Vaginal pH is an important marker of gynecological health. When it’s in balance, pH supports a healthy vaginal microbiome. When it’s out of balance, you might notice annoying problems like itching, irritation, and vaginal infections. Soaps, diet changes, normal hormone fluctuations, and even tampons can disrupt your pH balance. Here’s what you need to know about vaginal pH, how tampons can mess with it, and how you can keep yours healthy.
What is Vaginal pH?
pH is the measurement of how acidic or alkaline a substance is. The pH scale ranges from acidic at 0, neutral at 7, and basic or alkaline at 14. When healthy, vaginal pH varies from 3.8-4.5, which is slightly on the acidic side.
Why is the Vagina Acidic?
Just like the digestive tract, the vagina has its own ecosystem of bacteria and fungi—both helpful kinds and harmful kinds. Good bacteria like those in the lactobacillus family are partly to thank for your vagina’s acidic pH: they release lactic acid as part of their natural metabolic process. The relative acidity of the vagina helps good bacteria like lactobacilli thrive and prevents bad bacteria from growing out of control.
What Happens When Vaginal pH is Too Alkaline?
When pH falls out of the normal range, it can throw off your vagina’s bacterial ecosystem, triggering problems like bacterial vaginosis, an overgrowth of bad bacteria that causes abnormal discharge, itching, and a foul smell. Without enough good bacteria to keep fungi in check, you can also get a yeast infection caused by an overgrowth of a fungus called candida. This can cause intense itching, inflammation, and abnormal white discharge. If you think you might have an infection, a doctor will be able to tell you whether it is bacterial or fungal and prescribe the right medication.
How Do Tampons Disrupt Vaginal pH?
While the vagina is usually great at keeping itself balanced, your period can naturally cause pH levels to fluctuate, partially because blood is naturally more alkaline at a pH of 7.4. Using a tampon can sometimes make things worse. Tampons absorb everything in your vagina, including protective vaginal mucous that helps maintain pH balance. Plus, tampons keep alkaline blood in your body and in contact with your vaginal wall for longer than it would normally be there, which can cause pH imbalances.
Why Are Cups More pH-Friendly?
Menstrual cups like The June Cup collect blood away from your vaginal wall, so they’re much less likely to disrupt pH levels. They are also made with medical-grade silicone, a biologically inert material that doesn’t affect vaginal pH. Just remember that what you use to clean your cup matters. Many soaps tend to be alkaline, so rinse your hands and menstrual cup well before you insert it, or switch to a pH-balanced soap like our June Cup Wash, which cleans your menstrual cup without leaving behind alkaline residue.
Why Are Period Underwear More pH-Friendly?
Period underwear are naturally a more pH-friendly option for your vagina because they are worn externally rather than internally like tampons. But they might also come in handy if you’re dealing with a yeast infection during your period and don’t want to irritate tender skin by inserting a cup. Reusable underwear like June Period Underwear are made with moisture-wicking fabric, so they pull liquids away from your skin--helping to mitigate the warm, damp environment that can make yeast infections worse.
Maintaining your vagina’s pH balance is a healthy step in protecting your overall health. Just remember that many things can throw it out of whack--some of them totally beyond your control. If you’re experiencing itching, swelling, burning or other signs of imbalance, see a doc. They’ll be able to help you figure out what’s happening.
Ready to make the switch to pH-friendly period care?