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What is Vaginal pH Balance?

Reviewed by Dr. Barb DePree, MD

First, a science lesson: pH is a measure of how acidic or alkaline (basic) a substance is. The pH scale ranges from 0 (very acidic) to 14 (highly alkaline) with seven being neutral. A healthy vagina is slightly acidic, in the range of 3.5 to 5.

This acidity is maintained by a delicate balance of organisms, notably the bacteria lactobacillus is dominant, this produces lactic acid, keeping good and bad bacteria in balance. This slightly acid environment helps to ward off vaginal infections.

Vaginas with a pH that is slightly acidic keep clean and clear of unfriendly bacteria. A pH imbalance often results in itching, irritation, odor, and/or discharge. Regular use of a vaginal moisturizer that is pH targeted will help maintain a healthy and more comfortable vaginal environment; it’s moisture that helps the vagina re-regulate its environment.

Not sure if your pH is off? Try these Test Strips for fast results.

What Causes an Increased Vaginal pH?

Moisture helps the vagina re-regulate its environment. pH balanceThe loss of estrogen with menopause reduces circulation and lubrication, which can throw off our pH, which means our vaginas may become more alkaline and invite infection by being a friendly place for unfriendly bacteria. The two most common causes of itching, irritation, and heavy discharge are bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections. Bacterial vaginosis is by far the most common cause of discomfort and strong odor for women. It’s especially common after intercourse, when semen, which is quite alkaline, throws the vagina's pH off balance very quickly.

Yeast infections result from an imbalance between the healthy bacteria and the few yeast cells that normally reside in a vagina. The yeast cells multiply, which can cause itching, irritation, and even swelling. We can get yeast infections whether or not we have intercourse, and once we’ve had one, we’re more susceptible in the future.

Read: 7 Ways to Naturally Restore Your Vaginal pH Balance

How To Protect Your pH Level 

  1. Using a vaginal moisturizer regularly.
  2. Wearing natural fiber clothing next to your skin, and avoid wearing clothing that is damp.
  3. Paying attention to personal hygiene, but don’t overdo. Douches, for example, work against your body’s own regulation of pH levels. Some cleansing products are specially formulated to help balance your pH; you might consider using one of them after intercourse to help the vagina regain its acidity.
  4. Avoiding extra-sugary or high carb foods, especially if you’re prescribed antibiotics, which can affect your healthy bacteria. Ask your doctor about compensating with diet changes.
  5. If you notice itching, irritation, an unusually strong odor, or greyish-white discharge, increasing your attention to the steps above, and look for an over-the counter treatment. You can also test using vaginal pH test strips.
  6. Seeing your doctor if symptoms persist or are severe. She or he can prescribe a treatment after confirming the nature of the infection.

Can My Partner Throw Off My pH Balance?

Yes, your partner can throw off your vaginal pH balance and here's why. Semen and vaginal fluids have different pH levels. The vagina typically maintains a mildly acidic environment with a pH level ranging from about 3.8 to 4.5. This acidity helps to protect against bacterial infections and maintain a healthy balance of vaginal flora.

On the other hand, semen is generally more alkaline, with a pH range of approximately 7.2 to 8.0. The alkaline nature of semen helps to neutralize the acidic environment of the vagina temporarily, which is necessary for sperm survival and successful fertilization.

However, this temporary alteration in pH can disrupt the natural balance of bacteria and yeast in the vagina. This may lead to symptoms like vaginal discharge and itching, as the altered pH can make the environment more hospitable to bacteria and yeast that could lead to infection or discomfort.

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