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Vaginas are strong. They’re also super-sensing, and self-cleansing! Superpowers aside, they can’t do ALL the work, and that means we need to show our vaginas some TLC! We’ll help you better understand vaginal pH and why it’s important to keep it balanced.
Let’s go back in time to your high school science class. Not the part where you dissected frogs that reeked of formaldehyde, but the part where you dipped those little litmus paper strips in water-based solutions to determine their pH. The pH of something indicates how acidic or basic it is. A low pH is acidic, a high pH is basic or alkaline.
The body has various pH levels. Our blood, for example, has a somewhat neutral pH of 7.4. But the acid in our stomachs has and acidic pH of 2. A woman’s pH level refers to her vaginal pH. If you’re wondering, “what should my pH level be?”, a healthy vaginal pH falls between 3.8 and 4.5
A healthy vaginal pH is moderately acidic, which sounds kind of scary, but really it just means that the healthy bacteria (lactobacilli) are doing their job to protect us against harmful bacteria. Our bodies house an array of lactobacilli strains, and the ones that promote a healthy vaginal pH are strains Lactobacillus Rhamnosus and Lactobacillus Reuteri. These bacteria eat the glycogen found in vaginal mucus. In exchange, they produce lactic acid and hydrogen peroxide. Ever wonder why your underwear gets those tiny bleached out patches? This process is the reason!
The lactic acid and hydrogen peroxide byproducts make the vagina moderately acidic, which inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria and yeast which can cause bacterial vaginosis (BV) and yeast infections. When your pH balance is off, that means lactobacilli levels are low and can’t keep opportunistic pathogens in check. So, the harmful bacteria can flourish and colonize the vagina.
Pat Benatar sang, “Love is a battlefield”, and when it comes to good vs. bad bacteria, your vagina is no different.
Can stress throw off your pH balance? Fitness expert and trainer Kim Lyons, tells Bustle "Stress can affect your pH balances as much as a poor diet.”
Identifying symptoms is the first step towards seeking medical support and recovery. So, how do you know if your pH balance is off? You may experience BV, yeast infections, or UTI symptoms.
BV symptoms include:
UTI symptoms include:
Your vagina smells just fine! Vaginal odor is completely natural and normal. Dr. Lauren Streicher is an associate professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine tells SELF, “When you look at what’s normal, it can have a mild or slight odor that’s not unpleasant.” Vaginas are like sweat, everyone has their own scent. So if something smells off (strong or fishy) it could be from:
Paying attention to what’s normal or not normal for you is important. If you’re experiencing a stronger than usual vaginal odor, see your gynecologist so they can run tests and properly diagnose you.
You can test your pH level with an at-home vaginal pH test kit. The kit includes a pH test paper that you place against the wall of your vagina for a few seconds. The kit also provides a color chart to determine your results. If your pH is above normal, a common cause is BV. If your pH is below normal, it could be a yeast infection.
An abnormal vaginal pH indicates an infection. However, not all vaginal infections cause changes to vaginal pH. So having a normal pH test doesn’t necessarily mean you’re infection-free.
If you struggle with BV, yeast infections, or UTIs it can seem like it’s a never-ending saga of treatments and trips to the clinic or pharmacy. Managing pH balance is a key component of preventing these infections.
Try vaginal wipes.
For some women, vagnal wipes can provide relief and cleanliness, especially post-intimacy, after workouts, during a heavy flow, or if you don’t have access to a shower. While your vagina is pH balanced and cleans itself, some women swear by the effectiveness of pH balanced wipes. Speak with your gynecologist about trusted and established feminine care brands.
Take a probiotic for vaginal health.
Taking a probiotic capsule daily will restore lactobacilli levels, your body’s natural defense against harmful bacteria and infections. But not all probiotics are created equal. Our probiotic, Promote, contains Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Lactobacillus reuteri—the only two strains clinically proven to restore healthy vaginal pH.
Look at your diet.
Besides cutting down on sugary and processed foods, eating foods that are rich in probiotics like kombucha and yogurt. Consuming apple cider vinegar can prevent imbalance, as well as garlic which is a natural anti-fungal.
Avoid antiseptics, scented soaps, or body wash.
Because the vagina self cleans with natural vaginal secretions (discharge) you might be wondering “how do you wash your vag?” as in, the vulva, labias and the region outside of your vagina. Gently use warm water and hypoallergenic, paraben-free, unscented mild soaps.