How to Keep Your Vagina Healthy During the Hot Summer Months
Your vagina deserves a break from UTIs this summer.
Summer is a tricky season for maintaining feminine health. Temperatures rise, swimsuits are worn in lieu of breathable underwear, and sunscreen and sweat live on the skin for long periods of time. It’s no wonder that vaginal irritation, yeast infections, and more become the common scourge of summer. Luckily, there are practical steps you can take to keep your vagina healthy—but first we have to understand why these health issues might develop in the first place.
According to Dr. Jennifer Berman, women's sexual health expert, “Some women are more susceptible than others to feminine health issues in the summer.” Why, do you ask? It all comes down to moisture—both your exposure to it and the duration of it. “When we’re wearing clothing where sweat and moisture sit for long periods of time, in bathing suits or yoga pants, this can predispose you to bacterial and fungal infections that can lead to urinary infections,” Berman says. “Sitting in moisture is considered a risk factor for UTIs and yeast infections.”
Dr. Jessica Shepherd, OB-GYN and Ceek Women’s Health brand ambassador, seconds that notion. “In the summer months, the weather causes more sweating, as it is the body’s way of cooling itself down,” she says. “In the pubic region, it is more prone to sweating, usually because of a high concentration of sweat glands and hair follicles in one place. This can increase the number of yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis [cases] because of the moisture.”
If you want to keep your vagina healthy through the duration of the summer, read below to find out the best practices for keeping moisture (and potential subsequent feminine health issues) at bay from both health experts.
Wear non-restrictive clothing
Did you know the type of clothing you wear is correlated to some feminine health issues? According to Dr. Shepherd, “Having the vagina and vulva exposed to air can help reduce irritation and discomfort.” That’s why she recommends wearing clothing that helps air circulate to keep the vulva and vagina dry and avoiding non-breathable clothes, such as restrictive workout gear, leggings, and tights. Oh, and when it comes to underwear, she recommends wearing any that are made from 100% cotton, since it’s such a breathable fabric.
Change out of sweaty clothes and damp swimsuits ASAP
Summer means sweaty workouts and long days spent at the beach, so non-restrictive, 100% cotton clothing isn’t always an option. In that case, Dr. Shepherd recommends changing out of damp, sweaty garments (including swimsuits) as soon as possible in order to prevent moisture from sticking around.
Dr. Berman seconds this advice. “Working out and sweating, then walking around in sweaty clothes after a workout puts you at risk,” she says. “Any moisture that sits without breathing may cause feminine issues.”
What’s better than wearing dry, breathable, and nonrestrictive underwear? Wearing no underwear at all (seriously). Dr. Berman says there’s a reason to go commando. “We make jokes about that, but there is a health benefit, especially when it is hot," she says.
Dr. Shepherd also recommends going commando every so often. “Sleeping without underwear can help alleviate excessive sweating,” she says. Sweat is moisture, so opting out of underwear can really benefit one’s vaginal health by allowing for optimum breathability.
You may have considered taking probiotics to keep your gut in check, but they can also help maintain your feminine health. “The body is all interconnected," says Dr. Berman. "There are bad bacteria throughout our entire bodies—in our GI tract and urinary tract. We want to keep healthy bacteria thriving and bad bacteria counts low.”
While studies revolving around probiotics' effectiveness toward vagina health are limited, Dr. Caroline Mitchell—assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive biology at Harvard Medical School—said in a Harvard Health Publishing article, "But if you are going to pick one and you really want to try one, the probiotics that seem to show some benefit in studies are ones containing Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1.”
Avoid using greasy, petroleum-based products
Dr. Berman cautions against using potentially irritating products around the vulva, such as “suntan oil that’s greasy or petroleum-based [products],” as these can turn into “a breeding ground for bacteria.” That goes for any washes or wipes, too. “In general, be careful what you put down there,” she says. “The vagina is designed to be a self-cleaning oven. You don’t have to spray-wash it. You should be careful with the products that you use.” Avoid soaps and lubes with fragrance, parabens, and glycerin, which disrupt the vulva’s natural microbiome. If you do feel the need to cleanse, Dr. Berman says it’s best to use a gentle, fragrance-free soap.
And one more thing. If you’re someone who’s prone to UTIs and yeast infections after sex, Dr. Berman has some advice to share: “It may seem cliché, but go to the bathroom before and after, drink plenty of fluids, and keep cranberry juice or cranberry pills on hand.”