn’t become a disaster zone with the wrong pair of underwear. Often the implication is that both of these ridiculous ideas are true. Sometimes the implication is the wash can prevent conditions, like bacterial vaginosis, which is impossible.
Many people manage just fine with water on their vulva, but that won’t remove sebum and so others prefer a cleanser. For those who menstruate, a cleanser will also be better at removing blood from the skin. I recommend a cleanser for anyone with incontinence as it is important to remove urine and/or stool and the associated bacteria from the skin. As long as you are using a gentle, acidic cleanser and not soap or anything scented AND you are not putting it in the vagina, you should be good to go. If anything irritates, stop using it and check with your doctor or nurse practitioner.
If spending a lot of money, in this case $10.35 per fluid oz, on a vulvar personal care product is your thing, that’s fine as long as it is gentle and fragrance free. Self care means different things to different people. Look, my thing is fantastical, whimsical shoes, although they don’t make any claim about helping me walk better or about micromanaging the ecosystem between my toes.
But I’m really at the end of my rope with celebrities gushing over unnecessary vulvar products, especially when they call them vagina washes. While Sturm’s site says it is for external use only, we know many people insert external “intimate” washes vaginally, which is just another reason to not use them. I can see how people might incorrectly think a vulvar product could be used internally in the vagina, especially when people with great influence are erroneously saying it is for the vagina.
So no, Oprah’s vulva is not getting any better treatment from her bespoke V-spritz or expensive V Wash than mine is with my drugstore brand facial cleanser. For the record, I use CeraVe Gentle foaming facial cleanser at only $0.94/fluid oz. And no, they don’t have to make a special vulva spritz for me. I’m so totally cool with my plebeian vulva.