What is Vaginal pH?
Years after you’ve finished high school chemistry, you might be wondering to yourself why something like pH is popping up in women’s health articles or conversations about your sexual and reproductive health; what does acidity have to do with anything, and what exactly is pH?
The pH scale was designed to measure the acidity of a substance. The scale ranges from 0 to 14, with 0 being the most acidic, 7 being neutral, and 14 being the most basic. The typical vaginal pH level is about 3.8 to 4.5, meaning it is slightly acidic. While this might sound worrisome (should a vagina really be… acidic..?), this is actually a good thing. The acidity found in the vagina helps protect itself and prevent imbalances like yeast infections or bacterial vaginosis. If something happens to throw the scale out of balance you may find yourself quite uncomfortable in the vaginal area. Symptoms of unbalanced vaginal pH can include:
- Strong, fish like smell coming from your vagina
- Grey, green, or foamy vaginal discharge
- Itching around or inside the vagina
- Swelling and irritation around the vagina
- Pain or burning feeling in the vagina during sex
- Burning sensation while urinating.
These symptoms are similar to a variety of vaginal infections, and this is because an imbalance in vaginal pH can be a contributing factor to other infections or discomforts. The types of things that can throw vaginal pH off balance include:
- Your menstrual cycle: the ups and downs of your menstrual cycle can change the acidity of your vaginal area
- Medications: Antibiotics can kill all bacteria, both good and bad, even the natural bacteria that live in your vagina
- Douching: The soaps and dyes involved in douching can disrupt the ecosystem of bacteria found in the vagina
- Lubricants: Some lubricants have a pH higher than 4.5, which can kill healthy bacteria and lead to infection
We’ve spoken about some of the culprits of imbalanced vaginal pH and the discomfort associated with it, but let’s move on to how you can prevent this from happening and take control of your vaginal health. There are a few ways you can actively attempt to maintain pH balance in your vagina:
- Use condoms during sex: like the vagina, penises have their own bacteria. Using a condom can protect your vaginal area from new, foreign bacteria
- Avoid douching: Wash the area around your vagina with soap and water instead
- Avoid sugary, processed foods and increase your intake of yogurt can benefit your pH levels
- Wearing the right clothing: tight, unbreathable clothing can reduce air flow to your vagina and disrupt bacteria. As much as possible, wear loose, breathable pants or underwear.
Even if you do everything listed above, you might still find yourself with 1 or 2 symptoms of vaginal discomfort that you want to look into. You can explore your vaginal pH level one of two ways:
Take an at home Stix Vaginal pH Test: Delivered directly to your door, the kit comes with a test paper to insert into your vagina, and a color chart. The test paper changes color based on your pH, giving you a sense of whether you are in the ‘typical’ range or too acidic or basic. The at home test won’t tell you what specific infection you may have, but you may be able to get a better read on your pH range, informing whether you want to seek out a doctor or if your discomfort is from something else.
Talk to your doctor or another medical professional: Your doctor can explore with you your medical history, and potentially prescribe antibiotics or other treatments for you to get back to normal as soon as possible