What Happens When your Vaginal pH Balance is off?

5 min read
vaginal pH out of balance
“Why do people say 'grow some balls'? Balls are weak and sensitive. If you wanna be tough, grow a vagina. Those things can take a pounding.” - Betty White

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.

What does a woman's pH level mean?

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

What causes vaginal pH balance to be off?

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.

What everyday things cause pH imbalance?

  • Using scented soaps and body wash on and near your vulva. The chemicals in these products kill off lactobacilli.
  • Antibiotics. While they kill off the bad bacteria that’s causing an infection, they also wipe out the good bacteria too.
  • Douching or using feminine sprays. Your vagina cleans itself, don’t waste your time or money!
  • Scented tampons, wipes, and pads.
  • Changes in hormones during menopause means less estrogen which makes you vulnerable to infection.
  • Sex. Individuals have very different bacterial microbiomes on their skin. Exposing those microbiomes to the vagina can disrupt the balance.
  • Semen’s alkalinity (pH 7.1-8) can alter vaginal pH.
  • Tampons that have been inside the vagina for too long.
  • Oil-based lubricants like petroleum jelly can remain in the vagina for too long, and disrupt the pH and causing an infection.

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.”

What happens when your pH balance is off?

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:

  • Burning or painful urination
  • A strong fish-like or foul smelling odor
  • Gray or white discharge
  • Itching or burning pain in the vagina
  • Itching around the vagina
Yeast infection symptoms include:
  • Itching
  • White, thick, cottage cheese-like discharge
  • A yeasty odor
  • Redness and swelling of the vulva.
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Painful urination and intercourse

UTI symptoms include:

  • A strong, constant or recurring urge to urinate
  • A burning sensation when urinating
  • Only urinating small amounts when you do urinate
  • Cloudy urine instead of transparent
  • Blood in the urine, which often looks red, bright pink, or brownish like coca-cola
  • Pungent urine
  • Pelvic pain, especially in the center of the pelvis and around the area of the pubic bone for women
  • Feeling under the weather with possibly having a fever, chills, or body aches
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, contact your physician as soon as possible. They’ll be able to figure out exactly what’s going on, and find a solution best suited to you.


Why do I smell down there even after a shower?

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:

  • Bacterial vaginosis
  • Forgetting to take out a tampon
  • Having sex without a condom
  • Your period
  • Yeast infection
  • Trichomoniasis, which is caused by a tiny parasite that moves between people during sex.
  • Gonorrhea or chlamydia.

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.

How do I test my pH level?

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.

How do I fix my pH balance?

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.


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