The question: I’m a girl, and no matter what I try, how little or how much I clean it, or what products I try, I always have a smell… down there. Why? What can I do to make myself scentless?
The answer: The challenge with vaginal odor is that there’s not a wealth of good studies or teachings that can be a guide to what’s “normal” and what’s “not normal,” says Rajiv Gala, M.D., a Young-Physician-At-Large with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and faculty member of the Ochsner Medical Center Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology in New Orleans. However, if you’re noticing a particularly strong smell, chances are high an infection is the root of the problem.
While discharge from yeast infections, which is a common kind of vaginal infection, doesn’t usually have an odor, other kinds of infections do. Bacterial vaginosis, the name for overgrowth of bacteria in the vagina, causes discharge that has a strong, fishy odor. Trichomoniasis, which is spread through sex and caused by the parasiteTrichomonas vaginalis, causes a discharge that can also sometimes have a fishy odor (in addition to other symptoms).
But for around one-third of women who have vaginal odor, there’s some other cause beyond infection. “There are things like excessive perspiration, chronic constipation, leaking of urine, poor hygiene,” Gala tells HuffPost. “There are times when it may not be infectious, and it may not be an antibiotic that can fix it.”
For instance, wearing tighter-fitting clothing can lead to vaginal odor because sweat and bacteria get trapped on the skin, which can lead to odor. Heavy weight can also be a sneaky culprit — if there is excess skin that causes skin folds, sweat that gets trapped in those skin folds can lead to odor, Gala notes.
A woman’s vaginal odor can also change throughout her menstrual cycle, he adds. Some women may leak some urine when they exercise; using a pad in these instances can also lead to odor.
If a woman is concerned about her vaginal odor, she should talk to her doctor to get to the root of the problem. Her physician “can do an examination and make sure there’s not something treatable, or something more serious, going on,” Gala says. “It allows the doctor and patient to develop a case-by-case solution to the problem.”
If the cause of the odor is an infection, then the patient can get the antibiotics or other treatments necessary to combat it. Otherwise, some other easy recommendations to try to alleviate odor include wearing cotton undergarments, wearing slightly looser clothing and frequently changing undergarments, especially if you’ve exercised, Gala says. Weight loss can also help, if the odor is related to skin folds around the vaginal area.
While it can be tempting to buy over-the-counter products to mask vaginal odor, Gala warns that these don’t actually carry any health benefits. “They may offer some short-term relief, but … there’s actually some data that says it increases risk of developing bacterial vaginosis, yeast infections or pelvic inflammatory disease,” he says.
“Ask Healthy Living” is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice. Please consult a qualified health care professional for personalized medical advice.