When the vaginal pH balance changes it can result in an overgrowth of bacteria, uncomfortable symptoms, and vaginal infections like bacterial vaginosis or yeast infections.
Understanding why your vaginal pH changes and what you can do to restore it, however, can prevent these uncomfortable infections from taking hold and keep your vaginal environment healthy. Below, are the best 7 ways to naturally restore your vaginal pH balance.
What is a Healthy Vaginal pH?
On a pH scale, 7 is considered neutral, anything below is acidic and anything measuring above 7 is alkaline. The natural pH level of a healthy vagina is mildly acidic and typically measures between 3.8 and 4.5, although for menopausal women 5.0 is also considered healthy.
This mildly acidic environment naturally maintains a healthy balance of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria in the vagina and prevents harmful bacteria from flourishing into an infection. If the pH levels become more alkaline, however, the environment becomes more favorable for harmful bacteria to grow and thrive into an infection.
What Changes Your Vaginal pH?
An outside factor is normally responsible for changes to the vaginal pH levels. When women take antibiotics to treat another condition, for example, the medication is prescribed to kill the bacteria causing them to feel unwell, but antibiotics can also destroy the good bacteria that otherwise keep them, and their vagina, healthy.
Although most women’s vaginas can process the alkalinity of semen during sex, for some women, unprotected sex can adversely change the vaginal pH. Female hygiene & menstruation products are also culprits of altering vaginal pH levels, especially douching products, and tampons that use bleaching chemicals.
Wearing pants that are too tight around the crotch, or leaving damp workout leggings or swimwear on after workouts, creates a humid environment around the genitals where harmful bacteria can thrive.
How to Know if Your Vaginal pH is Off?
When the vaginal pH levels have been altered and are too alkaline to maintain a healthy balance of good and harmful bacteria, the body reacts with certain symptoms (you can also test your feminine pH). Some women might experience all of these signs, while others might only experience one or two symptoms.
Signs that your vaginal pH has changed include:
- Burning Sensation - One of the more common symptoms that women experience when their vaginal pH levels have been altered is a burning sensation while urinating or during sex.
- Itching - Noticing that you are itching around the vulva, or outer vaginal lips, is a sure sign that something is off and your vaginal pH levels might need restoring.
- Changes to the Color and Consistency of your Vaginal Discharge - Instead of appearing clear or white like it does when the vagina is healthy, the vaginal discharge typically becomes yellow, green, or gray when the vaginal pH levels have been altered.
- Changes in your Vaginal Odor - Healthy vaginal discharge is typically odorless or emits a faint ‘personal’ smell that is unique to each female. When the vaginal pH has become more alkaline, however, the odor from vaginal discharge becomes more pungent or fishy.
The Best 7 Ways to Naturally Restore your pH Balance
If you currently have an imbalanced vaginal pH and your symptoms are just beginning, these remedies can restore the pH balance and often prevent an infection from setting in. If you are susceptible to recurring vaginal infections such as bacterial vaginosis or yeast infections, these natural ways of restoring your vaginal health will help as a prevention when practiced on an ongoing basis.
However, if symptoms are already advanced and indicating an infection - vaginal discharge is green and pungent, for instance, these remedies will certainly help to alleviate symptoms quicker, but an antibiotic could also be required to treat the infection.
Additionally, depending on what outside factors are causing your pH imbalance, you might want to consider incorporating more than one remedy for optimal results.
1. Simple Vaginal Hygiene
Vaginas are self-cleaning machines and they do not require douching to wash them internally. In fact, douching products, and most fragranced vaginal products, are known to adversely alter the pH level of your vagina and render it far more susceptible to bacterial infections.
To keep your vagina fresh, clean & healthy, simply wash it daily with warm water and a clean washcloth. If you prefer to use soap, choose an unscented, naturally-made brand.
2. The Fit & Material of Your Pants & Underwear
Similar to the humid environment created by wearing tight-fitting pants or damp clothing, the type of underwear you wear can also impact vaginal health. Synthetic underwear also creates a humid environment where bacteria like to thrive, whereas breathable cotton underwear does not and can significantly help to restore and maintain your vaginal pH long-term.
3. Practice Safe Sex
As mentioned above, semen is alkaline and can adversely alter the vaginal pH for some women. That said, women who are susceptible to the alkalinity of semen are not required to refrain from sex. Practicing safe sex with a condom or making sure to urinate and wash the genitals after intercourse to flush any lingering semen out, usually suffices to restore the vaginal pH.
4. Change Your Menstrual Products
When menstruation occurs, change tampons and panty liners regularly and consider using organic tampons, or at the very least, tampons that are made without bleaching chemicals. If your preferred choice is panty liners, ensure that you are using a brand that does not use fragrances or irritating chemicals.
5. Boric Acid Supplements
Due to its natural antiseptic and antifungal properties, boric acid, an ancient natural remedy, has been used for centuries to treat female reproductive conditions and maintain natural pH levels.
Popular for women who are sensitive to the alkalinity of semen, as well as those susceptible to recurring yeast infections or bacterial vaginosis, a daily dose of boric acid in supplement form helps to soothe vaginal irritation and keep the pH balance in check.
It is important to note that boric acid supplements should not be taken orally or used when pregnant.
6. Daily Probiotics
Similar to how daily probiotics help to improve gut health, they also help to keep the vaginal pH balanced. Consisting largely of ‘good’ bacteria like lactobacilli, which is abundant in a healthy vagina, probiotics help to restore vaginal pH levels and re-balance the vaginal microbiome.
7. Reduce Stress Levels
During a 2018 study, researchers linked high levels of stress to pH imbalances due to the increased production of adrenaline and cortisone. This natural stress response also causes the immune system to slow down, rendering the vagina more prone to pH imbalances and infections.
Women who are susceptible to vaginal infections due to stress-related pH imbalances can significantly benefit from mindful practices like yoga and meditation, as well as light daily exercise to lower stress levels and improve the immune system.
Vaginal pH imbalances typically cause an overgrowth of harmful bacteria and result in uncomfortable symptoms such as itching, unpleasant vaginal discharge, and pungent vaginal odors. With the help of some easy lifestyle changes and natural remedies like probiotics & boric acid, vaginal pH balances can be restored, symptoms relieved and recurring infections can be avoided.
If you are experiencing recurring vaginal infections like bacterial vaginosis or yeast infections, these simple and natural remedies can change your life when incorporated on a regular and ongoing basis.
Web MD – What is Vaginal pH – https://www.webmd.com/women/what-is-vaginal-ph-balance
National Center for Biotechnology Information – Clinicians' use of Intravaginal Boric Acid Maintenance Therapy for Recurrent Vulvovaginal Candidiasis and Bacterial Vaginosis - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6878170/
Hindawi – Association between Semen Exposure and Incident Bacterial Vaginosis - https://www.hindawi.com/journals/idog/2011/842652/
Epidemiology – Condom Use and its Association With Bacterial Vaginosis and Associated Vaginal Microflora - https://journals.lww.com/epidem/Fulltext/2007/11000/Condom_Use_and_its_Association_With_Bacterial.9.aspx
Plos Biology – Glycan Cross-Feeding Supports Mutualism between Fusobacterium and the Vaginal Microbiota - https://journals.plos.org/plosbiology/article?id=10.1371/journal.pbio.3000788
National Center for Biotechnology Information – The Association of Psychosocial Stress and Bacterial Vaginosis in a Longitudinal Cohort - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2367104/
Dr. Barb DePree, M.D., has been a gynecologist and women’s health provider for almost 30 years and a menopause care specialist for the past ten.