pH of the Vagina and Tips to Keep It Balanced and Healthy
Feminine products such as douches, feminine wipes, and feminine sprays, are part of the growing multi-million dollar industry that women use to keep their vaginal pH balanced. One of the biggest concerns, and reasons why this multi-million dollar industry continues to rise, is the idea on how to take care of the vaginal region. One of the important factors in creating a healthy microbiome for the vagina is its pH.
The pH of the Vagina
The potential hydrogen scale, more commonly known as the pH scale, displays the range we use to determine whether something is acidic or basic; 0 being the most acidic and 14 being the most basic. In the middle of the pH scale is water, with a pH of 7. The vagina has a pH range of 3.5 to 4.5, well in the acidic range.
However, its acidic property is known to be one of its protective properties. Its mild acidic characteristic has shown to have decreasing risks for sexually transmitted diseases, urinary tract infections, yeast infections, and many other infections and bacteria.[1,2] Simply put, when the vagina is in the healthy range of the pH scale, the good bacteria proliferate crowding out harmful bacteria. The main bacteria dominant in the vagina is in the genus Lactobacilli which release lactic acid and hydrogen peroxide which maintain the acidity as well as kill the bad bacteria respectively.[3,4]
Outside the Healthy Range of pH
When the vagina is outside the healthy range and the bacterial defense weakens, the pH level increases. Ultimately, an unhealthy pH allows for bad bacteria to overgrow. A vaginal pH of 4.5 or higher may be at risk for bacterial vaginosis, in which there is an overgrowth in a variety of bad vaginal bacteria. Other symptoms may include gray or white discharge with a fish-like odor. The existing bad bacteria typically results in not only odor, but also infection. Bacterial vaginosis may cause several complications including premature labor, low birth weight, and increased risk of contracting HIV.
Ways to Maintain a Healthy pH in the Vagina
There are several factors--naturally occurring and unnaturally occurring--that can easily change the pH of the vagina: harsh soaps, douching, menopause, and pregnancy. Other factors include menstruating and intercourse because both blood and semen have a pH higher than 4.5. Though the vaginal pH may be easily changed, the vagina maintains its pH on its own. In fact, some of these (menstruating and intercourse) will not leave the vagina in an unhealthy pH range. However, there are other options to maintain a healthy environment for the vagina:
- Oral Probiotics containing Lactobacillus
- Avoiding harsh and scented soaps, (instead, choose fragrance-free soaps)
- Wearing cotton underwear to promote airflow around your vagina
- Changing tampons and pads regularly
- Reduce amount of antibiotics
- Eat a balanced and nutritious diet
- Avoid douching
- Use condoms during intercourse
- Regular gynecologist visits
The Smart Approach to a Clean Vagina
Several factors, such as culture and biases, may influence our perception of the vagina causing women to believe that it is dirty and should be cleaned daily. However, cleaning the vagina with soaps and harsh chemicals can result in harmful effects of the vaginal microbiome. Oftentimes, the body has a way of keeping itself in check/homeostasis through its self-cleaning properties. Each individual will have a certain scent to them, and though it will not smell like the scented soap or spray, it does not mean it is unhealthy. When choosing soaps to clean the area, ensure it has the right pH of 3.5-4.5, but for the most part it is unnecessary to use everyday as the vagina is self-cleaning.
- Hanna NF, Taylor-Robinson D, Kalodiki-Karamanoli M, et al. The relation between vaginal pH and the microbiological status in vaginitis. Br J Obstet Gynaecol.1985;92(12):1267-1271; PMID: 3910080 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3910080.
- Stamey TA, Kaufman MF. Studies of introital colonization in women with recurrent urinary infections. II. A comparison of growth in normal vaginal fluid of common versus uncommon serogroups of Escherichia coli. J Urol.1975;114(2):264-267; PMID: 240039 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/240039.
- Ma B, Forney LJ, Ravel J. Vaginal microbiome: rethinking health and disease. Annu Rev Microbiol.2012;66:371-389; PMID: 22746335 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22746335.
- Hawes SE, Hillier SL, Benedetti J, et al. Hydrogen peroxide-producing lactobacilli and acquisition of vaginal infections. J Infect Dis.1996;174(5):1058-1063; PMID: 8896509 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8896509.
- Dover SE, Aroutcheva AA, Faro S, et al. NATURAL ANTIMICROBIALS AND THEIR ROLE IN VAGINAL HEALTH: A SHORT REVIEW. Int J Probiotics Prebiotics.2008;3(4):219-230; PMID: 20657710 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20657710.