A healthy vagina doesn’t have to smell like roses, despite what vaginal cleansing products would have you believe. Products to make the vagina smell better, and all products with perfume, can increase the risk of vaginal irritation. Your vagina is not dirty. In fact, it’s self-cleansing.
So what should your vagina smell like?
A vaginal odor is normal and usually nothing to worry about. If you find that your vagina suddenly smells different, there’s usually a harmless reason for it: for example, you might notice a different smell after exercise or after using a condom or a lubricant. The food you eat also influences the smell of your vagina. Don’t be surprised if after a delicious meal full of onion, garlic and spices that your body odor will be different. This includes your vagina. No reason to pass up that delicious garlic bread though!
Get to know your vagina…and its smell!
You’ll also find that your vagina will smell differently at different moments in your cycle. For example, at the beginning your cycle you might notice that your vagina has a mild and slightly sweet smell. After your ovulation your vagina will smell more tangy like vinegar. This can be different per person, and whether you’re on birth control or not. It’s good to get to know your vagina and it’s smells so that you will know when it’s healthy and when something changes or is not quite right. This way you’ll know when to head to the doctor.
In the past years, many products have been put on the market to combat vaginal odor. This reflects cultural ideas about how women should smell and how they should take care of their bodies. These ideas about how your vagina “should” smell do not line up with what is actually healthy for your vagina.
At your local drugstore you’ll find a variety of products that are meant to make your vagina smell good. Vaginal soaps and wipes, vaginal mints, even actual perfume you can spray on and around your vulva. There’s also the vaginal douche which is meant to clean the vagina after menstruation or sex. Not to mention the perfume that’s added to most tampons, pads and pantyliners. Brands selling these products are exploiting women’s insecurities about their bodies and how they smell. The truth is, you don’t need any of these kind of products since your vagina cleans itself and doesn’t need any help (only a bit of water!).
Products with perfume will often do more harm than good. This is because perfumes, soaps and douches kill bacteria, including the good bacteria that your vagina needs. Without these good bacteria, yeast has free rein. This could cause an overgrowth of yeast resulting in a yeast infection (a vaginal infection that causes itchiness and burning in and around your vagina). So, skip that spring cleaning and only wash with luke warm water.
Soap actually makes your vagina less clean. It’s counterintuitive but it’s true. You see, your vagina has a higher acidity than the rest of your body. This is the natural self-protection of the vagina: the acidity stops the development of diseases. The use of vaginal soap (and the perfumes they contain) can affect the acidity and can cause harmful bacteria to grow causing a stronger odor than usual. This is why it’s best to wash your vulva with lukewarm water. That’s it! Your vagina does the rest. Also, if you’re shaving around your vulva, choose a shaving product without perfume.
Product tip: Shaving oil and shaving gel are better for the vulva than shaving cream. Opt for options without perfume.
Lube and the vagina
The products you use between the sheets like lube can also contain substances that affect the self-cleansing qualities of your vagina. Your vagina might become irritated from oils and lubricants. Many lubricants contain chemicals that you don’t want in your vagina. Lubricant often contains glycerin (sugar-alcohol) which is a food source for some bacteria causing your vaginal bacteria to be thrown off balance.
Product tip: Opt for a water based lube without glycerin. For the DIYers among you: lube is easy to make from linseed and aloe vera.
A perfume free period
A lot of conventional tampon and pad brands add perfume to their products. You might not know this because many big brands do not list the ingredients of their products on their packaging. Chances are, you’ve opened a pad or tampon wrapper and smelled a flowery scent come from the product. It might smell nice, but it will not make your vagina happy. As mentioned, these perfumes will throw the natural bacteria of your vagina off balance, causing irritation, possibly infections and a stronger odor than usual.
Product tip: Yoni pads, tampons and liners don’t contain perfumes, but only organic cotton which is soft and breathable, reducing chances of vaginal irritation and infections. You can buy them online or in a store near you.
Trust your vagina
A healthy vagina has a smell. It’s normal and natural. Trust your vagina to clean itself and treat it right by only washing with lukewarm water and using products that don’t contain perfumes. It’s advisable to visit your doctor if you have a lingering change in vaginal odor, or if your vagina has a very strong odor that lingers. Your vagina is the most absorbent part your body. Let’s be careful in there.