Medical and health groups have been discouraging the use of douches among women to maintain cleanliness. A study has confirmed that douching may expose women to potentially harmful group of chemicals called phthalates, which can eventually disrupt the normal hormonal functioning in the women.

The practice of douching has been discouraged even by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service (HHS), but it's estimated that nearly 25 percent of the women aged between 15 and 44 still use douches. The practice involves washing the vagina with water or other fluid mixture. Medical experts believe that douching may lead to a myriad of health problems, including infections, pelvic disease and pregnancy-related issues.

A latest study, published in the journal Environment Health, has linked the use of douches with an increased exposure to phthalates. 

"Phthalates are chemicals of concern for women's health because they are suspected endocrine disruptors and can alter the action of important hormones such as estrogen, testosterone and thyroid hormones," said lead researcher Ami Zota of the George Washington University.

During the study, the research team studied the phthalate exposure in 739 women aged between 20 and 49. Nearly 50 percent of the subject population was either obese or overweight. The women were questioned about the use of douches or other feminine care products.

The study reported higher levels of diethyl phthalate (DEP) in the urine sample of the women who douched at least once a month. The concentration was 52 percent higher than the non-users. On the other hand, the women who douched for at least two times a month has 152 percent higher concentrations of the chemical than those who did not practice douching.

"No woman should be douching unless instructed by a health care provider to treat a specific vaginal infection, so there is no point in reading the labels," said Dr. Sten Vermund of the Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

"That's like saying 'What cigarette should I buy?' when the point is not to buy any."