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Vaginal Health: How To Keep Your Vagina Healthy And Clean

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If your vagina could smile, it would -- if you're keeping it healthy that is.

Just like any part of the body, keeping a healthy vagina means taking care of surface areas, avoiding chemicals and listening to your body when something feels out of place.

Stacy Lyon, founder of natural feminine care products Healthy Hoo Hoo, says taking care of the vagina is all about understanding your body's geography.

"While most refer to the vagina as everything 'down there,' the vagina is considered the internal genitalia. It’s actually the vulva or the external genitalia that we need to cleanse," she says.

And ladies, don't worry about smelling like a fresh field of daises or a bouquet of roses. Lyon says most women are told to think they should always feel "fresh" down there, but using deodorants and sprays with fragrances could actually lead to irritation or burning.

Food choices will also determine the health of your vagina. "A balanced, nutritious diet and drinking plenty of fluids are key to vaginal and reproductive health, notes Dennis Thompson Jr. for EverydayHealth.com. Thompson says cranberry juice and yogurt can help prevent and treat yeast infections.

But make sure that food goes in your mouth. Lyon says she has heard stories of women who go to extreme measures to feel "fresh" -- including being told to put a bar of soap or blueberry yogurt in their vaginas.

And though we know it's important to have a healthy sex life, sex can also to blame for disruption in your vagina's road to healthiness. "Visit your gynecologist once a year for a health check-up and pelvic exam to check for any changes or infections. And depending on your age and history, this may or may not include a Pap smear," Lyon advises. Health Canada recommends women have their first Pap test as soon as they become sexually active, a second within a year, and then once every three years from then on if there are no abnormalities.

Worried? Don't be. Here are Lyon's 8 steps to keep your vagina happy and healthy:

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Wash It:
"The vulva and vagina should be cleaned with a bland bar soap once a day," says Lyon. She also recommends staying away from liquid body washes because they often irritate the vulva area and can lead to burning or itching. Also, you don't have to wash your vagina with a soap-based substance every time you go to the washroom -- over-cleaning can also cause irritation.

DON'T Aim To Smell Like Flowers:
"Avoid all sprays, lotions and deodorants in this area. It is not supposed to smell like flowers," Lyon says. Some baby wipes and feminine hygiene wipes could lead to irritation. Lyon also says not to use pads and panty-liners everyday to feel fresh. "Constant use causes skin irritation and prevents the skin from breathing in the area."

Wipe From The Front:
Always wipe from front to back. . "Wiping wrong drags butt bacteria forward and it can get in the wrong spot creating irritation and an infection," she says.

Avoid Certain Lubricants:
Avoid using Vaseline, rubbing alcohol and other heavy-duty lubricants in the area. "Choose water-based lubricants or silicone-based lubricants," she says.

Look For Change:
"The main signs of an imbalance are change in odour, discharge, appearance, itching or pain during intercourse," Lyon says.

Stay Cautious:
If you're heading to a waxing salon for a bikini or Brazilian wax, make sure you do your research. "Make sure you're seen by a licensed esthetician and that they don't double-dip the wax application stick."

Take A Look Yourself:
It's your vagina -- make sure you know everything about it. "I tell ladies to grab a mirror and get acquainted. Look, touch and feel for changes," Lyon says.

Talk To Your Doctor:
Visit your gynecologist at least once a year for a health check-up. You may also want to consider getting a pap smear depending on your age and history.