Acidic environments aren’t always seen as a good thing. But in the case of the vagina, an acidic feminine pH is just right. Maintaining vaginal pH balance can promote good vaginal health and may help stave off menopause-related symptoms such as dryness, irritation, itching, or discharge. In case you’re wondering how to balance vaginal pH, here we provide several science-backed lifestyle habits and home remedies to restore pH balance during menopause and beyond.
Understanding Menopausal and Postmenopausal Vaginal pH Balance for Women
You might remember from middle school chemistry that pH is a measure of how acidic or alkaline a substance is. According to Bonafide Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Alyssa Dweck, a healthy vagina is naturally acidic, with a pH level ranging from 3.7 to 4.5. During menopause, this vaginal pH level can become slightly elevated, with the pH level closer to 5.3.1 Regardless, vaginal environments with a healthy balance of acidity are typically better equipped to fight off infections and irritation.2 In short, the right feminine pH balance helps keep your vagina both comfortable and healthy. But what happens if your vaginal pH balance is off? What are some symptoms of unbalanced pH levels and what can women do to improve their vaginal pH?
Symptoms of Unbalanced pH Levels
Vaginal pH is maintained by the right balance of good and bad bacteria.3 When those bacteria get thrown out of whack, the vagina can become less acidic and more prone to infections like bacterial vaginosis or yeast infections.4 These infections may be marked by symptoms of unbalanced pH levels, 5 such as:
- Thin white, gray, or green discharge
- Thick, white, cottage cheese-like discharge
- A foul or fishy odor, especially after sex
- Burning while urinating
Declines in estrogen levels experienced during menopause can also raise the vagina’s pH, as mentioned earlier, which can throw vaginal pH balance off. This can potentially contribute to symptoms of discomfort including dryness, irritation, burning, itching, or pain during sex.6
How to Fix Your pH Balance
For the most part, the body doesn’t need too much help maintaining a balanced vaginal pH. By incorporating a few simple lifestyle steps, you can encourage and maintain a healthy balance of good and bad bacteria and, in turn, promote the right level of acidity for your postmenopausal vaginal pH.For more on vaginal pH, check out our quick video from Bonafide Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Alyssa Dweck, below:
Don’t Douche – It Can Throw pH Balance Off
In the past, douching was touted as a way to make the vagina “fresh” and “clean.” But the vagina uses mucosal secretions to clean itself, and invasive cleansing methods, like douching, can disrupt the normal balance of bacteria and acidity in the vagina, throwing vaginal pH balance off, causing symptoms of unbalanced pH levels and increasing the risk for infections.7
Don’t Stress About Hygiene or a Mild Scent
Vaginal bacterial infections aren’t the result of poor hygiene, and cleaning more often won’t cure an existing infection or restore your vaginal health. Plus, even healthy vaginas have a mild scent that can naturally become muskier when you’re active.8 When it comes to personal hygiene, simple is better. Clean your genital area with mild, unscented soap or plain water when you’re in the shower or bath.9 There’s no need to do anything extra as overly scented products or over-washing may actually contribute to a vaginal pH imbalance and impede your efforts toward balancing your vaginal pH.
Stick With Unscented Products to Maintain Balance of Vaginal pH
As mentioned, if you are sensitive or prone to infection, products with an added fragrance can increase the risk for vaginal infections or irritation and may throw your vaginal pH balance off. If you’re looking to balance vaginal pH, establish a general policy for personal care items: if it’s used in or around your vagina, make sure it’s unscented. That goes for soaps, lubricants, wipes, tampons or pads, as well as detergents or fabric softeners used on undergarments.10
Look At Your Lubricant
Speaking of lubricants, petroleum-based products also have the potential to irritate the vagina or cause a vaginal pH imbalance. If you decide to use a lubricant, make sure that it’s water- or silicone-based.11
Try a Vaginal Insert to Support Vaginal Moisture
Vaginal pH naturally rises during and after menopause due to fluctuations in hormones, which can potentially contribute to symptoms including dryness, irritation, itching, and painful sex. A hyaluronic acid-based vaginal insert, like Revaree®, can help maintain vaginal moisture. Restoring vaginal moisture may help to relieve symptoms when incorporated as part of your personal care routine. Clinical studies have demonstrated that the hyaluronic acid in Revaree plays a role in repairing vaginal tissue without altering normal vaginal pH.12
Consider a Probiotic to Balance Vaginal pH
A probiotic specifically geared toward supporting vaginal health may help promote a healthy balance of bacteria in the vagina, and in turn, aid in keeping vaginal pH balanced and helping you avoid symptoms of unbalanced pH levels. But the science is still unfolding, and not every product is created equal. If you struggle with vaginal infections or irritations, consider talking with your healthcare provider about the possible benefits of using a vaginal probiotic. Those containing specific Lactobacillus strains have been shown to help manage bacterial vaginosis, found one recent analysis.13
Learn More About Vaginal pH for Women and How to Balance Vaginal pH
If you’re concerned about your vaginal pH or that you might have symptoms of unbalanced pH levels, you can track it with an at-home testing kit. These kits are simple and easy to use – just hold a piece of pH paper against the wall of your vagina and compare the color of the paper to the colors on the pH scale that come with the kit. It’s important to note that if you test your vaginal pH during menstruation, your pH will likely be altered.14
If you notice that your vaginal pH falls outside of the typical range or that it changes, let your healthcare provider know. He or she can perform an exam to determine if an infection is the cause and recommend the right treatment option for you.