You may think you know how how to keep your vagina clean and healthy. But according OB/GYNs, there are a few common mistakes women tend to make. Seemingly innocent things, like douching or wearing certain clothes, can actually put your vaginal pH balance out of whack.
First things first, what is vaginal pH exactly? "When speaking of pH balance, in the realm of obstetrics and gynecology, we are referring to the pH of your vagina," Dr. Angela Jones, an OB/GYN and the resident sexual health advisor at Astroglide tells Bustle. "The flora of the vagina is composed of an array of bacteria in specific proportions that help it maintain its best 'state.'" In other words, you need a good balance of both good and bacteria in order to be healthy. A vagina with an acidic pH of around 3.8 and 4.5 is considered "normal." But it's also important to note that it fluctuates throughout your menstrual cycle.
Anything out of this range can result in symptoms such as abnormal discharge or strange odors. "When you’re feeling funky down there, it probably means your vaginal pH is slightly thrown off," Dr. Maria Sophocles, OB/GYN and Medical Director of Women’s Healthcare of Princeton, tells Bustle. You may even get infections such as yeast infections or bacterial vaginosis.
There are some common everyday things you may be doing that can put it out of whack. So, if you want to maintain a health pH balance, here are some things OB/GYNs wish you'd stop doing.
1. Douching And Using Scented Soaps
As Dr. Jones says, when it comes to vaginal care, all you need to do is follow the rule of less is more. "The vagina is like a self-cleaning oven," Dr. Jones says. Meaning, it takes care of itself and you don't need to use special vaginal lotions or pH-balanced soaps. When it comes to soap, it's recommended to avoid those with deodorants or perfumes. "Hell, you don’t even really have to use soap to cleanse your vagina," she says. Let your vagina breath, Dr. Jones says.
2. Eating Yogurt For The Sake Of Vaginal Health
You may have hear eating yogurt is good for your vagina, but Dr. Jones says this is not the case. "Eat yogurt because you like yogurt, not because it will affect your vaginal health," Dr. Jones says. "I've actually had patients put yogurt in their vaginas! Unless your partner happens to be fond of vaginal parfaits, I would avoid this." According to her, there really is no proven benefit.
3. Consuming A Ton Of Sugary Foods And Alcohol
It is "shockingly easy" to disrupt the pH level of the vagina, Dr. Alyssa Dweck, an OB/GYN with vaginal health brand AZO, tells Bustle. If you're not careful, an excess amount of sugar can disrupt your pH balance and encourage yeast to grow. This can cause infections or unpleasant odors. Same goes with alcohol. The key here is moderation.
4. Leaving A Tampon In Too Long
There are factors that can throw off your pH balance that are out of your control, like your menstrual cycle. But you can kind of limit how out of control it gets. As Dr. Sophocles says, sometimes leaving a tampon in too long can trigger a pH imbalance due to the bacteria that can grow. This can lead to things like a yeast infection or toxic shock syndrome. The lesson here is, nothing good ever comes out of leaving a tampon in too long.
5. Using Scented Tampons Or Pads
Speaking of tampons, Dr. Christine Mullin, MD, an OB/GYN and fertility specialist with Northwell Health Fertility, tells Bustle that the chemicals in scented tampons can also alter the pH levels in your vagina. "Maintaining a healthy pH balance is crucial for vaginal health, but what many don’t realize is it’s also key for fertility," Dr. Mullin says. If your levels are imbalanced when you're trying to get pregnant, this can create a hostile environment for sperm to travel and fertilize the egg.
6. Having Sex Without A Condom
Sex is another thing that can mess with your pH levels. If you're having sex with a male partner, Dr. Dweck says, semen exposure can potentially disrupt vaginal pH and cause bacterial vaginosis in women who are prone to it. "I advise condom use and consideration of a daily probiotic," she says.
7. Not Knowing How Your Birth Control Can Affect Your Body
Alteration in the vaginal environment can happen due to a number of common everyday "disruptors," Dr. Dweck says. These common disruptors not only include soaps or the food you eat, it also includes medications you may be taking. According to her, antibiotics can put your pH levels off balance as well as birth control pills, which "can alter the hormonal environment." If you're someone who's naturally prone to getting yeast infections, hormonal birth control may not be the best option for you. It's just important to discuss these things with your doctor.
The good thing is, maintaining a healthy pH balance doesn't require you to do anything out of the ordinary. If you don't use scented soaps, practice safe sex, and just allow your vagina to do what its naturally made to do, you'll be just fine.