It’s hot out there and folks are looking for ways to stay cool this summer. One way our bodies attempt to do this on their own is through sweating. Because of the high number of hair follicles and sweat glands located there, the pubic region is prone to be more damp than other parts of the body when the temperatures rise. There is a reason folks are quick to describe summer days as hot as balls. “Hot as labia” doesn’t roll off the tongue in the same way, but those with vaginas experience swampy undercarriages too. As the temperatures rise, so does the risk for vaginal irritation and infections. Here’s what you need to know about vaginal health and how to keep the vagina happy during the summer months.
The vagina is kind of like its own self-cleaning oven in that you don’t need to do much to keep it clean. Flushing or washing the inner workings of the vagina can disrupt the pH balance and allow bad bacteria to dominate the good bacteria that keeps the vagina happy. The natural secretions of the vagina are naturally higher in acidity, so if an external factor causes the pH to drop, problems are more likely to occur. In a nutshell, basic vaginas can be trouble.
Washing the vulva with water and wiping from front to back is all that is needed to keep the bad bacteria from taking over the good. However, there are some external factors that can cause the bad bacteria to accumulate and make trouble before one can get to the shower — especially when it’s hot outside. Here are some considerations for keeping the vagina healthy.
Ditch Wet Clothes ASAP
Beach and pool days are great for keeping cool, but sitting for too long in a wet bathing suit allows moisture to stick around and acts as a breeding ground for urinary tract bacterial infections and yeast infections. “Sitting in a wet bathing suit can upset the pH balance of the vagina and irritate all areas of the vagina. The vagina loves a warm and moist environment for entertaining an infection,” Dr. Sherry Ross, OB-GYN and author, tells Teen Vogue.
Workout gear does the same thing. Try to be quick about removing wet garments after a run, hike, or any exercise that causes extra sweating — especially if they are close-fitting and snug on the body.
Wear Non-Restrictive, Breathable Clothes
Wearing clothes that allow air flow is best. Breathable cotton, loose clothing, or going commando will allow air to circulate and keep moisture from building. “Having the vagina and vulva exposed to air can help reduce irritation and discomfort,” says Dr. Jessica Shepherd, OB/GYN. Even skipping underwear while sleeping can be beneficial; any time you can reduce excessive sweating will improve vaginal health.
Be Careful With Sunscreen
Hopefully everyone is using sunscreen while they’re outside, but be sure to wash your hands after applying lotions or oils that are greasy. It’s always best to touch your own or someone else’s vagina with clean hands, but petroleum-based and greasy products hold moisture and will allow the bad infection-causing bacteria to fester. Peeing after vaginal touching will help flush bad bacteria away from the urethra.
Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, Clinical Professor of Obstetrics & Gynecology at Yale University, tells Scary Mommy, “If you start smelling a ‘fishy’ odor (or even worse when patients complain of a ‘dead fishy’ odor) and you have a yellowish irritating discharge, you may be developing bacterial vaginosis.” This is often a sign that pH levels are off, but Dr. Minkin says there are over the counter options that can help. One is a vaginal gel called RepHresh that can be used to restore the good bacteria. Another option is to take a daily probiotic supplement or eat more foods high in probiotics such as yogurt, sauerkraut, cottage cheese or kombucha.
The vagina is responsive to estrogen. When folks experience menopause, their estrogen levels go down. Dr. Minkin explains that this drop leads to vaginal dryness which diminishes the “good guy” bacteria and increases the risk for infections. Minkin suggests over the counter, vaginal moisturizer or capsules that are inserted every few days; “good” moisture levels are important. For folks using testosterone as part of their hormone therapy treatment, dryness can be an issue and vaginal atrophy can occur. Because of a lack of natural lubrication, the vaginal tissue is more prone to micro tears, irritation, and infections. For transgender folks experiencing vaginal atrophy, an estrogen cream can be applied directly on the vagina. The levels are too low in these to counteract the effects of the testosterone being used for gender-affirming health care, but they will help keep the vagina healthy and happier.
The vagina is pretty low maintenance until it’s not. Be mindful of the vagina’s summer conditions because a hot and sweaty environment can lead to infections and irritations that no one wants to deal with.
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