Maintaining a healthy vagina inside and out is a good way to keep yourself healthy. You may not have thought about vaginal health, it may seem tricky, or even embarrassing, but it's really not that hard! Read up on these great tips to ensure that you always have a healthy vagina.
Let's clear up something first if you're a bit confused – your vagina is the passage where menstrual blood leaves your body, whereas the skin outside and around it is called the vulva. Check out our diagram of a healthy vagina
Here are a few pointers for keeping the vulva dry and well aired:
- Stick to, loose-fitting cotton underwear, and make sure you change it daily
- Don't stay in your cute (but drenched!) swimmers or exercise gear too long
- Change your pads and tampons regularly (as a guide, tampons should be changed every four hours and pads about the same)
- Avoid extended exposure to hot, sweaty or chafing conditions (exercising, saunas etc.)
Avoid irritating your vulva
- Don't use antiseptics or harsh soaps (and shampoo is definitely not welcome in this area!) on the vulva– plain water is best
- Washing your vulva more than once a day is not necessary. Be gentle and pat it dry rather than rubbing with a towel
What to do if you get vulval irritation
- If you are concerned, the best thing to do is see your doctor in case it is a symptom of another condition.
- Make sure that any of your clothes that come in contact with your vulva have been rinsed well so there's no extra detergent. And keep fabric softener away from your undies
- Try a salt bath (two teaspoons of table salt per litre of water) or a cool wash in the shower if you're experiencing burning and irritation
- Try not to scratch! Scratching can damage the sensitive skin on this area and make itching worse
- Limit exercise that can increase irritation in the area (you may have to pass on the horse and bike riding if you notice irritation)
- Avoid shaving or waxing the irritated area
The vagina has a variety of bacteria, yeasts and other micro-organisms, which occur naturally. Lactobacilli is a good bacteria that keeps other bacteria in check, and normally keeps the vagina slightly acidic. But sometimes, external factors can cause an imbalance of the natural bacteria in your vagina that can lead to problems, such as yeast or bacterial infections. Some girls are more prone to these vaginal problems than others.
Stress, illness and hormone changes can also upset the vaginal environment, but there are a whole bunch of things you can do to maintain a healthy vagina.
Ways to keep your vagina infection free
- Make sure your hands are washed before and after touching the genital area
- Always wipe front to back
- Maintain great hygiene – you don't need to scrub and scrub to maintain a healthy vagina but you equally don't want to go a week without a shower!
- Avoid vaginal cosmetics (such as powders, perfumes, etc)
- Use a mild soap
- Don't use other people's towels
- Maintain your health and fitness by exercising regularly
- Make sure you eat right and limit the amount of junk food in your diet
- For a healthy vagina, wear 100% cotton underwear
- For some extra air time, try sleeping without underwear under your pj's
- Don't douche (flush liquid into your vagina) unless your doctor prescribes it
Signs of a vaginal problem
If you are getting some of these symptoms it could be time to head to the doctor. Vaginal problems can be caused by hormones, health problems, pregnancy, or even STDs.
- Itching, irritation or soreness around the vaginal opening
- It burns when you urinate (ouch!)
- Increased or unusual discharge
- Swelling in the genital area
- Abnormal bleeding
- An unpleasant odour
Making sure you have a healthy vagina is very important, so if you are experiencing any of the problems listed above, get yourself to a women's health professional or a doctor ASAP to see if you need a pap smear or check up. Remember that STDs can be prevented – check out our section on contraception to get informed.