Written by Marygrace Taylor
Acidic environments aren’t always seen as a good thing. But in the case of the vagina, an acidic 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. Here are several science-backed lifestyle habits and home remedies that can help to keep your vaginal pH in check.
What is Vaginal pH Balance?
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 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 better equipped to fight off infections and irritation.2 In short, the right pH helps keep your vagina both comfortable and healthy.
Symptoms of Vaginal pH Imbalance
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, 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. This can potentially contribute to symptoms of discomfort including dryness, irritation, burning, itching, or pain during sex.6
Natural Remedies to Restore Vaginal pH Balance
For the most part, the vagina doesn’t need too much help maintaining the right 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 vagina.
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 and increase 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. 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.
Stick With Unscented Products
If you are sensitive or prone to infection, products with an added fragrance can increase the risk for vaginal infections or irritation. 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. If you decide to use a lubricant, make sure that it’s water- or silicone-based.11
Try a Vaginal Insert
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 and minimize these symptoms when used regularly and as directed. 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
A probiotic geared toward vaginal health may help promote a healthy balance of bacteria in the vagina, and in turn, aid in keeping vaginal pH where it should be. 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 Your Vaginal pH
If you’re concerned about your vaginal pH, 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.