A common presenting health complaint in all gynaecology clinics; “There is a strong smell coming from my vaginal area! There’s no soreness and no discharge, doc … but the smell is really bothersome and I’m worried.”

Whether you’ve noticed it or not, every woman has a natural vaginal scent that can change throughout her menstrual cycle. A noticeable vaginal smell may happen occasionally. Even when you’re taking good care of your body and the hygiene of your vagina, you may still experience occasional ‘strong’ smells. Nevertheless, if this becomes persistent or too strong, especially if accompanied with other complaints such as discomfort, itching, burning or discharge, then definitely something is not right down there.

Naturally, any woman who experiences this would ask herself; ‘Is this normal? Should I be doing something about it?’ Usually, a healthy vagina’s natural scent may be best described as ‘fleshy’. During menstruation, this scent may have a slightly ‘metallic’ tinge for a few days, and the vagina may have a slightly pungent perfume after intimacy. Also, it’s normal for an intense workout to leave you muskier than usual, thanks to the moisture released by sweat glands around your vagina.

What any woman ought to know is that her vagina cleanses itself by itself. With proper hygiene, the vagina is capable of maintaining a healthy pH level and keeping unhealthy bacteria at bay. However, any significant difference in the accustomed vaginal scent, especially if associated with other symptoms, then something brewing may be up that needs addressing with me.

What could be the reasons behind your’ smelly’ vagina?

  • Hormones: Hormonal treatments, such as birth control pills and vaginal creams, can alter the intensity of a woman’s natural vaginal scent under treatment. Additionally, the variation of hormones’ levels during pregnancy, breastfeeding, and menopause can play a significant role.
  • Lack of vaginal hygiene: Neglecting the importance of regular showering and washing of private areas may cause the inflammation of the vaginal area, which can lead to a strong vaginal smell.
  • A missed tampon inside: Leaving a tampon inside beyond its need may eventually lead to a pungent vaginal odor, described as “the most disgusting smell ever” sometimes. This may indicate the presence of a harmful bacterial overgrowth. It is wise to seek medical advice in such case; visit me to rule out the presence of an infection inside your vagina.
  • Sweating: Naturally, the skin around the vagina is full of sweat glands. With strenuous exercise or workouts, these glands often release a considerable amount of sweat, which can cause a strong vaginal scent.
  • Intake of certain medications: Certain medicines such as antibiotics can have a direct effect on the bacterial balance inside your vagina causing the evolvement of a temporary odour. Also, Antihistaminic medications can induce an element of vaginal dryness because of reduced secretions, and this may also end up with a strong scent.
  • Bacterial Vaginosis: this is an infection that is caused by overgrowth of unhealthy bacteria in the vagina. It is characterized by the presence of a thin grayish discharge and a strong fishy odour. Eventhough Bacterial Vaginosis could be very irritating and may increase the risk of other associating infections, it can be easily treated with antibiotics.
  • Trichomoniasis: This infection is known to be transmitted through intimate acts (sexually-transmitted) and it is notorious for its ability to induce a pungent vaginal smell.

Is vaginal douching helpful?

Douching is a method of vaginal washing that may induce the washing off of healthy bacteria from your vagina alongside any harmful ones. This results in the alteration of the natural balance of bacteria inside the vagina which may raise the risk of infection and development of strong vaginal smell. Because of its various negative effects on your vaginal health, douching is usually not recommended for you as a routine practice.

How to rid yourself of this undesirable smell?

Remedies for your vaginal smell will surely depend on the cause; some mild causes can be self-treated, while in certain situations it would be advisable to seek medical expertise for the most appropriate plan of treatment. Here are some of the most important natural ways to help you ride yourself of ‘mild’ vaginal odors:

  • Wearing cotton underwear and loose clothing, to prevent moisture buildup and allow for proper aeration; plenty of oxygen is important for optimum vaginal health.
  • Thorough showering after physical exercise, and changing into dry clothes afterwards.
  • Proper vaginal hygiene, is encouraged; wash your vagina frequently with warm water and non-irritating soap.
  • Proper Toilet Habits, ladies in the habit of wiping their skin after toilet acts are encouraged to do so from the front backwards to prevent spreading bacteria from the anal region to the vagina.
  • Use only exterior deodorizing products, if you are using any sprays or perfumes, only spray them on the outside of your vagina. Never insert them, as this can upset your natural vaginal chemistry and cause irritation of the vagina tissues.
  • Remain well-hydrated, drinking plenty of water frequently is crucial for your health, inclusive that of your vagina.

When could my help be needed?

Self-treatments usually help reduce unusually ‘strong’ vaginal smell within days. If the odour persists or become more intense, or is associated with other symptoms such as itching, burning, pain and/or discharge can be a sign of a health problem that you may be unable to treat on your own.

Dr. Anna Sepiolo
European Board in Obstetrics and Gynaecology
American Board & Fellowship in Anti-Aging, Metabolic and Functional Medicine