I didn’t realize this, but it’s important to be mindful of the pH of your vagina. The nether-regions get showered (or bathed), then shoved into undies all day, and, of course, at some point summer (or the gym) comes around and there’s the matter of sweat. All of these factors—along with plenty of others—are impacting the pH balance of your vagina. The pH scale runs from 0 (acidic) to 14 (basic) and FWIW, you want the region to fall somewhere between 3.8 and 4.1.
So, just like you care for the pH balance of your skin, so too, do some say that it’s important to take special care in regards to your vagina. “Your vaginal pH matters because it can have an impact on a woman’s overall health,” explains Manon Pilon, author, renowned skin-care educator, and founder and formula of Biofemme by Nelly De Vuyst.
That’s because it impacts the flora that can survive, which are important for overall vaginal health. “When your vagina’s pH is unbalanced, you’re having an issue with your vaginal microbiome,” says Lo Bosworth, founder of Love Wellness. “Low numbers of good bacteria can lead to yeast infections, or an overgrowth of bad bacteria known as bacterial vaginosis. Good bacteria creates an acidic pH that helps to protect against infection and irritation.”
That good bacteria is maintained by lactobacilli (the friendly lot), according to Omnia Samra-Latif Estafan, MD, a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist. “The lactobacilli create a barrier system that prevents the growth of unhealthy bacteria and keeps yeast at bay,” she says. “Any changes that increase the vaginal pH level create a break in this system and foster an environment that’s not as protective, and will allow unhealthy bacteria to grow such as sexually transmitted infections.” So clearly it’s something to keep an eye on. But just how, exactly, should you be monitoring this? Keep scrolling to find out.
How the vagina’s pH gets unbalanced
Like I mentioned earlier, the magic number for your vagina’s pH is between 3.8 and 4.1, according to Pilon. The thing is, however, so many external factors—from your lifestyle to your diet choices—can swing your pH level either up or down to be either more acidic or more basic than it should be. “Wearing tight clothes—like jeans or thongs—can affect your vagina’s pH,” she says. “Also wearing synthetic materials, like latex, sanitary napkins, and tampons. And the friction and humidity from exercising.” Ever dip into a pool? Yeah, that affects your vagina’s balance too, as does salt water and even the water in your shower (plain-old water has a pH of seven).
On a more abstract level, things like the medications you’re taking—everything from the pill to antibiotics—affect your balance. “Stress has an impact as well,” says Pilon, and the same goes for every product you may use to clean the area (that should never, ever go inside the vagina but rather should be used to clean around the area). “Scented wipes, detergents, and intimate sprays can throw your pH balance out of whack,” she says. And don’t even get me started about how diet can play a role. “Eating junk, too much sugar, not drinking enough water, or other unhealthy habits break down the healthy community of microbes in your gut, which keeps your vagina healthy too,” says Dr. Latif Estafan.
These factors all swing your vaginal pH to the more basic side, which means your vagina’s “barrier” is compromised, Dr. Latif Estafan explains. But of course, some of these factors just happen (like, I’m not going to not go to spin class), so the key is just to follow the tips below to keep things as balanced as possible.
How to keep the vaginal pH healthy
Naturally, when I learned about why it’s so important to balance your vagina’s pH level, I couldn’t help but wonder: How can you even measure that? “A simple pH test can help identify the vaginal pH level and allow someone to take the necessary steps in order to rebalance it,” Pilon tells me. My issue here, though, is that I’m not exactly ready to bust out my litmus test strips at a moment’s notice.
To save you the hurdle, you can just abide by the rules of maintaining a healthy, balanced vagina. Mainly, it’s all about using the right products down there. “It’s important to do your research to know which products are truly safe for the intimate area and will respect the vaginal microbiome,” says Pilon. First things first: Avoid harsh ingredients that’ll strip that friendly lactobacilli out of its proper place. Think about what you’re using on your face—chances are, you’ve already nixed ingredients like sulfates from your cleansers and try to steer clear of fragrance, which can be problematic. The same goes for your vagina. “Avoid any products with fragrance or perfume, sulfates, alcohols, silicones, parabens, dyes, and/or mineral oil,” she says.
Bosworth adds that it’s key to look for personal hygiene products that are pH balanced (the product is acidic and in-line with what your normal vaginal pH would be). “It’s key to maintain your precious microbiome and use the products externally on the vulva only,” she explains. “Most of these products will not actually move your pH back to acidity if it’s out of balance because the majority of them are cleansers or serums and for external use only, but they likely won’t push you towards an imbalance either—the term ‘pH-balancing’ is just a signal that it’s most likely safe to use externally down there, as long as it’s not formulated with bacteria-killing chemicals,” says Bosworth.
If you want something that will actually help balance things out, Bosworth suggests reaching for something like boric acid, which has been shown to help in those with recurring yeast infections (her brand Love Wellness makes The Killer ($20), boric acid suppositories). “Another option is a probiotic that may increase the numbers of good bacteria in the vaginal microbiome, supporting an acidic pH.” Pilon recommends prebiotics too, which, she notes feed the lactobacillus bacteria to help maintain the acidic pH. Because no one wants to be basic—especially when it comes to their vagina.
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