Top 10 Vaginal Health Tips: Essential Advice for Balance

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Summary

  • Be mindful of your vagina hygiene practice. Washing daily with water is enough.
  • Avoid excessive use of soap, cleaning tissues, and scented toilet paper. These contain chemicals that can affect the beneficial Lactobacillus bacteria. 
  • Steer clear of vaginal douching. This common practice washes away good Lactobacillus bacteria, leaving space for disruptive bacteria or yeast to grow. 
  • Be aware of antibiotic overuse. It can lead to the development of bacterial vaginosis, yeast infections, or other vaginal infections. 
  • Smoking reduces protective vaginal bacteria.
  • Keep things fun and practice sex that fully protects your vaginal health. 
  • When menstruating, change tampons, and sanitary pads regularly because extended use gives disruptive bacteria the opportunity to grow.
  • Wipe from front to back. Like your mama taught you. 
  • Take a shower after working out. 
  • Choose breathable cotton undies. Organic, if possible.
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Get deep insights into your vaginal microbiome with our mess free, at home test. Learn more

 1. Be mindful of your hygiene practice

When it comes to vaginal health, the vagina is a self-cleaning system. 

Washing daily with water is enough, the vagina does the rest thanks to its own mucous secretion [1].

2. Avoid excessive use of soap, cleaning tissues, and scented toilet paper

Soap, cleaning tissues, and scented toilet paper contain chemicals that can affect the beneficial Lactobacillus-dominated vaginal microbiome [2]. While these substances can vary per product, the most common ones are: 

  • Petrochemicals (known also as propylene glycol and polyethylene glycol)
  • Parabens (known as  methylparaben, propylparaben, and ethylparaben)
  • Synthetic glycerin 

If you would like to use soap and gels to maintain personal hygiene, choose products with natural ingredients that will keep your vaginal microbiome in check.

3. Steer clear of vaginal douching

Vaginal douching - for example, anytime you might force water, an antiseptic, or vinegar into the vaginal cavity. Sometimes vaginal douching products are sold over-the-counter and other times they’re homemade. 

Vaginal douching is often used to manage unpleasant odors and clean menstrual blood. However, an intravaginal shower with vinegar or antiseptics can cause chemical damage to the vaginal microbiome and easily wash away the good Lactobacillus bacteria, leaving the space open for disruptive bacteria or yeast to grow [3], [4], [5]. 

Remember that odor is normal and unique for each woman. You don’t need to use vaginal douching for it. Simply cleaning with water is enough. 

If the odor is very strong and out of the ordinary, consider talking with your healthcare provider. The odor may be caused by disruptive bacteria. In these cases, vaginal douching could do more harm than good and prolong the infection. 

4. Be aware of  antibiotic overuse

Antibiotics kill both disruptive bacteria and also the protective Lactobacillus species, which may later lead to the development of bacterial vaginosis, yeast infections, or other vaginal infections. 

So when possible, avoid unnecessary antibiotic use [6].

5. Don’t smoke

You have probably heard this vaginal health tip many times. But there’s one more reason not to smoke: It also appears that smoking can impact the vaginal microbiome. 

Women who smoke have a lower number of protective vaginal lactobacilli and a higher chance of overgrowth of disruptive bacteria [7].

6. Practice sex that protects your vaginal health

During sex, we exchange bacteria. This brings the vagina in contact with "unknown" bacteria. 

Bacterial vaginosis (BV), although not a sexually transmitted disease, has been associated with sex [8], [9], [10]. This bacterial exchange is reported for both women who have sex with men and women who have sex with women [11] [12]. 

Condoms can protect you from unwanted bacterial exchange and also from sexually transmitted infections. This is especially true when in contact with a new sexual partner [13], [14]. 

Avoid scented condoms since they can have a negative impact on your vaginal microbiome. 

Remember, if switching from anal to vaginal sex, change the condom or wash your partner’s penis and any toys you may be using. Skipping this important step will bring thousands of anal bacteria to your vagina, which can cause bacterial vaginosis. 

If you have contact with the same partner and are trying to get pregnant, use condoms when not ovulating. This will help you maintain a healthy Lactobacillus-dominated microbiome during the non-ovulating period. 

Finally, showering and/or peeing after sex can help sweep away disruptive bacteria.

7. When menstruating, change tampons, and sanitary pads regularly

Using tampons for a longer period of time provides a perfect opportunity for disruptive bacteria to grow. This can lead to the development of severe health issues such as toxic shock syndrome [15], [16]. 

Even if you switch to menstrual cups, reusable sanitary pads, or period underwear, these must be changed regularly too.

8. Wipe from front to back

Your mom might have shared this one with you. We’re saying it too: Wipe front to back. This simple yet crucial practice is one of the essential vaginal health tips.

This prevents the spread of disruptive bacteria from your anus to your healthy vagina. 

9. Take a shower after working out

While exercising, sweat can be easily absorbed by your underwear. The wet and warm environment of your underwear may encourage an overgrowth of disruptive bacteria. 

So, we suggest: Work out. Shower. Feel fresh.

10. Choose cotton

Preferably use cotton underwear. As a breathable fabric, cotton can help to control moisture and temperature levels. Avoid nylon underwear and avoid panties that are too tight [1], [17].

And be sure to always wash your new cotton underwear before wearing it for the first time. 

Conventional cotton is grown using a lot of pesticides, so residues may remain on the fabric. There are no studies specifically testing pesticide residues in cotton underwear, but small traces of pesticides have been found in other cotton products such as tissue paper, cotton surgical face masks, and diapers [18]. 

Using a pre-wash detergent may help eliminate any traces from your underwear [19]. If you can, shop for underwear made of GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certified organic cotton, which is pesticide-free. It is still super important to wash before the first use, as organic cotton fabric may contain dyes and other chemicals from the manufacturing process.

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References

[1] Chen, Y. et al. (2017) Role of female intimate hygiene in vulvovaginal health: Global hygiene practices and product usage. Womens Health 13, 58–67.

[2] Crann, S.E. et al. (2018) Vaginal health and hygiene practices and product use in Canada: a national cross-sectional survey. BMC Women’s Health 18, 52.

[3] Brotman, R.M. et al. (2008) A Longitudinal Study of Vaginal Douching and Bacterial Vaginosis--A Marginal Structural Modeling Analysis. American Journal of Epidemiology 168, 188–196.

[4] Cottrell, B.H. (2010) An Updated Review of Evidence to Discourage Douching. MCN: The American Journal of Maternal/Child Nursing 35, 102–107.

[5] Yıldırım, R. et al. (2020) Effect of vaginal douching on vaginal flora and genital infection. J Turkish German Gynecol Assoc 21, 29–34

[6] Stokholm, J. et al. (2014) Antibiotic use during pregnancy alters the commensal vaginal microbiota. Clinical Microbiology and Infection 20, 629–635.

[7] Brotman, R.M. et al. (2014) Association between cigarette smoking and the vaginal microbiota: a pilot study. BMC Infect Dis 14, 471.

[8] Klebanoff, M.A. et al. (2010) Race of Male Sex Partners and Occurrence of Bacterial Vaginosis. Sexually Transmitted Diseases 37, 184–190.

[9] Bradshaw, C.S. et al. (2013) Recurrence of Bacterial Vaginosis Is Significantly Associated With Posttreatment Sexual Activities and Hormonal Contraceptive Use. Clin Infect Dis 56, 777–786.

[10] Kenyon, C.R. et al. (2018) Association between bacterial vaginosis and partner concurrency: a longitudinal study. Sex Transm Infect 94, 75–77.

[11] Forcey, D.S. et al. (2015) Factors Associated with Bacterial Vaginosis among Women Who Have Sex with Women: A Systematic Review. PLoS ONE 10, e0141905.

[12] Muzny, C.A. et al. (2018) Identification of Key Bacteria Involved in the Induction of Incident Bacterial Vaginosis: A Prospective Study. J Infect Dis 218, 966–978.

[13] Hutchinson, K.B. et al. (2007) Condom Use and its Association With Bacterial Vaginosis and Bacterial Vaginosis-Associated Vaginal Microflora. Epidemiology 18, 702–708.

[14] Fethers, K.A. et al. (2008) Sexual Risk Factors and Bacterial Vaginosis: A Systematic Review and Meta‐Analysis. Clin Infect Dis 47, 1426–1435.

[15] Jacquemond, I. et al. (2018) Complex ecological interactions of Staphylococcus aureus in tampons during menstruation. Sci Rep 8, 9942.

[16] Berger, S. et al. (2019) Menstrual toxic shock syndrome: case report and systematic review of the literature. The Lancet Infectious Diseases 19, e313–e321.

[17] Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists guidelines (2011) The Management of Vulval Skin Disorders.

[18] Nelson, Cherilyn, et al. "Laundering as decontamination of apparel fabrics: Residues of pesticides from six chemical classes." Archives of environmental contamination and toxicology 23.1 (1992): 85-90.