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What does 'pH-balanced' mean and why is it important?
PH is a measure of how acid or alkali something is. Your skin has a normal pH between 5.4 and 5.9, however the intimate skin has a normalised pH that is less than 4.5. The normal pH-balance in the intimate skin is regulated by good bacteria in the vagina called lactobacilli. This optimal pH-balance helps to prevent the growth of harmful organisms. If the pH of the vagina increases (making it less acidic) the quality or amount of lactobacilli can fall and other bacteria can multiply. This can result in infections such as bacterial vaginosis or thrush.
What can upset my intimate pH-balance?
pH levels change with age: before puberty and then again with the onset of the menopause. In between, there are a number of factors that can cause your pH to fluctuate such as:
Antibiotics - which can wipe out your ’good’ bacteria, leaving you at an increased risk of infection
Pregnancy - the hormone levels alter the pH during pregnancy. The pH changes in breast feeding women too
After sex - sweat and abrasion during sex can be an irritant and semen is alkaline so may alter the pH
Contraceptive pill - The pill provides constant hormone levels but some women may experience some irritation in the week that they are not on the pill
Heat and sweat - caused by wearing tight underwear or jeans, exercising and intercourse
Monthly cycle - hormonal changes during your monthly cycle alter the pH-balance and it’s least acidic on the days just before and during your period leaving you prone to infection. Sanitary protection products can also be irritants, particularly perfumed liners which can cause irritation especially if they are worn all day
The most common symptom of a change in your pH is itching. When the intimate environment becomes irritated you want to scratch which can lead to infection. Once you upset the vaginal pH-balance the skin naturally becomes sensitive and you are open to bacterial infections which will need to be treated by a doctor.
Isn’t water enough? And why can’t I use my regular shower gel to cleanse my intimate skin? Isn’t all skin the same?
Using water alone will not harm the pH-balance of your intimate skin however many women also want the added benefits of cleansing, soothing and moisturising the skin. The skin of the vulva outside the vagina can be extremely sensitive and may be susceptible to irritation as a result of exposure to products such as shower gels and perfumed products which can upset the natural pH-balance. Whilst some women can wash with whatever they like and not experience any discomfort, a soap free, hypoallergenic, pH-balanced, dermatologically and gynaecologically tested product such as femfresh is the best way of helping to maintain the natural pH-balance.
How do I prevent my intimate skin from being itchy?
There are different ways of doing it: avoid using strongly perfumed products on your intimate skin as this can upset the natural pH-balance and promote the growth of bad bacteria that can lead to discomfort. Use specially designed products such as femfresh that are hypoallergenic, dermologically and gynaecologically tested to maintain the healthy pH-balance of the intimate skin. There are other steps that can also help such as drinking plenty of water to ensure you remain hydrated, as well as avoiding tight fitting jeans or tights and to only wear cotton underwear.
I sometimes have a whitish discharge and odour, is it normal?
It’s normal to produce clear or white secretions (discharge) from your vagina. This mucus is produced naturally from glandular cells at the neck of the womb, known as the cervix.
Vaginal discharge does not always signal a problem, thrush for example. There is a myth that copious clear or white discharge is always associated with sexually transmitted infections. In fact, changes in the amount of discharge can be totally hormonal. Vaginal discharge does have a natural odour but there are conditions that can cause a malodorous discharge such as bacterial vaginosis.
What is bacterial vaginosis? How do I prevent it?
In cases of BV, the bad bacteria begin to outnumber the good, leading to inflammation inside the vagina. This can lead to symptoms that include discomfort, excessive watery discharge that can have a fishy odour. Maintaining a healthy pH-balance of the intimate skin can help to provide the optimum environment to ensure a healthy bacterial balance to prevent symptoms from occurring [please refer to Q1 for advice on how to maintain a healthy pH-balance]. If you think you may be suffering from BV speak to your GP or healthcare professional for a diagnosis.
What does vulva mean, is that my vagina?
The vulva is the external sexual organ of a woman’s body and its main purpose is to protect the inner sexual organs, including the vagina and the urethra (opening for urination). The vulva consists of the mons pubis (the top area towards the lower abdomen) and this is the main hair bearing part. The labia majora or outer labia/lips, run down both sides and are also hair bearing. The labia minora, inner labia/ lips usually lack hair and can be particularly sensitive. This area forms the transition between the inner vagina and the outer vulva.
What are the benefits of using femfresh? Is it important to use?
The benefits of using femfresh is that it is designed to maintain the natural pH-balance of the intimate skin. For women who want to use anything more than water, it is important to choose a product that works in harmony with your body and does not upset this pH-balance.
Femfresh is specially formulated by experts to care for the intimate skin to gently cleanse, soothe and moisturise your skin without disturbing your delicate pH-balance.
Is it more important to use a specialist product during my period?
The pH-balance in and around the vagina can change quite significantly during your period. It is at this time that many women may become more diligent with their feminine hygiene. Therefore the product they choose should be one that is specially designed to work in harmony with the body and help maintain the natural pH.
Why are some women prone to more irritation more than others?
Some people just have sensitive skin and some do not. The same way as some have allergies elsewhere on the body. The skin of the vulva is particularly rich in sensory nerve receptors and is highly susceptible to changes in its environment making it important that the correct products are used all the time.