The vagina has a natural protective layer which is acidic in nature, to help prevent infection. This layer is maintained when good bacteria called lactobacilli produce Lactic acid (or milk acid), which maintains the acidic environment at a pH value of 3.5 to 4.5. This promotes the growth of lactobacilli, inhibiting the presence of harmful bacteria and preventing infection.
Therefore, the vagina takes care of itself by continuously producing secretions to provide lubrication, cleanse and maintain its proper acidity to prevent infection.
The acidity and alkalinity of a substance is measured by its pH, which is a number from 0-14. Water is neutral, and has a pH of 7; the lower the number, the more acidic is the substance. pH balance is vital for the proper functioning of our bodies. All our organs function properly at specific pH levels and protect us from illness and infection. The medium of the normal healthy vagina is acidic and the pH is between 3.5 to 4.5. This pH level is ideal for the survival of ‘good’ bacteria (lactobacilli). If this finely tuned equilibrium of pH is disturbed, harmful bacteria can proliferate leading to vaginal problems like foul odour, irritation, discomfort and discharge.
Any imbalance in the pH range of vagina causes the change in acidic environment (pH 3.5 to 4.5), which in turn reduces the growth of good bacteria and thus resulting in the attack from bad bacteria. This then increases the risk of getting any form of vaginal infections.
- Common practice of using Soap or Water for Intimate hygiene routine (which are alkaline and hence not advisable)
- Inadequate Intimate hygiene (not maintaining the Vaginal pH balance)
- Use of Synthetic undergarments
- Tight clothes
- Unprotected sexual activity (semen is alkaline and affects the vagina’s acidity)
- Feminine hygiene sprays Excessive fragrance (from perfumed soap or wash) Dyed and scented toilet paper
To stay healthy and avoid infection, hygiene is imperative. Therefore, as a preventive measure, Intimate hygiene (Vaginal Hygiene) in women should include the maintenance of the acid mantle in the intimate area.
Key factors to keep in mind are:
- Avoid Alkaline Soaps and Sprays
Regular soaps, feminine medications, sprays, powders and deodorants can affect the vaginal pH. Most soaps have a pH from 8-10, levels that are much higher than the normal vaginal pH. Some women may have vaginal itching, irritation, rash or even unusual discharge after using these products.
- Refrain from using scented tampons, pads or sprays
Since the pH of blood is about 7.4, during periods the vaginal pH may change. This may lead to some women having vaginal problems for about a week after their periods. Using scented tampons, pads or sprays can also disrupt the vaginal pH and cause irritation.
- Have protected sex
Since semen has a pH of 7.1 – 8.0, there may be an imbalance of the vaginal pH after sexual intercourse, and occasionally leading to a slight vaginal odour.
Avoid excessive douching
Douching (or washing out the vaginal passage) washes the ‘good’ bacteria out of the vagina, leading to the growth of harmful bacteria as the normal vaginal pH balance is upset. Hormonal changes during pregnancy or due to taking certain birth control pills can cause a change in the vaginal pH leading to itching in the genital area of some women.