UTIs (urinary tract infections) are very common, particularly for women. In fact, about half of women will experience one at some point in their lives. There are multiple contributing factors that can make it more likely that you will get a UTI, from genetics to lifestyle factors. The beauty products and toiletries that you use could also have an impact, making it important to be careful with how you keep clean.
Can Soap or Body Wash Cause a UTI?
Using soap and body wash on your vulva could be a contributing factor that leads to a UTI. Your vulva, urinary tract, and vagina are all carefully balanced to help keep them clean and healthy. Using the wrong cleansers or too much soap could disrupt them and make it more likely that you will develop a UTI. However, it’s still important to keep this area clean with water and gentle soap.
What’s the Link Between Soap and UTIs?
Soap could contribute to the development of UTIs by disrupting the pH balance of the vulva and the area around the urinary tract. Experts advise women to avoid the use of douching, harsh soaps, and feminine sprays to keep the vulva healthy. But it’s still important to keep the area around the urethra clean. You should gently wash with soap and water. It’s also recommended that you should take showers instead of baths.
Using harsh soaps or too much soap could also cause symptoms that are similar to a UTI but without an infection. Dysuria, when urination is painful or difficult, can be experienced due to inflammation of the urethra caused by the use of soap.
Can Over-Cleaning Your Private Area Cause a UTI?
Keeping your vulva clean is important (although there’s no need to clean inside your vagina). But could you clean the area too much? It can be particularly sensitive, so too much cleaning could cause a UTI from soap irritation. Irritation and inflammation might lead you to experience UTI-like symptoms. Too much cleaning could also affect the pH balance and colonization of microbes, which could increase the risk of a UTI developing.
Cleaning your vulva once a day is usually enough to keep the area clean. Avoid using harsh soaps, shower gels, or intimate hygiene products. This will help you to maintain good hygiene without causing any irritation or disrupting the natural flora in and around your urinary tract.
What Else Can Cause a UTI?
A range of other factors could contribute to your risk of developing a UTI. Some people are simply more prone to developing them but there are also certain things that might make them more likely.
Some things that might relate to UTIs include:
- Sexual behavior – sex can introduce bacteria into the urethra, and urinating after sex can help to prevent infection
- Use of spermicides and lubricant
- History of UTI
- Holding in urine too long
- Using a diaphragm
- Tight-fitting clothes
Even if you don’t use any harsh soaps or over-wash, you could still develop a UTI. It’s important to be aware of the symptoms, such as feeling the urge to urinate frequently, pain or burning when you pee, and pain or discomfort in your pelvis or abdomen.
How Can You Prevent a UTI?
There are various things that anyone can do to try and prevent a UTI. Although some people are simply more prone to developing them, there are also certain behaviors you can change to decrease your risk.
- Maintain good hygiene – gently clean around your private area, wipe from front to back when going to the toilet, and change pads or tampons frequently when on your period
- Stay hydrated – drinking plenty of water ensures fluids are moving through your urinary tract, helping to flush out bacteria
- Change urination habits – holding in your pee for too long can increase your risk of UTIs, so make sure to empty your bladder frequently
- Change habits during sex – it’s also a good idea to urinate before and after having sex, as well as using a water-based lubricant and possibly avoiding spermicides
- Avoid tight clothing – wear looser clothes and wear breathable cotton underwear
If you experience frequent UTIs, changing your behavior could be the best way to prevent them from recurring in the future. You can speak to a doctor or nurse about what might be causing your UTIs and how to reduce their frequency.
How to Treat a UTI?
UTIs are usually treated with antibiotics. A urinary tract infection is a bacterial infection that antibiotics can successfully treat. In rare cases, UTI symptoms might go away on their own. However, this isn’t particularly common, and it’s best to seek treatment if you’re experiencing symptoms. You usually only need to take antibiotics for a few days before you start to see an improvement in symptoms and the infection goes away.
When to See a Doctor?
You should see a doctor if you have any of the symptoms of a UTI or if you keep getting UTIs. The doctor will discuss your symptoms and can diagnose the problem, whether it’s a UTI or there could be something else causing similar problems. If you have a UTI, you will need a doctor to prescribe antibiotics for you so that you can treat it.
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- Excessive use of soap or using harsh soap could increase your risk of developing UTIs
- Soap might also cause irritation that produces symptoms similar to a UTI
- Wash gently with soap and water, and avoid using harsh or scented soaps
- Various other factors can cause UTIs – take steps to prevent them
- See a doctor if you have UTI symptoms for diagnosis and treatment
- Hu KK, Boyko EJ, Scholes D, et al. Risk Factors for Urinary Tract Infections in Postmenopausal Women. Arch Intern Med. 2004;164(9):989–993. doi:10.1001/archinte.164.9.989
- Urinary Tract Infections, Cleveland Clinic, Available from: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9135-urinary-tract-infections
- Harrington RD, Hooton TM. Urinary tract infection risk factors and gender. The Journal of Gender-specific Medicine : JGSM : the Official Journal of the Partnership for Women’s Health at Columbia. 2000 Nov-Dec;3(8):27-34. PMID: 11253265.
- Recurrent urinary tract infections, Available from: https://www.wsh.nhs.uk/CMS-Documents/Patient-leaflets/UrologyDepartment/6265-1-Urinary-Tract-Infections-recurrent-infections-.pdf
- Antibiotics or NSAIDs for uncomplicated urinary tract infection? (Published 08 November 2017) BMJ 2017;359:j5037, Available from: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.j5037
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