It’s lasted for weeks, and you don’t know when it will end. Even as your period comes and goes, you may still have a persistent odour down there.
If you need to get rid of an odour down there, you have several potential causes and treatment options to consider. The bacterial population, hygiene, and hormonal factors all affect feminine health, and odour is one indicator of how you’re faring down there.
All women have a slight, typical scent in their intimate areas. Most of the time it resembles a musky odour, but during your period it may change to something slightly metallic. Let’s look at what can go wrong, and what to do about it.
Why Do I Have A Strong Odour Down There?
Every woman has a mild scent in their genitals, but a strong odour down there is not normal. If you have a stronger, unpleasant odour that has lasted for weeks and isn’t going away, then there is an issue you need to treat through home remedies or medical support.
Most cases of a strong odour down there are caused by infection. However, one in three women with persistent issues have no identifiable cause.
What causes unwanted odours? Unless you are one of the cases with no currently recognised cause, the factors to consider are:
- Bacterial vaginosis is the most commonly known cause, affecting women in 40-50% of cases.
- Candida infections affect 20-25% of women where there is a known cause.
- Trichomoniasis is the cause in 15-20% of women when a cause can be identified.
- Atrophic vaginosis involves a loss of tissue integrity, which may appear during menopause.
- An irritation or allergy can lead to not only itching, but odour too.
- Inflammation, which may be from a low-grade infection or another cause.
To find out whether or not you have an infection, you would need to see a doctor for pathology testing.
Inflammation, allergy or irritation may be the result of a recent change to your underwear or personal care products.
If you can’t stop itching or dealing with a burning sensation, and you do not have an infection, it’s worth going back and thinking about what changed just before the problem started.
A slight genital odour is normal, but there is an issue when it becomes persistent, noticeable, and unpleasant. Some women have no identifiable cause, while bacterial and fungal infections are the most common triggers.
Protect Your Microbiome To Stop Your Intimate Area From Smelling Unhealthy
The main reason why your intimate area may be smelling strange is an imbalance in the genital microbiome, whether or not it is an infection. Substances that bacteria and fungi produce, along with their effects on tissue integrity and the inflammatory response, can change the scent of your intimate area.
To stop your intimate area from smelling, you must restore the microbiome’s balance. This involves both restoring populations of friendly species and supporting your natural cleansing processes to remove excess bacteria.
Probiotics can restore a healthy odour
Just like digestive health, you also need friendly species of bacteria for feminine health. Some friendly species are the same for both parts of your body, including the Lactobacillus bacteria. If you don’t want probiotics, you can support the microbiome with yoghurt, sauerkraut and kimchi, which not only contain these species, but feed them too.
Why is this important?
When there aren’t enough Lactobacillus bacteria, the pH of your intimate area rises from a healthy 4 (mild to moderately acidic) to 5, 6, or even close to the neutral pH of 7. This allows harmful species to take over, particularly E. coli, candida, Enterobacter and Gardnerella. They can cause bacterial vaginosis or urinary tract infections.
Once you increase the Lactobacillus populations to a healthy level, the pH starts to fall back to the healthy range as they produce lactic acid. Lactic acid creates an inhospitable environment for the harmful species of bacteria so the odour and other symptoms clear.
Stay hydrated to stay clean
Many of us do not drink enough water, or much of our fluid intake is made up of soft drinks and coffee. Staying hydrated helps with feminine hygiene and health by allowing the correct amount of fluid production, to support your natural cleansing processes. You can increase your water intake with herbal teas and juicy, yet low-kilojoule fruits such as watermelon, if you don’t want to drink plain water all day. Read:
- Debloat Naturally and Flush Salt Out of Your Body Overnight
- The Best Menopause Teas For Weight Loss
- The best colon cleanse teas in Australia
- How to Cleanse Your Gut Naturally at Home
A healthy microbiome means a healthy intimate area, and less odour. Keeping your populations of Lactobacillus bacteria and hydration up are both essential.
Can Douching Cause A Fishy Smell?
Many women use cleansing products to feel refreshed after menstruation or sexual activity. Younger women and those with multiple sexual partners are far more likely to intentionally clean their intimate areas, but douching can cause a fishy smell.
Douching may cause a fishy smell if you use scented or antibacterial products. As they disrupt your healthy microbiome, it provides space for harmful species to take over.
Avoid scented and antibacterial washes
It’s tempting to reach for washes that contain perfume or antibacterial ingredients, because they may initially mask or remove any unwanted odour faster. However, this could make the problem worse in the long-term by increasing your risk of bacterial infection.
A study compared the rate of bacterial vaginosis among women before and after they stopped douching with commercial products, to see if excessive hygiene was the problem.
The researchers found that women had a 24% lower risk of vaginosis after they quit, despite most using some type of antibacterial ingredients. Commercial vinegar and water formulas, vinegar in a scented preparation, and scented products were the most common douches used. Just under 8% reported ever using water alone.
If you don’t have any unwanted odour or history of infection but cleanse with douches, it’s best to stop. Most women used them to feel cleaner and fresher, with only 5% trying to clear an odour. It is also clear from the results of this study that even natural antibacterial ingredients should not be used on a regular basis.
Water-only douching is best
Cleansing with water only is far better for your health than using perfumed or antibacterial products. A trial on the Water Works Douching Device, which uses no chemicals, found better results in getting rid of the odour down there compared to the control group.
For this study, 140 women with unwanted odour but no confirmed infection used either the Water Works device or (nothing) for four weeks. Over three-quarters, or 78% of women using Water Works, had success compared to only 38.5% of the control group. The average severity of odour on a 10-point scale fell from 7.3 to 1.8, while the control group reported scores falling from 7.2 to 3.4.
Although their problems with odour were resolved, there were no side effects when it came to the microbiome. Lactobacillus populations didn’t change, and neither did the bacterial populations as a whole.
Even natural antibacterial douches can increase your infection risk when used regularly, but using water alone is protective.
Other Ways To Prevent Odour Down There Through Improved Hygiene
Besides avoiding douching with anything but water, there are other ways to protect your intimate area even if this isn’t relevant to you.
Allowing your skin to breathe and ensuring that you don’t introduce infections to your genital area can prevent odour down there, along with other issues.
Choose cotton to clear odour down there
Cotton underwear allows your skin to breathe more than synthetic fabrics. If you’re also becoming more concerned about your everyday pesticide exposure, an increasing number of organic lingerie and clothing brands are available.
Cotton also wipes away dampness from normal discharge and sweating, while synthetics trap moisture.
Menstrual hygiene can prevent infections from taking hold
If you use a menstrual cup, period undies or reusable pads, closely follow the hygiene instructions. For example, menstrual cups must be sterilised in boiling water for five minutes at the end of every period, to prevent the growth of bacteria. You may prefer these over pads or period undies because they allow your intimate area to breathe.
Avoid irritation from intercourse
Condoms, especially flavoured types; lubricants and spermicides can cause irritation or introduce unwanted bacteria to your genital area. Always shower and wash with water only after intercourse, and limit use of lubricants or spermicides if possible.
Lingerie made from natural fibres can support your internal cleansing processes by allowing your skin to breathe, while following menstrual hygiene instructions and avoiding chemical products can prevent infection and irritation.
Could Herbal Remedies Relieve Irritation And Stop Your Intimate Area From Smelling?
Although research shows that regular douching with any antimicrobial product can increase your risk of bacterial infection, short-term use of herbal pessaries may stop your intimate area from smelling by soothing irritation. Potential remedies include common herbal teas, so you can even make your own pessaries at home.
Herbal medicines such as lavender and German or Roman chamomile may reduce the severity of inflammation and irritation in your intimate area, which can stop any odours. These benefits still hold even without HRT for menopause, or if you have low oestrogen after breast cancer treatment.
Perhaps you already take HRT and want extra support, or don’t want any oral remedy to increase your total oestrogen levels at all. In another study, menopausal women used either a gel containing oestrogen or chamomile extract, or a placebo, to see if it improved their feminine health. Twenty-nine out of 30 women using chamomile no longer had difficult intercourse, which was the measurement of intimate health, while the last woman only had mild symptoms. Chamomile works through its phytoestrogen content, which act like weak oestrogens, but using it as a gel provides only a localised effect.
What if you want to avoid oestrogenic herbal medicines entirely? A trial involving breast cancer survivors tested lavender and Roman chamomile essential oil for their effects on urogenital atrophy. This is the same issue as the atrophy seen in natural menopause, as oestrogen no longer provides enough support for tissue integrity and the microbiome. Despite having no oestrogenic effect, this combination significantly improved symptoms in most volunteers. Both herbs have anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects, including the ability to fight Candida.
For more on what chamomile can do for your family, visit the blog:
To reduce inflammation and improve tissue integrity throughout your whole body, visit:
- Beginners Guide To Pine Needle Tea In Australia
- The Best Anti-Inflammatory Teas In Australia And New Zealand
- The Marshmallow Root Benefits For Skin
- Does Butterfly Pea Flower Help with Acne?
Short-term use of herbal douches and pessaries, such as lavender and chamomile, may help to clear harmful bacteria that cause irritation and odour.
How Do I Get Rid Of Feminine Odour During Menopause?
The cause of feminine odour during menopause is the loss of oestrogen as your ovaries stop producing the hormone.
Falling oestrogen levels lead to an increase in feminine odour during menopause, as there is less support for the anti-inflammatory Lactobacillus species. Other populations of bacteria start to take over, including several that cause urinary tract infections.
The remedies described above that improve the microbiome populations are still relevant in menopause. As the true underlying cause is hormonal, you also have to increase your oestrogen levels. Herbal remedies that boost oestrogen include:
- Ashwagandha, which can boost energy and relieve hot flashes too. After just eight weeks, supplementing with the herb was shown to reduce dryness and restore libido.
- Red clover, a herb that gives you a mild oestrogen boost and increases the function of your sex hormones.
- Chasteberry, best if you are in perimenopause as it restores dopamine levels during PMS.
- Fermented, organic soy foods, which can restore the correct acidic pH to your feminine area and reduce the risk of urinary tract infections as a result.
To learn more about herbal remedies to improve sexual function after menopause, read more at:
For more on ashwagandha, visit this article:
In some cases, you may need hormone replacement therapy (HRT). This doesn’t have to be an oral prescription that affects your whole body, as creams for your genital area can be prepared.
However, if your main concerns are an unwanted feminine odour and an irritated, dry genital area, your required dose of oestrogen will often be lower, as this region is much more sensitive to oestrogen than other parts of your body.
If your unwanted odour appeared during menopause, the best treatment includes increasing your oestrogen levels. Chamomile gel may be an effective alternative if you don’t want to take oral herbal remedies or HRT.
If you want to get rid of an odour down there, or prevent it from coming back, hygiene and taking care of your microbiome are essential. Use of probiotics, avoiding chemical or antimicrobial products, and allowing your skin to breathe can each go a long way in helping you to feel fresh and clean. Oestrogenic support and taking antimicrobial herbs in the short-term are helpful too, but it is best to see a doctor for additional support if these aren’t enough.