Between UTIs and yeast infections — not to mention the complications that come along with having a period — there’s a lot that can go wrong when it comes to vaginal health.
Some simple lifestyle swaps and fixes can prevent infection, keep things clean and cut down on your visits to the gynecologist.
Keep an eye on your razor blade
Razor blades harbor all sorts of bacteria, and like your toothbrush, it’s easy to forget to replace them regularly. You should never share a razor blade (not even in a last-minute pinch!); bacteria passed back and forth can create a nasty infection, especially if you break the skin while you shave. To keep things from getting messy, you should toss a razor that starts to get visibly rusty or after 10 uses, says Dr. Kelly Reynolds in a Good Housekeeping hygiene warning.
Avoid shaving during your period, a time when you’re more susceptible to razor bumps, pain and rashes. If the idea of unwrapping a brand new razor every 10 shaves feels annoying and expensive, try putting yours underneath a hair dryer after you shower to prevent rust and leave the cap on when you’re not using it, especially if you store your razor in the damp shower. The dryer and cleaner things are, the better.
You have to wear boring underwear sometimes
If you’re having a problem or you’re starting to get nervous about infection, your best defense may be in your underwear drawer. Taking a break from your adorable silky lingerie and opting for white full-coverage cotton can do wonders for your health. Tights. Leggings. Spandex. The tighter things are, the more difficult it is for moisture to escape. As fun as they are, silk and lace can cause chafing and irritation and don’t wick moisture away.
According to the Center for Young Women’s Health, your trendy exercise underwear might not be helping things either. Nylon and Lycra can create a sort of swampy environment — the last thing we want. Sometimes, boring cotton can be your saving grace. If that’s not doing the trick, try swapping to white cotton. As plain as it sounds, white underwear has fewer chemical dyes and exposes your skin to fewer potential irritants.
Make probiotics part of your everyday routine
Upping your yogurt intake when you’re on antibiotics is a good preventative measure, but what about the rest of the time? WebMD’s Mary Jo DiLonardo says probiotics, live bacteria cultures, are counterintuitively beneficial for your health. “We think of bacteria as something that causes diseases,” DiLonardo says, “but…probiotics are often called ‘good’ or ‘helpful’ bacteria.”
Antibiotics do a wonderful job of wiping out infection in your body, but they often also strip you of naturally occurring good bacteria that keeps you healthy. That’s why your doctor often recommends increasing your probiotic intake if you’re on a strong antibiotic or recuperating from an illness. Adding them into your regular routine can help keep your system balanced and strengthen your natural defenses against infection and other nuisances. Probiotics come in many forms, from kombucha, kefir, yogurts and other fermented foods to pills and supplements you can find at any health food store or vitamin provider.
Stay away from hot tubs and bubble baths
Bacteria thrives in wet and warm places, so a literal tub of warm water isn’t the best idea for a sensitive vagina. On vacation or at a spa? Be cautious around hot tubs. Not only do they become germ breeding grounds, but also often contain highly concentrated irritating chemicals like bromine and chlorine. If you can’t resist the tub, make sure to shower, change out of your bathing suit, and dry off right away. At home, avoiding scented bath-time accessories can prevent all sorts of itchiness down the road. Those fancy soaps, salts and bath bombs typically contain artificial coloring, scents and chemicals, all things you’d rather not soak in.
Ditch the fancy tampons
Though scented tampons certainly seem appealing, they’re actually often a recipe for disaster down under. If you have a sensitive vagina or if you’re often irritated by other fragrances in perfumes or soaps, scented tampons can cause swelling, itching and infection. Dr. Pari Ghodsi, in a Glamour health article, explains that the fragrances used to make scented tampons don’t just irritate you, they can actually alter your naturally self-balancing vaginal pH. Like underwear, it seems our vaginal health mantra should be “the plainer, the better!” To keep things clean, steer clear of the flowery stuff and grab a box of organic or all-cotton tampons that are dye- and fragrance-free instead.
These simple lifestyle adjustments can prevent infection and build up your bodily defenses. They aren’t hard things to build into your day-to-day routine, and being conscious about what you expose your body to can change your health in serious ways. Of course, it’s most important to pay attention to your body. You know when something isn’t right, and if the feeling persists, it’s always best to make an appointment with a medical professional.
By Emma Miller