Everything Wrong With This Vaginal pH “Cleanser”

Photographed by Meg O'Donnell.
A disclaimer: One of my least favourite places in the world is the so-called “feminine hygiene” aisle at my local chemist. Under horrible fluorescent lights sits an array of largely unnecessary vaginal products, often packaged in the unnatural pink hue of Hubba Bubba Bubble Tape. Sure, some of them are legit, but seeing vaginal “cleansers” and “odour blockers” on the same shelves as tampons and Monistat causes a visceral reaction in me that’s only matched when I see a MAGA hat or hear the word “moist.”
But the latest of such products caught me especially off guard, because I wasn’t bracing for it the way I usually do the moment I enter my local pharmacy. Someone sent me a tweet featuring a product called Down There Wash, billed on the label as “a hoorah for your hoo-ha.” I rolled my eyes and responded, "More like a product to screw ya for your moolah, am I right?" I assumed that this was just another superfluous item I’d see around my most dreaded drugstore aisle. But the more I learned about this particular product, the more my light-hearted brush-off bubbled over into total contempt. Down There Wash wasn't just your average vaginal health scam. It was wrong in so, so many ways.
In fact, so plentiful were my issues with the product that I decided to make a list of everything problematic about Down There Wash. Here goes… 

1) Its name.

I’ll start with the obvious. I used the term “down there” to describe my vagina when I was like, 10. You're marketing to adults (I hope). Use anatomically correct terms, please. 

2) The appropriation of African American Vernacular English (AAVE). 

The bottle's label is peppered with cutesy, slang-y, trying-too-hard phrases. It calls the vagina and/or vulva a "hoo ha," a "bajingo," and a "little V," and says things like, "this ain't your grandma's douche!" Some of these terms aren't just annoying — they're troubling. As folks on Twitter pointed out, the bottle’s branding appears to be created by non-Black people using African American Vernacular English (AAVE) to get their message across. 
“The vagina (internal) is a magical self-cleaning machine, but the vulva (external) is a whole other thang,” Down There Wash’s blush pink bottle reads. The label continues, "The wrong thing can throw off her natural pH, which leads to dry, itchy skin, UTIs, yeast infections, odour, & more. Byeee felicia thank u, next! C U NEVER. [sic]”
"This is not branding," one person wrote on Twitter. "This is trying to advertise yourself in a culture you really don’t know anything about. “Thang” “bye felicia” and yet no other AAVE. Okay... this isn’t it. [sic]"
A spokesperson for Goodwipes, which makes Down There Wash, confirmed the language featured on the bottle that went viral on Twitter is up to date, but has not responded to Refinery29’s request for comment on their use of AAVE. 
“Our passion at Goodwipes is to make people feel GOOD, and the communication surrounding pH-balance on the back of the washes is meant to educate on this topic, while breaking through ‘taboo’ topics, empowering our consumers, and speaking to them like we would to our girlfriends,” Maria Guilbault, Goodwipes chief branding officer, told Refinery29 in an email. “We always aim to communicate in a relatable, authentic way that makes people feel more comfortable in situations in which they may have previously been unnecessarily wary… Life is too short not to keep it real and laugh about it all along the way! :)” 

3) The gendering of a vaginal product.

This product inaccurately assumes that all vulvas — and people with them — use “she/her” pronouns. 

4) The vaginal fear-mongering.

As you read, the back of the bottle offers up a few vaginal health worst case scenarios, seemingly to terrify people into buying this product. There was a time in my life when I’d do, buy, or try anything to avoid even the idea of a urinary tract infection. Down There Wash’s language isn’t just over the top, but it could scare people into buying something they simply don't need.
A vaginal or vulva pH wash or "cleanser" — whether you're buying it from Goodwipes, Vee, HoneyPot or other brands selling something similar — isn't necessary, explains Mary Jane Minkin, MD, gynaecologist at Yale University School of Medicine. “When it comes to the vagina, if you don’t have a problem, don’t create problem,” she says. Meaning if you’re not having any symptoms such as itchiness, burning, dryness, or odour, there's no need to change up your vaginal health routine. If you do have an issue, bring it to your gynaecologist's attention before your bring some mystery product into the shower with you. 
Does the vulva need to be washed? Sure, but you really don’t need a special product, notes Heather Bartos, MD, a gynaecologist in Texas. “Really, some warm water is all you have to have to clean your vulva,” she says, adding that if you have to use something, it should be doctor-tested, hypoallergenic, and fragrance-free: “Anything you use on the vulva can easily enter the super-sensitive vagina, so what’s in the product matters — like fragrance.” I zoomed in on the fine print so you don't have to: Fragrance is listed as an ingredient in Down There Wash.
Also worth mentioning: When Refinery29 asked if the Goodwipes worked with an doctor to create their product, they cited a quote from the gynaecologist Sherry Ross, MD — but in a follow-up email confirmed they didn’t work directly with her. Instead, they said they specifically worked with a chemist and, more vaguely, “did copious amounts of research.” Okay!
In the end, Dr Bartos put it best: “This product went a little overboard with its marketing strategy and somehow ended up — even in 2021 — making people feel shameful about their vulva… I cringed reading it.”

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