A Healthy Vaginal pH and How to Tell When It’s Not
by Erica Garza
Itching or unpleasant odors? Look, it happens from time to time. It’s likely the culprit of an unbalanced vaginal pH, and your body is telling you to make a change and consult with your OB-GYN. Even when you think you’re doing everything you can to take care of your down there, several factors can sway a normal vaginal pH in the wrong direction.
Luckily, some common signs and symptoms can help you detect whether your pH level is within a normal range (between 3.8 and 4.5). Even better, there are several ways to restore pH naturally if something has thrown your balance off.
The Importance of Normal Vaginal pH
pH measures how alkaline or acidic something is within a range of 0 to 14 — zero being the most acidic and 14 being the most alkaline. Ideally, your vagina has a lower pH than the rest of your body, but it should still be moderately acidic to ward off harmful bacteria. A vaginal pH that’s too alkaline creates an environment where unhealthy bacteria can flourish, leading to infections like bacterial vaginosis or trichomoniasis.
Signs and Symptoms of an Abnormal pH
The most efficient way to determine the pH level of your vagina is to pay a visit to your healthcare provider for a physical exam. There are also home test kits, though you’re better off going to the doctor. Experts debate the accuracy of these tests because temporary conditions, like unprotected sex, may throw your pH balance off. A home test also won’t tell you why your pH is off, which is what matters most. That’s where a doctor comes in who can identify specific conditions that need to be treated.
Some common signs and symptoms of an abnormal pH level include:
- Vaginal itching, burning, or irritation
- Unusual white, green, or gray discharge
- A foul or fishy smell
- Painful urination
- Painful sex
If you’re experiencing these symptoms, over-the-counter yeast treatments are an option, but if you don’t feel relief within a day or two, you should schedule an evaluation with your gynecologist. Common infections and their symptoms include:
- Yeast infection: thick white discharge
- Bacterial Vaginosis: thin grey discharge with fishy odor
- Gonorrhea or chlamydia: yellow or green discharge
What Causes Abnormal Vaginal pH
Several factors may upset the delicate pH balance of the vagina, making it more acidic and susceptible to infection. From sex to menstrual blood, here are some possible reasons why your vaginal pH balance is off:
- Unprotected sex (semen is alkaline)
- Antibiotics, which disrupt both good and bad bacteria throughout the body
- Menstrual blood
- Tampons, which absorb blood for an extended time period
- Poor hygiene
- Allergic reaction
- Feminine deodorants
- Hormonal fluctuations
Remember, our vaginas are excellent at cleaning themselves, making chemical-ridden deodorants and douching unnecessary. Experts say douching isn’t just linked to vaginal infections, but STIs as well. Regardless, almost one in five women 15 to 44 years old douche against recommendations by doctors. The more we talk about the issue, the more we can all agree that it’s unhealthy and unnecessary.
How to Balance Vaginal pH Naturally
If you suspect that your vagina’s pH level is abnormal, there are many natural methods to restore balance. But first, see a healthcare professional to rule out any serious conditions that need to be treated.
Some easy ways to help restore vaginal pH include:
- Taking probiotic supplements and using probiotic cleansers (yogurt can help, too!)
- Changing tampons and other menstrual products often
- Avoiding douching and deodorants
- Having protected sex
- Only using pH-balanced products like Restore moisturizing gel
- Remove sweaty clothing immediately
- Wear cotton underwear
- Don’t wear underwear to bed
- Wear loose fitting clothing
- Eliminate use of detergents with perfumes and dyes
- Use a very gentle fragrance and perfume-free soap to cleanse your vulva
Though douching and chemical-filled deodorants are never recommended, if you’re looking to restore balance and protect against bacteria, use a natural spray like Kushae or V Blissful to feel refreshed, clean and confident. You can always explore more natural products in the shop.
Erica Garza is an author and essayist from Los Angeles. Her writing has appeared in TIME, Health, Glamour, Good Housekeeping, Women's Health, and VICE.
Disclaimer: This is not medical advice, does not take the place of medical advice from your physician, and is not intended to treat or cure any disease. Patients should see a qualified medical provider for assessment and treatment.