womens underwear
photo: iStock

The most intimate parts of your body shouldn’t be a mystery! That’s why we asked Dr. Althea O’Shaughnessy, a board certified OB/GYN and Vagisil’s Expert Gynecologist, to answer some of the most common questions about vaginal pH balance to provide insight on how your body works and how to keep it healthy.

1. What is a healthy range for vaginal pH? Why is it important to stay within this range?

Healthy human skin, including the skin in the vulvar area, has an acidic pH in the range of 4 to 6. True soaps have [an] alkaline pH above that of the human skin, in the 8 to 10 range. Maintaining a normal pH of skin helps skin stay healthy. It has been well-documented that cleansing products with a higher pH than skin’s natural pH can compromise the skin’s natural barrier function, making it feel dry and more vulnerable to irritation and possibly infection.

2. How can you tell if your vaginal pH is not in a healthy range?

When vaginal pH is too high, it loses its protective mechanism and can result in an overgrowth of bacteria. That can lead to bacterial vaginosis or BV – a vaginal infection that requires an antibiotic to treat. Vaginal odor, itching, and discomfort can also occur if your vaginal pH is out of balance.

3. What’s the difference between “good” and “bad” bacteria?

The healthy vagina has a community of bacteria that maintains its acidic pH. One of the most important types of bacteria is Lactobacillus, which produces lactic acid thereby keeping the vaginal pH in the acidic range. The bacterial community or microbiome varies among women. When this community is disrupted by antibiotics, harsh soaps, douches, or other sources of irritation, an overgrowth of other bacteria can result, thereby leading to bacterial vaginosis (BV). The presence of BV can lead to a greater susceptibility to sexual transmitted diseases such as trichomoniasis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia.

4. What factors can cause an imbalance?

Douches, condoms, contraceptive foams, laundry detergents, some soaps, scented toilet paper, and fabric softeners can irritate the vagina and vulva. Hormonal changes – like during your period, pregnancy, menopause, or while you're taking birth control – may contribute. Use of harsh soaps or douches to cleanse the vulvar vaginal area can cause an imbalance. This can also cause vaginal irritation by adversely affecting the vaginal pH. Using an intimate wash that is pH balanced such as Vagisil pH Balance Wash will help maintain a healthy pH.

5. What’s the best way for a woman to cleanse her intimate area?

Though it may be tempting to use a douche to decrease vaginal odor, douching may actually increase irritation and other vaginal symptoms. A woman may use an intimate wash that is pH balanced, gynecologist tested, and designed for intimate skin such as Vagisil pH Balance Wash. Because Vagisil believes women should have the solutions they need to feel fresh and confident every day, they created a line of intimate washes especially designed for the pH of the vulvar area. Vagisil’s washes are designed for intimate skin and formulated to a pH range within the natural pH range of the vulvar skin. Vagisil pH Balance Wash is clinically proved to help you maintain a healthy pH.

6. Does what a woman’s diet really impact her vaginal pH?

There has been no scientific evidence to date that a woman's diet has any direct effect on the vaginal pH.

7. Can intercourse (including topical and barrier contraceptives, and lubricant) affect vaginal pH?

Intercourse alone should not affect vaginal pH assuming that there is adequate lubrication thereby preventing vaginal irritation. Any vaginal irritant can affect vaginal pH these can include certain topical and barrier contraceptives. Some women are allergic to latex and substances contained in topical or barrier contraceptive which can lead to vaginal irritation and a change in vaginal pH. 

8. What type/amount of vaginal discharge is normal? Can wearing a panty liner daily for that purpose affect pH in any way?

Normal vaginal discharge is usually clear but can be cloudy, whitish, and even pale yellow. Under hormonal influences throughout the menstrual cycle, mucus and vaginal secretions are produced which eventually exit as vaginal discharge. Mid-cycle, the discharge is usually thinner and more copious whereas it is thicker at other times of the month. Vaginal discharge with itching, burning, or strong odor may be a sign of an infection and you should see your gynecologist. Estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone are elevated during pregnancy, which generally causes more discharge because of the hormonal changes and varies from woman to woman. Wearing any underwear made of non-breathable fabric can lead to excess moisture and a change in the pH of the vulva and vagina, causing a potential overgrowth of bacteria and/or yeast.