There’s often much confusion surrounding how the vaginal area is supposed to look, feel, and even smell. To the dismay of some, it usually has a more “fishy” or musky smell instead of something more pleasant depending on what’s going on with your body, the smell (and look) can change due to hygiene, infection, and menstrual cycle. Often, this is entirely natural, but if you notice a more unusual smell down there, it’s good to evaluate your daily habits and determine whether or not it is something serious. If you’re in doubt, use this guide to help you understand normal and abnormal vaginal odors, their causes, and what to do about them.
Types of Smells and Their Causes
This commonly noted odor around the vaginal area can range from a slight scent to a very noticeable one. In general, having this odor is harmless and normal. However, if the smell is powerful, it may be a symptom of bacterial vaginosis, which a doctor and some antibiotics can treat.
You may notice this smell after a long day or after a workout. This odor is typically caused by a buildup of trapped sweat and discharge. To avoid this, change your underwear after an activity that causes a lot of sweating, such as exercise, and choose fabrics like cotton that allow for more airflow.
This smell most often occurs during your period, when blood is present in the vaginal area. It is no cause for worry unless you notice some abnormal bleeding in the area, in which case, it would be a good idea to consult a doctor.
This is another commonly occurring smell most likely to do with the type of foods you are eating. It can also result from changing bacteria levels down there, which can slightly alter your pH balance and the smell.
This smell is generally the most concerning. When you leave a tampon inside for too long, bacteria grow. This can cause an unpleasant odor and more severe and concerning symptoms. When wearing tampons, be diligent about changing them and don’t forget about them, or you will have to deal with an unpleasant situation.
Some people also describe this smell as being “bleachy.” In this case, the cause may be a small amount of urine in the area or the early signs of a bacterial infection. In many cases, the smell may fade, but otherwise, you may want to check in with a doctor.
In general, the best thing to do is practice good hygiene and keep your vaginal area clean. Rinsing the area with water can often be sufficient, as the vagina is self-cleaning, but if you need extra help, try using a gentle, unscented soap around the vagina only. You should also avoid douching products, which can upset the pH balance of the vaginal area and do not solve the problem.
Eating well and staying hydrated can also help with regulating odors down there. Try some probiotics, which can not only benefit your gut but also can help prevent yeast infections.
Additionally, it would be best if you ditched undergarments made of synthetic materials and those that are tight-fitting. Looser clothing made from natural fibers will help increase the airflow and keep unwanted smells to a minimum.
Finally, if the smell becomes more robust over time (especially if it is abnormal) or you experience other concerning symptoms, do not hesitate to see your doctor. The important thing is understanding and responding to your body’s messages.