Exactly How Chlorine Can Mess With Your pH Balance

We at Bustle love giving you tips for how to tap into your sexual potential and troubleshoot when things aren’t going your way in the bedroom. But what about finding solutions to those stressful health situations that inevitably crop up when you’re the proud owner of a vagina? Emma Kaywin, a Brooklyn-based sexual health writer and activist, is here to calm your nerves and answer your questions. This week’s topic: why your vagina can get itchy after swimming in the pool.

Q: I’m a total water baby, I love love LOVE swimming! And since I don’t live by the beach, that means pools all summer long. But sometimes I feel like it’s messing with my vaginal balance — I start feeling itchy all the time down there. Is it the chlorine, or just being in water all day?

A: First, the good news: Your vagina is pretty good at taking care of and cleaning itself. This feel-good reproductive canal is home to a huge number of microorganisms that work with your anatomy in complex ways to make sure your vagina stays at its optimal 4 - 5 pH range.

However, there are definitely things in the world that can knock this balance out of whack, allowing unwelcome bacteria to move in and get you feeling, well, not great. And unfortunately for those of us who love reliving The Little Mermaid in landlocked areas, the chemical used to clean pools is one of those balance-busters. Let's explore how.

How Chlorine Can Mess With Your Vagina

Most swimming pools are cleaned through the chemical chlorine, which kills bacteria. This is generally a good thing, because otherwise the warm or hot water (depending on whether we’re discussing a pool or hot tub) ends up being a breeding ground for all manner of bacteria you definitely don’t want all up in you.

So what’s the bad news? Not all bacteria is bad! Remember those microorganisms whose job it is to keep your pussy at optimal pH levels? Some are bacteria, and they need to stay alive to do their job. When chlorine cuts too deep and kills off some of the good bacteria that are supposed to be helping your vagina stay healthy, it’s no surprise that you will start to feel out of balance.

Here are some of the possible reactions your netherparts can have to chlorine.

Swimming Side-Effect #1: Yeast Infection

Yeast infection happens when your vagina gets too pH basic, which allows the fungus candida to become overgrown. It makes your discharge look like cottage cheese and will also make your vaginal lips and interior itch a lot.

How To Get Rid Of It: If this sounds like you, not to worry. There are a bunch of over-the-counter remedies, like creams, and home remedies including yogurt and garlic, apple cider vinegar, or boric acid suppositories. You can also ask your doctor for a one-day antibiotic. It’s also a good idea to get out of that wet bathing suit as soon as you’re done swimming, because yeast likes moist warm places.

Swimming Side-Effect #2: Bacterial Vaginosis

Having a pussy that is too pH basic as a result of pool chlorine can also result in bacterial vaginosis. This bacterial infection not only makes your vagina itchy, but also includes thin, gray-colored vaginal discharge that smells fishy.

How To Get Rid Of It: Luckily, bacterial vaginosis (or BV, as it’s called for short) often goes away on its own. If it doesn’t, medications can help get you rebalanced.

Swimming Side-Effect #3: Vaginitis

Vaginitis is what the health world calls a general vaginal inflammation. This can be caused by anything (from infections to allergies) that disrupts the delicate pH balance. For some vagina-owners, the chlorine in pools and hot tubs can create an allergic response that can turn into allergic vaginitis. While not everyone with vaginitis has symptoms, allergic vaginitis is generally accompanied by a swollen or itchy vagina and increased amount of discharge.

How To Get Rid Of It: Taking care of this situation generally means stopping whatever it was you were doing that vagina is allergic to — which in this case would mean holding off on the swim parties for a bit. You can also get a topical steroid from your doctor to bring down the swelling, and soaking in a warm bath with four to five tablespoons of baking soda will also help sooth the itchiness.

Swimming Side-Effect #4: Vulvitis

Vulvitis is basically vaginitis for your vulva, aka the external part of your fun mound. Your vulva skin is super sensitive and is easily irritated. The chlorine from a swimming pool or hot tub can result in vulvitis, as can wearing your wet bathing suit for a while. If this happens to you, your vulva will be itchy and burny, you’ll experience increased vaginal discharge, and you can get small cracks or white scaly patches on your vulva skin.

How To Get Rid Of It: If this is what’s going on with you, hold off on swimming for a while and make sure you’re rocking only loose cotton panties, to let your parts breathe! You can also get an ointment from your doctor to bring down the itching and swelling.

The Bottom Line

Chlorine is one of those chemicals that works to protect our health, but at something of a discomfort cost. If you are experiencing routine less-than-pleasant effects of chlorine unbalancing, you may be faced with the personal decision about whether you want to deal with the symptoms as they arise, or just steer clear of the pool altogether. It's a cost-benefit analysis you have to make on your own.

Images: Getty; Giphy