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Do men need intimate hygiene products?

Washes, wipes and sprays for men to keep clean 'down there' jostle for space with feminine hygiene products in online stores. Lounge takes a close look at the category

Is washing with soap and water enough?
Is washing with soap and water enough? (Cottonbro/Pexels)

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After getting a recommendation from a friend, Karan (he prefers to use his first name only) started looking for intimate wash products for men since his skin down there was reacting to highly acidic soaps. The 26-year-old lawyer from Chennai bought one such product from an online retail store and used it over the month. There was nothing exceptional about it, and he did not feel a significant difference, he says. He adds that he is going to try a similar product from another brand and that he is looking “for pH-neutral balance.” The search continues.

Intimate hygiene for men is not something that comes up in conversations often, even though there is a need to maintain cleanliness and practice a regular hygiene routine to prevent infections and odour "down there". However, in the last few years, the Indian market has seen significant growth in personal care and grooming products for men. With the influence of social media, rise in disposable incomes, and changing mindset about masculinity, more men are investing in their personal care and grooming.

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According to a 2018 report by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM), the male grooming industry stood at 16,800 crores and was "growing at compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of about 45%". Against this backdrop, many new brands have come up to cater to the newfound demand for specialised products.

Himachal Pradesh-based Skin Elements is one such brand that started with a niche product, 'Foaming Intimate Wash For Men', in 2017. It has since grown to include intimate wipes in a portfolio of some 19 products fulfilling different personal care needs of men. Pee Safe, Beardo, and The Man Company are some of the other brands that have launched their lines of intimate washes and products. The most popular products are intimate washes and intimate wipes, while anti-chafing sticks are quite common too, and claim to have a variety of natural ingredients like tea tree oil, aloe vera, lavender, and glycerin. Their descriptions suggest that they are anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and maintain the pH balance. They also claim to help get rid of itching, irritation, and bad odours.

Raghav Sood, the co-founder of Skin Elements, explains why they launched these products: "By the time someone hits puberty, changes start taking place in the body, and we see that there is a growing need [for these products] for people who are interested in sexual wellness and sexual hygiene," he says. Most of his customers are between the ages of 18 and 35, he adds.

Men's intimate washes from Skin Elements
Men's intimate washes from Skin Elements

But do men really need specific products to maintain hygiene?

Not really, say most health professionals. The National Health Services in the United Kingdom, for instance, recommends that men simply wash their intimate region gently with warm water during every bath or shower. Dr Rickson Pereira, a dermatologist and venereologist with a clinical practice in Mumbai, suggests that men with skin infections avoid using intimate products completely. "If you don't have any skin issues, then you can use them maybe on alternate days or once a day," he says, adding that the pH-balance-maintaining claim is unfounded: skin already has a way of maintaining its pH.

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Divyansh Mehta, Brand Communications, Pee Safe, says that the pH scale for the skin in the intimate region ranges from 5.3 to 5.8. When asked about the scientific basis of this range, he suggests that their product development team looked into the pH requirements “based on due research”.

“The intimate wash, irrespective of sweat, ensures (if it is being used) the skin pH balance is not disrupted,” he explains. At the same time, he agrees that no specific products are required for the intimate region, as it has its own cleansing mechanism. However, there are added benefits to using intimate washes and wipes such as they are natural, cleansing, prevent itchiness, and get rid of the residue after sex, he adds.

Men's intimate hygiene products from Pee Safe
Men's intimate hygiene products from Pee Safe

Regarding specific pH requirements, Mumbai-based urologist Dr Malav Modi explains that while pH levels are important to monitor when it comes to secretions of the body like urine and blood, in the case of the intimate region of men, which is just skin and hair, pH levels are mainly self-regulating and not of any special concern.

Instead, doctors suggest some simple hygiene practices that keep private parts clean and infection-free. For example, Dr Modi advocates that an uncircumcised man retract the foreskin back and clean it in the shower. Smegma, an accumulation of dead skin cells and oils under the foreskin, could accumulate and lead to unpleasant odours if this is not practised. Also, fungal infections are prevalent among men in India as we live in tropical climates in most parts of the country. To avoid them, Dr Modi suggests that men keep the intimate region dry, take showers regularly, and change undergarments daily. If you have an itch, avoid the urge to rub it and see a dermatologist soon, he says. When asked if specific products are required for best intimate hygiene practices, he says: "Keep it simple! Don't complicate it. Use soap and water."

Dr Pereira says something similar. He suggests that men use 100% cotton undergarments, trim pubic hair instead of shaving and resort to talcum powder to guard against sweat and odour. In addition, he suggests a gentle soap or body wash and water to clean the groin. Since skin over the genitals is quite thin and likely to get damaged easily, it is always better to avoid the excessive use of soap or other washes as they could make it sensitive and dry. In case someone is dealing with an inflammatory skin condition like dermatitis, only water should be used. "As far as cleaning under the foreskin is concerned, one should use plain water," he says. "Don't get into any over-enthusiastic cleaning routine. Any aggressive routine would end up doing more damage."

Do's and Don'ts (as recommended by Dr Pereira):

Clean the area twice a day with plain water or gentle soapIn case of sensitive skin, stay away from detergents, soaps, and antiseptics
Trim pubic hair instead of shaving itAvoid shaving with a razor
Wear 100 per cent cotton undergarments and change them everydayDon't self-medicate or use any antiseptic without the doctor's recommendation
Use talcum powder for perspiration and odourStop using soap or detergent at the first sign of irritation
Clean under the foreskin every day at least once with plain water to prevent the accumulation of any dead skin or smegmaDon't go overboard in cleaning as it is a sensitive area
After intercourse, clean the area with plain water 

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