You may have heard the term “pH-balanced” in reference to your favorite anti-perspirant. pH is the measure of acidity or alkalinity of a substance or environment on a scale of one to 14, one being the most acidic and 14 being the most alkaline (or basic). So pH balance means maintaining the naturally occurring pH level of a substance or environment. Your body’s pH levels differ depending on each system or organ.
The female vagina has a naturally acidic pH that ranges from 3.5 to 4.5. This acidic environment maintains that the levels of “good” and “bad” bacteria in balance. A bacteria imbalance in the vagina can lead to irritation, odor or infections such as Bacterial Vaginosis, the most common vaginal infection among menstruating women.
During menses, blood present in menstrual fluid paired with hormonal changes in the vaginal tissues raise vaginal pH. Tampons can further contribute to this rise by absorbing and retaining menstrual fluid in the vaginal canal for an extended period of time. Chemicals present in some tampons may also affect pH levels. The rise in vaginal pH can increase the likelihood of infection. Some women regularly experience vaginal infections following their periods for this reason.
There are a number of factors that may make the vagina more susceptible to infection:
- Menstrual blood
- Tampons that absorb menstrual fluid for an extended period of time
- Hot tubs
- Feminine deodorants
- Hormone fluctuations, for example, during pregnancy or menopause
Doctors have confirmed a clear link between vaginal pH and infection.1 One step women can take to maintain their vaginal pH during menses is to use a menstrual cup. Studies have shown that menstrual cups, unlike tampons, do not alter the pH or bacteria levels in the vagina. Avoiding feminine deodorants and douching can also help you maintain your pH balance.