Highlights from this article:
- Vaginal pH is a key indicator of overall vaginal health
- Vaginal pH is considered ‘normal’ between 3.8 and 4.5 on the pH scale
- The vaginal microbiome is an acidic environment made up of primarily (>70%) lactic-acid producing bacteria known as Lactobacilli
- An unbalanced vaginal pH can lead to a range of issues including making you more prone to infection (infections like bacterial vaginosis (BV) and aerobic vaginitis (AV) are associated with a higher vaginal pH).
- Vaginal pH is simply a sign of a larger imbalance in the vaginal microbiome
Vaginal pH plays a vital role in the health of your vagina by providing a quick insight into your vagina's defense against infection, inflammation, and disease.
Knowing which factors can influence pH levels is an important way to ensure you know what’s up when it comes to caring for and protecting your vaginal health.
Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about vaginal pH balance and how to maintain it.
What is vaginal pH?
As you may remember from chemistry class, pH refers to the potential of hydrogen and is a highly useful scientific measure for how acidic or basic (alkaline) a solution is. But instead of some liquid in a test tube, in this case, the “solution” is your incredibly complex and unique vaginal microbiome.
Technically speaking, pH is a scale that runs from 1 to 14, with 7 being the neutral midpoint. Any substance with a pH of 1-7 represents the acidic side of the scale (think vinegar or lime juice) while substances with a pH of more than 7 are considered to be more basic (think bleach or ammonia).
What is a normal vaginal pH?
Research shows that most healthy people will have a vaginal pH of between 3.8 and 4.5, an environment that’s considered to be moderately acidic.
Why does the acidity of your vaginal microbiome matter? Well, it’s a crude metric for an important factor - the bacteria that are present in your vaginal microbiome.
The acidity of your vagina is determined by the presence of lactic-acid-producing bacteria called lactobacilli. These bacteria are highly protective and prevent invading pathogens from surviving in the vagina. If your vaginal pH is within range (on the acidic side), it means lactobacilli are flourishing. When pH levels are too low or too high, they are associated with a collection of unwanted vaginal infections, including:
- Bacterial vaginosis (BV)
- Aerobic vaginitis (AV)
- UTIs and (in extreme cases) kidney infections
- Cytolytic vaginosis
How to test your vaginal pH balance
Vaginal pH test strips are readily available and can be a useful tool for determining the acidity of the vagina. However, it’s important to remember that vaginal pH is only a rough measure for the amount of lactic acid that’s being produced in your vagina, not a direct diagnosis for any of the vaginal infections listed above.
Just like having a fever is a metric correlated with the flu — but not necessarily a tool for diagnosing it — pH can be used as a health metric, with an abnormal range indicating to seek further testing. PH tests can't reveal the actual levels of protective bacteria (that's what an Evvy test is for!) or diagnose an infection or disease (which requires a visit to your doctor).
What can disrupt your vaginal pH?
So many aspects of daily life - from changing sexual partners to hormonal flucuations - have the potential to disrupt the composition of your vaginal microbiome and in turn, shift the balance of your vaginal pH.
A list of factors that can impact the balance of your vaginal pH include:
- Sex: sexual activity can introduce new bacteria as well as fluids (eg. semen or lube) that are more alkaline
- Your period and period products : during menstruation your pH will naturally become elevated as a result of your period blood temporarily creating a more alkaline environment. Vaginal pH can also be affected via the use of scented or perfumed period products that disturb the composition of the vaginal microbiome
- Certain medications: antibiotics, in particular, can wipe out the lactic-acid producing bacteria
- Hygiene : things like douching, washing with perfumed hygiene products, or wearing tight/sweaty clothes for long durations of time increase risk of microbial imbalance
- Menopause: aging and the subsequent reduction in female estrogen levels has been linked to a higher (less acidic) vaginal pH.
How to maintain a balanced vaginal pH
Your vaginal microbiome works hard to maintain your vaginal and reproductive health. Here are some of the most important things you can do to help it out:
- Don’t douche and avoid vaginal washes or wipes (especially if they’re scented)
- Practice safe sex and choose microbiome-friendly lube
- Get regular STI check-ups
- Practice good vaginal hygiene (wiping front to back when you go to the bathroom, changing underwear daily, not leaving period products over the recommended time frame, etc).
- Use vagina-friendly period products (unscented options with clean ingredients are best)
- Monitor your vaginal microbiome
A note on “pH-balancing” products: research shows that gels, moisturizers, and body wash which claim to restore pH, have only a temporary effect. In general, it’s best to stick to routine practices for maintaining a healthy vaginal microbiome such as staying clear of harmful products, and practicing microbiome-friendly sex rather than using chemical-ladden products.
How to recognize and restore an unhealthy vaginal pH
We can’t say it enough - an imbalanced vaginal pH is simply a metric to signify an imbalanced vaginal microbiome. That means you should really be paying attention to any symptoms of a vaginal infection. Such as:
- Changes in the smell, color, or quantity of vaginal discharge
- Burning, itching, or general discomfort in and around the vagina
- Pain with peeing
- Pain with sex
Here’s the catch: not all infections or vaginal pH imbalance symptoms will look the same for everyone; it’s about knowing what’s normal (and abnormal) for you!
If you have a vaginal pH test result outside of the 3.8-4.5 range or are experiencing symptoms, Evvy’s can help you figure out what’s up down there, down to your vaginal microbiome’s smallest detail. Gone are the days of knowing that something is wrong, but not receiving any real answers as to exactly what that something might be (raise your hand if you’ve been there before).
With a simple, 30-second at-home swab, Evvy’s vaginal health test will tell you all the bacteria and fungi (and their relative amounts!) behind your vaginal pH and then give you a step-by-step plan for what to do next.
To learn more about the composition of your vaginal microbiome that is contributing to a poor pH test result, take a look at Evvy’s Vaginal Health Test.
Looking for something we didn’t cover here? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.