Nothing can ruin your weekend plans quite like a vaginal infection. Itchy, burning, and just downright uncomfortable, they’re the bane of a woman’s existence. Fortunately, the majority of vaginal infections and their causes are entirely preventable as long as you regularly exercise proper vagina care. So what does good vagina care look like? And how can you tell if your vagina is healthy? Whether you’re just starting your vagina-care journey or are looking for specific tips on vaginal care after birth, after-sex vaginal care or the best way to clean a vagina, then you’ve come to the right place! Consider this your personal guide for how to have a healthy vagina throughout all stages of your life.
What does a healthy vagina look (and smell) like?
Before we dive into how to take care of your vagina, you first need to know how to recognize a healthy vagina. This will help you identify infections more quickly and help you know what to look for as you examine your own vaginal health.
The vagina is an organ in the female reproductive system located inside the human body. On average, it’s about 3 inches long and extends from its opening just below the clitoris up to the cervix. Every vagina is different and unique, but there are some general similarities that can help you recognize a healthy vagina:
A healthy overall color - healthy vagina colors range from light pink to deep brownish red-pink. Deep red patches can signal irritation and infection.
Moist and well-lubricated - a too-dry vagina can result in pain and discomfort, especially when trying to insert a tampon or while having sex.
No strong odors or fishy smells - your vagina will have a very unique smell, but it should not be overpowering. Strong smells are a common sign of infection.
Clear to milky-white vaginal discharge - your discharge will fluctuate slightly in color as you move through your menstrual cycle, but it should never be an odd color like green or yellow and it shouldn’t have thick white chunks or be bloody if you’re not on your period. If your vaginal discharge is outside of the normal clear to milky-white range, then your vagina is trying to tell you that something is wrong.
In addition to the physical characteristics you can easily observe, a healthy vagina can also be recognized by its pH levels. pH is a scale used to determine and measure a substance’s acidity. By nature, the vagina is acidic; its acidity helps protect it against germs, bacteria, parasites, and fungi that can cause infection.
It’s normal for your pH level to fluctuate slightly during your menstrual cycle, when you go through menopause, and even after having sex. However, it can also be significantly disrupted by other external factors like excessive douching, antibiotics, UTIs and other infections.
A healthy vagina will have a pH between 3.8 and 4.5. You can easily test your pH levels with an at-home testing kit, or by asking your physician to test your vaginal pH levels for you.
How to Keep Your Vagina Clean and Happy
Now that you understand what a healthy vagina should look like, let’s talk about how to clean your vagina and keep it healthy. Want to hear a little-known fact that will change your vagina care routine forever?
The vagina is self cleaning.
Yep, you heard us right. The vagina cleans itself, but you’re not completely off the hook just yet. Your vagina works hard to clean itself by secreting discharge to help regulate pH levels and flush out bacteria or fungi. The vagina is really good at what it does, but there are a few things you can do to help make its job easier:
1. Eat a healthy, balanced diet and get plenty of exercise. Certain foods like yogurt and cranberries may even help promote healthy bacteria in the vagina and discourage infection.
2. Wash with regular soap and water—don’t douche! Douching significantly disrupts the pH levels in your vagina, increasing your risk of infection. Similarly, using strongly scented soaps and perfumes to wash your vagina can disrupt your pH levels and cause irritation. The best way to wash your vulva and vaginal opening is to use a gentle soap and rinse with warm water.
3. Use natural lubricants to help protect your vagina and labia during intercourse. Natural lubricants like coconut oil are more moisturizing and less likely to irritate this sensitive area.
4. Keep shaving to a minimum, or better yet—skip it entirely. Pubic hair is meant to be protective. It helps prevent chafing and friction, as well as shield your private areas from foreign objects that may irritate or injure. Shaving around your vagina introduces a risk of cutting yourself and developing an infection, as well as increases your risk of developing folliculitis. Small nicks in this area can be especially painful and uncomfortable while healing. If you must shave, do so sparingly or opt to just trim your pubic hairs instead.
5. Take a daily probiotic to reinforce the good bacteria in your vagina. This will help you consistently maintain healthy pH levels. A probiotic is especially beneficial when taking antibiotics and helps decrease the likelihood of developing a yeast infection.
6. Wear breathable cotton underwear to prevent odor build-up and avoid creating a moist, warm environment where yeast and bacteria can thrive.
7. Practice safe sex. The vagina is vulnerable to many different types of STDs and bacterial infections, so it’s important to take precautions to protect it. Use condoms and regularly clean sex toys to help prevent harmful bacteria from being introduced into your vagina. See your gynecologist regularly. You should visit your gynecologist annually for a pelvic exam and, when recommended by your doctor, get a pap smear to check for signs of cancer. Regular visits to your gynecologist can help you identify problems early on. It’s also a great time to ask your doctor any questions you may have about how to take care of your vagina.
Regularly practicing proper vagina care can go a long way in maintaining your overall health and comfort. If you start experiencing symptoms of infection or notice something about your vagina that seems odd, reach out to your physician and get the assistance you need to keep your vagina healthy, happy and infection free.