Your choice in TP really does matter. (Photo: Getty Images)
You probably don’t give your toilet paper use much thought — you just wipe with it and go about your day, like you’ve done for most of your life.
But according to experts, toilet paper isn’t always as harmless as it seems. The fluffy stuff can do everything from irritate your privates to actually cut you down there. While it sounds like an urban myth, “getting micro-cuts from toilet paper is not as uncommon as one would think,” says Marc Leavey, MD, an internist at Baltimore’s Mercy Medical Center.
Here’s how it can happen: There’s a wide variety of TP on the market with a range of softness. Some cheaper toilet paper tends to be on the coarse side, essentially acting like sandpaper against your privates, says Leavey. Certain environmentally friendly toilet papers made from recycled materials can also pose an issue since fibers are stripped from the original paper pulp during processing, which typically reduces the TP’s softness.Coarse paper is especially common in offices, restaurants, or public restrooms — places where there may be skimping of costs with regard to bathroom supplies. When you repeatedly wipe with that paper, the coarse fibers in the tissue can irritate you down there—and even create little microscopic cuts.
While not as deep as actual paper cuts, these micro-cuts disrupt the surface of the skin just enough to cause irritation and discomfort, says Leavey. You’ll know when it happens: You may have difficulty sitting comfortably or even walking around without feeling uncomfortable, and might even notice you’re swollen and puffy down there. But discomfort isn’t the only issue with microscopic cuts caused by toilet paper: Leavey notes that they also can provide access for microorganisms, which can cause a localized infection in your privates.
While it makes sense to splurge for softer tissue to avoid any below-the-belt issues, Leavey notes that fluffy TP can also come with its own set of problems. “Even the softest paper may have coloring agents or perfumes that can irritate,” he says.
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According to board-certified OB-GYN Antonio Pizarro, MD, women are especially susceptible to this issue because they wipe more often over very sensitive skin. “The hair-bearing skin of the vulva is very delicate, like that under the eyes, and the deeper labial tissues are even more susceptible to irritants,” he says. “I always tell patients, especially those who report vulvar irritation, to dab gently — not wipe — and to use only unscented white toilet paper after urinating.”
But wiping isn’t the only issue: Pizarro says it’s fairly common for remnants of toilet paper to stick to the skin after bathroom visits, which can also irritate things down there. He recommends rinsing if you can (a sport-top water bottle or wet washcloth is ideal if there isn’t a bidet around).
If the cheap stuff is your only option and you’re easily irritated by it, Pizarro says to avoid wiping with toilet paper altogether, rinse with water, and then dab the area dry.
Using plush, scent-free TP and still having issues? It’s possible that you’re wiping too often or too aggressively, says board-certified OB-GYN Pari Ghodsi, MD. And while the direction of the wipe doesn’t matter as much for men, she notes that women should always follow the “front to back” rule. This prevents any bacteria around your rectum from gaining access to your urethra, which can lead to a urinary tract infection or further irritate your vulva.
If the damage has already been done, Leavey recommends ditching your TP and temporarily using a scent-free facial tissue or pre-moistened wipes with witch hazel until the irritation goes down. If you’re still uncomfortable, conventional diaper cream can also be used to soothe the area.
However, he says if you’re experiencing a rash, bleeding, or lesions, or the irritation just isn’t going away, it’s time to see a doctor.
When you’re ready to switch back to normal toilet paper, just make sure to buy a kind that doesn’t contain dyes, fragrances, lotions, softeners, and any other additives. Two- or three-ply TP will also usually be softer than one-ply versions.
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