How To Maintain A Healthy Vaginal pH And Why It Matters
You’ve heard of the gut microbiome, but did you know that your vagina has its own microbiome, too? The vaginal microbiome, or vaginal flora, is a fancy way of describing the millions of bacteria that live down there. While you may think of bacteria as a bad thing, the truth is, there are plenty of good bacteria that help in warding off infections. The key to maintaining a healthy vaginal flora and preventing infections comes down to two letters: pH.
What is a normal vaginal pH?
If you remember that one chemistry class, the pH scale measures the acidity or alkalinity of a substance on a scale from 0 to 14 – the lower the number, the more acidic. A substance like water, for example, is a neutral 7. A healthy vaginal pH should be between 3.8 – 4.5, which is somewhat acidic. Fun fact: that’s about the same acidity level as a tomato! When we have enough good bacteria, known as Lactobacilli, it produces substances like lactic acid and hydrogen peroxide. This creates an acidic environment that prevents bad bacteria like e. Coli, Staph, and Candida from growing.
So why is pH balance important?
When your vagina (both internally and externally) is pH balanced, it allows good bacteria to thrive and keeps bad bacteria and yeast at acceptable levels. When the pH balance is disrupted, or thrown off, it can lead to an imbalance in bacteria and yeast levels, causing all sorts of issues, including bacterial infections, BV, yeast infections, and more. So, anything you use to clean your vagina (externally) should be pH balanced or more acidic in its composition.
How do I know if my vaginal pH is off?
If you’re experiencing uncomfortable symptoms like unusual discharge, itching, and burning when you urinate, your vaginal pH may be off balance. An unbalanced pH can lead to vaginal infections including yeast infections or bacterial vaginosis (BV). These infections are incredibly common, and therefore worth watching out for. In fact, up to 75% of women will get at least one yeast infection in their lifetime, and 1 in 3 women will experience bacterial vaginosis. While these two infections often have similar symptoms, there are some slight differences to help you tell them apart.
With a yeast infection, you will typically experience thick, white, and lumpy discharge. With bacterial vaginosis, you will notice a thin, grayish-white vaginal discharge and a strong “fishy” odor. You may have seen over-the-counter tests that measure your pH levels, and while helpful, these tests cannot diagnose a yeast infection or BV. If you’re experiencing symptoms, it’s best to consult with your health care provider who can help identify the culprit and determine the best treatment. Most of all, it’s important not to ignore your symptoms. If left untreated, these infections could lead to more long-term health consequences like pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) that can cause infertility.
How to maintain a healthy vaginal pH
Many believe a healthy diet and staying hydrated can help you maintain a healthy vaginal pH. There are also some other simple steps you can take to keep your pH in check and support a healthy vagina:
- Invest in a good probiotic: Taking a daily over-the-counter vaginal probiotic supplement can help restore the good bacteria you need. If you’re on antibiotics or are prone to recurrent UTIs or other vaginal infections, it’s a good idea to incorporate a vaginal probiotic into your daily routine.
- Never ever douche: Your vagina is self-cleaning. While it’s natural to want to feel fresh down there, there’s no need to overdo it with heavy washes.
- Maintain good hygiene: Always wipe from front to back to prevent the spread of bacteria, and shower regularly with a gentle, non-fragranced soap.
- Use protection during sex: For heterosexual couples, using barrier protection methods (i.e., condoms) is the best way to protect vaginal pH levels as well as prevent against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
- Wear breathable cotton underwear: Synthetic fabrics can trap moisture and create a breeding ground for bacteria that can throw off your pH. Avoiding thongs, going commando at night, and wearing cotton underwear when possible is best for allowing your vagina to breathe.
- See your gynecologist regularly: Another great way to stay on top of your vaginal health is making regular appointments with your gynecologist. They can answer any medical questions and give you more personalized advice!
It’s worth noting that every body is different, and some of us may be more naturally prone to pH imbalances than others. By taking the proper precautions listed above, knowing your body, and regularly checking-in with your healthcare provider, you can keep your vagina healthy and happy.
How does lube affect your pH balance?
The pH level of lube absolutely matters to your vaginal health — far more than you may realize. Using a lubricant with a pH that doesn’t closely match that of your vagina can not only result in discomfort or irritation, but it may also make both more susceptible to infection. For instance, if your vaginal pH is 4 but you’re using a lube with a pH of 7, the product will raise your vaginal pH in tandem. When a lubricant’s pH closely matches that of the body part it will be applied to, it is called “pH-balanced” — meaning it’s balanced to the body’s pH and won’t change it.
When the pH of your vagina is out of whack, it can lead to itching, burning, and plenty of unpleasantness, which is why you need to read those ingredients carefully. It's best to choose lubricants that are devoid of alcohol, flavorings, or perfumes, as these can alter the vaginal microbiome, increase the risk of vaginal infections (like yeast and bacterial vaginosis), and increase the risk of irritating delicate vaginal tissues. You want a lube that enhances sexual activities, not one that leads to infections and irritation, which is why Quanna’s Oomf lube is a tremendous recommendation for its formula is pH balancing, vegan & free from nasties such as parabens, glycerin and alcohol.It is also enriched with a prebiotic which encourages the development of a healthy microflora and keeps infections at bay.