- If you’re struggling with a vaginal infection, strange vaginal discharge, or a foul vaginal odor, you may have a vaginal pH imbalance.
- The perfect environment for your vagina is a pH between 3.8 and 5.0, which is a mildly acidic pH level.
- Making healthy lifestyle choices like avoiding unprotected sex, having sex with one partner at a time, exercising regularly, and eating a healthy diet can help you to maintain a balanced and healthy microbiome.
- What is pH, and Why Does it Matter?
- What’s a Normal Vaginal pH Level?
- Things That Affect Your Vaginal pH
- 4 Natural Ways To Restore Your Vaginal pH Balance
Your vaginal pH probably isn’t something you think about very frequently, nor should you! On most days, your vaginal pH is in a natural acidic state — but if your vaginal microbiome becomes disrupted due to lifestyle habits, a pH imbalance can occur and cause bacterial overgrowth, unusual discharge, or even an infection.
If you’re struggling with a vaginal infection, strange vaginal discharge, or a foul vaginal odor, pH imbalance may be the issue. Unfortunately, many women unknowingly disrupt their vaginal pH with their lifestyle choices or hygienic practices. Keep reading to learn why vaginal pH matters, how to prevent it from getting disrupted, and what to do if it becomes imbalanced.
What is pH, and Why Does it Matter?
Basically (pun intended), pH is the measure of how acidic or alkaline (sometimes called basic) a substance is on a scale ranging from 1 to 14. Items with a pH lower than 7 are acidic, those with a pH higher than 7 are basic, and things with a pH of exactly 7 are neutral in nature. Neither an acidic or an alkaline environment is bad, they’re just different and beneficial or detrimental in certain circumstances. All items have a different pH—for example, tomatoes have a pH around 4, battery acid has a pH of 0.8, and baking soda has a pH of 9.
All the organs in your body have different pH levels, too. For example, saliva typically has a pH between 6.5 and 7.5, while the stomach has a pH between 1.5 and 2.0. pH matters in the body because certain pH levels are optimal for biological processes to occur. Higher-pH environments will be better for the growth of healthy bacteria and for blood oxygenation, while a more acidic environment can help with digestion and can prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. Because each organ has a specific pH level that supports its function, your organs cannot easily tolerate pH changes without becoming less effective.
Know that when it comes to probiotics, your gut is actually responsible for the proliferation of these friendly bacteria, while your vagina has a lower pH to inhibit bad bacteria from multiplying.
What’s a Normal Vaginal pH Level?
The perfect environment for your vagina is a pH between 3.8 and 5.0, which is a mildly acidic pH level. (1) Since the human body is generally at a pH of 7.4 as a whole, this means your vagina is a more acidic environment than your body overall.
Why does your vagina need to have a more acidic pH than the rest of your body? The bacterial levels in your vagina are particularly important, since this area is vulnerable to bacterial infections. Harmful bacteria is constantly being introduced into the vagina from sex, using the bathroom, and menstruation, just to name a few examples.
So while your vagina is responsible for not allowing bacteria to grow, your gut proliferates, or multiples and produces, the probiotics in your gut before they seap throughout the rest of your body.
Maintaining a healthy level of “good” bacteria is essential to fending off common vaginal infections like urinary tract infections, BV, and yeast infections.
One microbe that your vagina needs to prevent health issues is called Lactobacillus. This bacterium produces lactic acid and hydrogen peroxide, which helps maintain the pH of your vagina. These acids make it difficult for bad bacteria to thrive in your vagina, protecting you from developing a vaginal infection.
The presence of Lactobacillus, especially lactobacillus acidophilus, gassers, and crispatus, in a normal vagina signifies that this area is healthy and balanced. In fact, in one study, it was shown that women with more crispatus and gasseri as the predominant lactobacillus species in the vagina were more likely to have a healthy vagina, than those who do not.
Probiotics and Vaginal pH Imbalance
Probiotics play a big role in whether your vaginal pH stays at the correct acidity level. Probiotics are bacteria that give a health benefit when ingested and are responsible for many functions in your body. There are natural probiotic sources, like yogurt, kiefer, and kimchi, but you can also take a supplemental probiotic for vaginal health if you need extra support maintaining your vaginal pH. Lactobacillic probiotics can help maintain your vaginal pH and can help prevent and treat bacterial vaginosis (BV) and vaginal yeast infections.
Things That Affect Your Vaginal pH
There are many practices and situations that can impact your vaginal pH and make it more likely for you to develop infections, an unpleasant odor, or abnormal discharge.
Sexual activity directly impacts the pH of your vagina. Since semen is an alkaline substance, immediately after having sex, the pH of your vagina may increase. However, don’t go giving up sex entirely—this doesn’t generally impact the health of your vagina in the short term. However, if you engage in certain sexual behaviors, like having sex with multiple sex partners, it can make it more likely that you will develop a vaginal infection, since your vaginal pH won’t be as equipped to fight off unhealthy bacteria. Using protection during sex, like a condom, can help maintain your vaginal pH at its natural level.
Douching is the practice of cleaning inside your vagina with warm water and mixtures of mild soap. Some people think douching is an important way to keep the vagina clean and free from infection, but there’s a reason experts recommend you avoid rinsing the vagina with a douche—it disrupts your vagina’s natural bacteria levels and kills off good bacteria as well as bad. Without good bacteria, infection-causing bacteria may have an easier time growing and causing unwelcome health conditions.
If you haven’t heard of vaginal steaming, it’s a practice in which the vagina is cleansed by directing herbal-infused steam up it. Like douching, this practice can kill beneficial bacteria, altering the pH of the vagina and making it prone to infection.
Using harsh soaps to wash your vagina disrupts your vaginal pH. Even if the soap is labeled as “sensitive,” it does more harm to your intimate areas than good. The chemicals in these products increase the pH of your vagina, which can cause an infection. It can’t be overstated—your vagina knows how to keep itself clean! Beyond regular washing, there’s no particular hygienic ritual you need to perform to keep this sensitive area clean.
Many people use lubricants while having sex, and generally, they don’t disrupt the pH of a healthy vagina. However, try to stick with water- or silicone-based products, when possible. Avoid lubricants containing glycerin or flavored lubricants containing glucose, since these can make your vaginal pH more alkaline and cause irritation or yeast infections.
As you might expect, your menstrual cycle can have a huge impact on your vaginal pH. Menstrual blood has a higher pH than your vagina, but since it typically flows out of your body quickly, it doesn’t greatly impact your overall vaginal pH.
However, using feminine hygiene products like tampons or menstrual cups that keep menstrual blood within your vagina for a period of time can alter your vaginal pH and cause infections. If you use tampons or menstrual cups, change them often to maintain your vaginal pH. Although some tampons may contain marketing labels advertising that they are lubricated with pH balance gel, studies have shown that they don’t prevent vaginal pH fluctuations during use. (2)
There are two things about swimming that can make your vagina a less-than-healthy environment—chlorinated water and tight clothing. Wearing a tight, wet swimsuit can create an ideal environment for bad bacteria to grow, and the chemicals in chlorine can disrupt your vaginal pH and kill off good bacteria.
A woman’s hormones naturally fluctuate throughout her monthly cycle, and women who use hormonal contraceptives like IUDs or the pill are also impacted by these changes even if they don’t have a period. Changing hormones can disrupt your vaginal pH and make you more prone to infections. (3)
4 Natural Ways To Restore Your Vaginal pH Balance
Making healthy lifestyle choices like avoiding unprotected sex, having sex with one partner at a time, exercising regularly, and eating a healthy diet can help you to maintain a balanced and healthy microbiome. However, if you do notice itchiness, a change in your vaginal discharge, or a foul odor coming from your vagina, you may have a vaginal pH imbalance.
To restore your vaginal pH and prevent unwelcome disruptions, you can:
- Increase your yogurt intake. Yogurt is a natural probiotic containing a high concentration of Lactobacilli. Adding yogurt, kefir, or other probiotic-rich foods to your diet will not only replenish your good bacteria stores but will also strengthen your immune system.
- Take probiotics regularly. If you’d rather take a supplement instead of consuming probiotic-rich foods, then you can take a targeted probiotic supplement to support your vaginal pH. Happy V’s probiotic for vaginal health balances vaginal pH while supporting a healthy microbiome and improving digestion.
- Drink diluted apple cider vinegar. Because apple cider vinegar is acidic in nature, it naturally kills bad bacteria. Dilute a spoonful of apple cider vinegar in a glass of water to drink it, or pour a few cups into a bath and relax for a half hour to get the benefits.
- Use a boric acid suppository. Boric acid is an anti-viral and anti-fungal acid that can be found over the counter at a pharmacy or drugstore. (4) It’s been used as an alternative therapy for treating BV and yeast infections for over 100 years. If you give a boric acid suppository a try, simply apply it to your vagina for 21 days at a dose of 600mg per day maximum.
If you’re concerned you’ve developed a vaginal infection like a yeast infection, urinary tract infection, or BV, it’s a good idea to contact your doctor for an evaluation and treatment plan. Since these conditions can appear similar to some sexually transmitted infections, it’s a good idea to get tested, even if you think you recognize your symptoms.