You might love basking in the summer heat and spending hours in a swimsuit. But your vagina? Not so much. Some common warm-weather habits can lead to irritation or wreak havoc on your precious vaginal flora, which is the delicate balance of bacteria and other microbes that keep your vagina healthy, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Disturbing that balance can increase the chances of developing a fungal or bacterial infection.
Moisture, which is plentiful in the summer, is one of the most common things that can alter vaginal flora, Erin Higgins, MD, an ob-gyn at the Independence Family Health Center in Independence, Ohio, tells SELF. “Warmer days can cause you to sweat more and that moist climate can result in the overgrowth of certain yeasts and bacteria,” Dr. Higgins says.
Summer is too fleeting to let crotch woes hold you back from thoroughly enjoying beach days. Here’s how you can keep your vagina healthy during these super sweaty months.
1. Change out of wet or damp clothing.
“Staying in a wet swimsuit is probably the most common bad practice around swimsuits,” Dr. Higgins says. Moisture from pool water or the ocean coupled with sweat creates the perfect breeding ground for potentially harmful pathogens, she says.
Changing into clean, loose-fitting clothing after you’re done swimming is a good habit to adopt, Rebecca Scarseth, DO, an ob-gyn at the Mayo Clinic Health System in La Crosse, Wisconsin, tells SELF. So throw some breathable, cotton underwear and loose-fitting shorts into your beach bag for a wardrobe change to help keep things dry. (You can also change into a clean, dry swimsuit if you prefer.)
If you don’t have access to a restroom or changing room, Dr. Scarseth recommends changing as soon as you can—the key is to reduce your time in wet bottoms, especially if you already have a history of vaginal infections. You should also try to follow the same practice after working up a sweat in workout shorts or pants, Dr. Scarseth says.
2. Avoid re-wearing an unwashed bathing suit.
Both Dr. Scarseth and Dr. Higgins say bathing suits are one-use-only items—regardless of whether they touch any water. Even if your suit looks clean, the material comes into contact with bacteria from your vagina and backside after just one use. More bacteria accumulates the next time you put it on, which may increase your risk of infection or even just general irritation down there, Dr. Scarseth says.
She recommends washing swimwear using unscented laundry detergent because fragrances can dry and irritate the skin. If you have dry or sensitive skin, then it’s best to look for products labeled as hypoallergenic, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). Health experts at the Mayo Clinic recommend washing underwear and other bottoms like bathing suits using the hot water setting on your machine, which research1 shows may help reduce any microbes lingering on your suit. Some swimwear care labels may recommend hand washing the item, which Dr. Scarseth and Dr. Higgins say is probably just fine—as long as you clean your garment thoroughly and rinse out all the soap.
3. Don’t share swimwear if you’re prone to vaginal infections.
You may be tempted to borrow a friend’s one-piece when the pool is calling and your bathing suit sits at home. But borrowing your bestie’s swimwear (even if it’s clean) may not be worth it if you’re prone to infections. “It’s best to avoid sharing swimsuits. Even if washed, swimsuit bottoms can still harbor bacteria that could lead to an infection,” Dr. Scarseth says.