pH Balance: we learn a little bit about it in high school chemistry class, but did you know that it actually plays a big part in women’s health? The vagina’s pH balance is something you might hear about in commercials— that’s honestly where I first learned it was a thing— but what does it actually mean?
Since we chat a little bit about menstrual care here on the blog and on my YouTube channel, I wanted to dip into this topic out of my own personal curiosity, but also to answer questions that some of you may have. I got in touch with Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., Clinical Professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences at the Yale University School of Medicine to find out more about why the vagina’s pH balance is so important. The conversation resulted in some valuable information that I think every person with a vagina should be savvy of!
Keep reading for the full Q&A about vaginal pH balance.
What is pH?
Mary Jane Minkin, M.D.: pH is the way we measure if solutions have more acid or more alkaline. Lower values point to more acidic, while the higher values point to more alkaline. [A value of] seven is neutral.
Why should we care about vaginal pH balance?
Many women do not realize how much vaginal pH can affect their health and can contribute to a host of issues if not kept in balance. The vagina is a delicate eco-system that needs to stay in balance in order to keep infections and other issues at bay.
What can cause imbalance in our vaginal pH?
Imbalance can happen after your period, after sex, or even due to dryness which can lead to a higher pH. The pH of the vagina should be acidic, and many women don’t realize that. The vagina is happiest with a good acidic pH, which helps keep the nastier bacteria away. A healthy vagina has lots of lactobacilli (type of good bacteria), making acid.
What happens when vaginal pH becomes unbalanced?
A healthy pH balance of a vagina is 3.5 – 4.5, representing a moist, slightly acidic area which prevents the profusion of dangerous organisms that can cause disease, odor, irritation, and itching. Bacteria like Garderella vaginalis and Escherichia coli can become overpopulated due to a variety of reasons, causing bacterial vaginosis (BV).
Can a vaginal pH imbalance lead to more serious issues?
A pH imbalance can actually lead to more serious issues such as BV. It is important not to treat BV the way you would treat a yeast infection. Many women self-medicate with over-the-counter products that are actually ineffective in these cases. In fact, less than one third of vaginal infections that are self-treated as yeast are actually yeast. Over half of all vaginal infections are, in fact, BV. If left untreated, BV can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), infertility, and even an increased risk of acquiring sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and urinary tract infections. BV can be serious, although vaginal yeast infections are not linked with any serious health risks. It is very important to check with your gynecologist or regular MD during your yearly OB/GYN examinations and ask for a BV screening. Now that you are aware of your greater likelihood of having BV over yeast infections, it is critical to monitor and treat your chronic condition in close consultation with your doctor.
Does douching affect vaginal health?
If you’re experiencing vaginal odor, it may be caused by a pH imbalance, which a douche won’t fix. Douching can actually do more harm than good. Since water has a high pH level, and given that douches are primarily water, they can make that funky smell worse. If you decide to douche, balance your vaginal pH immediately following douching. Try RepHresh Gel to balance pH and eliminate odor causing bacteria.
What can someone do to maintain vaginal health?
In order to maintain vaginal health some good ideas are to keep hydrated, and avoid using harsh soaps and cleansers. Treat any infections if they arise— don’t let them linger as they can turn into something worse. Seeing your gynecologist for regular check ups and following good vaginal hygiene are all great ways to maintain good vaginal health.
Are there any drugstore products that you recommend?
If things do get a bit unbalanced, a product like RepHresh can be very helpful. It is available over the counter, and helps make the vagina more acidic again, which is good. I recommend RepHresh Gel, a pH-balancing gel that works for up to three days to restore healthy vaginal pH. Another great choice is RepHresh Pro-B, a vaginal probiotic with two strains of lactobacilli that help to maintain healthy vaginal flora.
Speaking with Mary really helped me understand the importance of maintaining a healthy vaginal pH balance. Anyone with a vagina should be mindful about taking care of the personal eco-system down there, as well as keeping up with regular checks and discussions at the doctor.