It’s perfectly natural for your vagina to have a certain smell, according to Jennifer Wider, MD. But while how you smell down there can depend on your daily activities and your diet, vaginal odor can also be an indicator of a serious infection.
Dr. Wider lays out the smells you should keep tabs on, so you can tell the difference between totally normal and not okay. A healthy vagina should become a priority for every woman.
Healthy vagina means acidic vagina with a high level of useful bacteria and balanced pH values.
A light vaginal discharge is still a sign of a healthy vagina, but any disruption of the normal conditions could lead to infections and diseases.
Symptoms of an unhealthy vagina:
- Dry vagina
- Plenty of discharge
- Burning and itching in the vagina and vulva
- Inflamed and painful mucous membrane
- Appearance of lesions
- Bad smell
- Bleeding (especially after sex)
Vaginal Odor Causes
You clean too well
The vulva naturally secretes thick oils that protect its delicate skin from the secretions and friction it’s exposed to on a daily basis. Scrub off those oils with harsh cleansers (think body washes or douches with dyes, fragrance, or surfactants), and your vulva will be more prone to irritation. Worse, you’ll remove the good bacteria that help maintain a healthy pH and make room for odor- and infection-causing bacteria to move in. So keep it simple and clean your vulva with warm water, by hand, then leave it be.
You use feminine hygiene products
Products claiming to clean, deodorize, and groom the area are best left at the drugstore. The fragrances, dyes, chemicals, preservatives, and anti-itch anesthetics they contain aren’t necessary, and can cause allergic reactions. Vulvar skin is extra sensitive because it’s thinner than the skin on other parts of the body. All you really need? You guessed it—water, says Libby Edwards, MD, chief of dermatology at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, North Carolina.
You haven’t discovered Vaseline
Irritated vulva? Moisturize it, Edwards suggests. Just like other spots on your body, your vulva can get dry, even if you haven’t gone through menopause yet. But don’t reach for a regular body lotion, which is typically packed with drying alcohol and irritation-causing fragrances. Try a tiny dot of basic petroleum jelly, like Vaseline, which is free of fragrance, alcohol, and preservatives.
Wear cotton underwear or go commando
When it comes to your underwear selection, your vagina has a preference: cotton. That’s why most underwear comes with a thin strip of cotton fabric in the crotch. Since it breathes and absorbs moisture, it’s the ideal way to clothe your lady parts, says Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., a clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at Yale University. And when you’re laying around the house, feel free to go commando so you can let things air out, says Minkin. Just don’t go to the gym sans undies, because you’ll want that extra layer between you and germy gym equipment.
You shave (or wax, or use depilatories)
Most of us store our razor in the shower, a warm, moist environment where bacteria can multiply. That’s a recipe for infection the next time you nick yourself. But you don’t have to entirely nix your razor: Just use a natural shaving lotion like Pacific Shaving Company All Natural Shaving Cream, which contains none of the irritating chemicals and fragrances found in traditional foams, and use a brand new blade each time you shave (try buying disposables).
Alternative hair removal methods can get you into trouble, too. The harsh hair-dissolving chemicals in depilatories are very irritating to the sensitive vulvar skin. Waxing, if done incorrectly, can also be risky because it’s possible to burn the skin. Your safest bets: laser hair removal or trimming hair with small scissors.
Your laundry smells amazing
Laundry detergent with dyes and perfumes can irritate delicate vulvar skin. Choose detergents that don’t contain dyes and perfumes, and skip fabric softeners and dryer sheets, which are loaded with irritating chemicals. Look for detergents labeled “Free and Clear”, which means they don’t contain dyes or perfumes. One to try: Gentle Extra-Softening Pureturgent Liquid Detergent, an unscented, biodegradable formula with aloe vera.
Work it out
Doing Kegels is crucial for strengthening your pelvic floor muscles, which are key for producing stronger, mind-blowing orgasms—not to mention bladder control.
Note to self: Include Kegels in every workout!!!
Follow these tips and maintain healthy vagina:
Maintaining the pH balance without douching
Douching is harmful to the vagina because it decreases the acidity and lowers the pH values, making it vulnerable to infections.
The normal pH levels are between 3.8 and 4.5. If your vagina has got a strong smell, visit a doctor, because douching will just mask the smell and won’t resolve the problem. Instead of douching and other potentially toxic feminine hygiene products, try the following natural remedies:
1. Apple Cider Vinegar
Taking a bath with apple cider vinegar can help fight off the toxins and bacteria that cause vaginal odor while restoring the acidic quality of the vaginal flora. Try drinking a glass of water mixed with one or two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar daily.
2. Baking Soda
You can simply add half a cup of baking soda to your bathwater and soak for about 15–20 minutes. Then thoroughly dry your body before putting on your clothing. Make sure to not allow moisture to sit in any folds or the groin area of the body.
3. Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil contains strong antifungal properties as well as being a great antiseptic. These characteristics help get rid of bacteria that may contribute to the problem of vaginal odor and discomfort. (6)
Add a few drops combined with water and witch hazel on a cotton pad and then applying it to the affected area daily can make a big difference. Make sure to dilute with the water and witch hazel since tea tree oil can cause some initial sensitivity to the groin area.
It may seem odd to take one foul smell to get rid of another, but garlic is known for its antimicrobial and antifungal properties. It’s a natural antibiotic that may be just the remedy for vaginal infections as well as vaginal odor. The antifungal properties that garlic contains can help fight a yeast infection, which, in turn, gets rid of bad bacteria.
Just incorporate garlic in raw or cooked form, on a daily basis, into your meals. Garlic is available in capsule form at your health food store, or you can eat one or two raw garlic cloves on an empty stomach with a glass of warm water.
5. Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
Fresh, organic, whole fruits and vegetables are always key to a healthy body and support vaginal health due to the numerous vitamins and minerals they contain. We know that vitamin C, found in citrus fruits, guava, strawberries, kiwi, and green and red peppers, is an immune system booster.
Fast food hinders the pH balance. Sugar, carbs, and fruit drinks can all cause yeast infections.
If you want to maintain a healthy vagina and body, change your eating habits. Yogurt and cranberry juice can help you with yeast infections, and soy food can help you with a dry vagina.
Condoms protect you from STDs, some of which are incurable. Oral to vaginal or anal to vaginal sex requires a new condom to stop transferring bacteria into the vagina.
Smoking affects the lungs, but also the vagina – the nicotine hinders the bacterial balance and causes blocked pores in the vulva and strong smell.
Try not to take any antibiotics if possible. They can have a chain response which leads to yeast infections. If you must take them, consume kefir, yogurt, and fermented foods to soothe the yeast.
Treat the infections at their start
The three most common vagina issues are yeast infections, trichomoniasis, and bacterial vaginosis. If not treated on time, they can cause serious health issues. Treat them with topical or oral drugs.
Choose your underwear carefully
Vaginal skin is sensitive so wear 100% cotton underwear.
Regular visits to a gynecologist
Regular gynecological checkups are crucial for good vaginal health. The first examination should be at 21 years or in three years after your first sexual experience. The gynecologist performs Pap smears which can show any changes in the vaginal cells.
Clean water is the safest option to wash your vagina. Do not use any hygiene products.
Choose your soap carefully
Use soaps rich in olive oil – they won’t dry the skin or distort the pH levels of the vagina.