Are you cringing already? We get it. A lot of ladies’ important health issues are treated as taboo and it can be difficult to get a conversation going about what’s really going on in our bodies.
Nevertheless, it’s so important for women to be able to recognize the signals their bodies are sending. That’s why we’re breaking the silence and talking about what so many women really need to know for their own wellness.
So, ladies, let’s talk about vaginas.
I Notice A Smell From Down Under… Does That Mean Something’s Wrong?
Not usually. The good news is that most vaginal smells are totally normal and are unique to every unique body. Plus, they can change depending on where we are in our menstrual cycles, how old we are, or even the foods we eat.
After all, your vagina is host to an ecosystem of bacteria which, along with fluid, maintains a steady acidic pH level of about 4.5. According to OB/GYN, Heather Rupe, you can usually smell a healthy vagina from 1 foot away (1).
Before you worry about a noticeable smell, consider if it’s from these normal causes:
- Sweat buildup (make sure you’re working out in breathable fabrics and changing right afterwards)
- Medications (some prescriptions, including antibiotics, can temporarily change your vaginal odor)
- Hormone changes (menopause, birth control, and your menstrual cycle will alter the pH of your vagina. Unfortunately, after menopause, this means a higher risk of yeast infections)
But If It Smells Like This, Talk to Your Doctor
If you notice that your vaginal odor has gotten stronger (and not just after working out or after sex), it’s worth looking into.
Additionally, there are two tell-tale smells that women should seek medical attention for, whether it’s from their family doctor or OB/GYN.
A fishy smell is the most common indicator of a bacterial infection such as bacterial vaginosis or (less commonly) trichomoniasis, which is a sexually transmitted infection (2).
Secondly, what is often described as a rotten or foul smell is usually caused by a forgotten tampon or fragment of tampon that wasn’t removed. If you’re unable to remove the culprit, your doctor or OB/GYN will be able to help you.
Tips for Minimizing Everyday Smell
Normal or not, nobody likes to feel self-conscious about body odor. Check out these do’s and don’ts for managing your smell the healthy way:
- Drink lots of water to keep your body and your vagina hydrated. Often this is the quick fix that women need to restore pH balance.
- Probiotics are your friend. Yogurt, kefir, kombucha, and probiotic supplements can all help to support the ecosystem of bacteria in your vagina and keep things in balance.
- Wash your vulva and labia with unscented soap at least once a day (plus after a workout).
- Some women find that hair removal minimizes everyday smells from sweat, but this isn’t the right choice for everyone. Shaving and waxing can often cause skin irritation or chafing and many women simply prefer to stay natural.
- Don’t douche! Your vagina is an amazing self-cleaning, self-regulating machine and using a douche can not only upset a healthy bacterial balance but can spread any infection that is there. Research says it’s been linked to fertility problems, infections, and even STI’s (3). Just don’t do it.
- Don’t mask with fragrances. Synthetic fragrances are problematic for any part of your body (more information here), plus they can cause irritation. Even essential oils can cause skin irritation and more importantly, are just a band-aid solution to an underlying issue.
- “What about feminine hygiene soaps?” Gynecologist, Austin Ugwumadu says “There will be no difference in the pH of a woman using such products and a woman who washes with a normal shower gel – except that one will be lighter of pocket. In my view, these new feminine hygiene products just worsen women’s anxiety about their bodies, and are probably a waste of money. ” (4)
(1) Why does My Vagina Smell? WebMD. http://blogs.webmd.com/womens-health/2014/10/why-does-my-vagina-smell.html. Accessed Jan 19, 2017.
(2) Vaginal odor Causes. WebMD. http://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/vaginal-odor/basics/causes/sym-20050664. Accessed Jan 19, 2017.
(3) Douching Fact Sheet. Womens Health. https://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/douching.html. Accessed Jan 19, 2017.
(4) The hygiene products that prey on female fears: top gynaecologist reveals danger of masking odor. Daily Mail UK. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2917232/Good-Health-viewpoint-hygiene-products-prey-female-fears.html. Accessed Jan 19, 2017.