Period Odour- What Causes It & How to Manage
Period and Vaginal Pong Is a Thing
Yes, we said it. There is a smell down there and we all know it but just don't talk about it enough! How can we understand it if we won't talk about it openly? Let's delve deeper into the matter of smells in your pants.
The vagina can keep itself clean
First of all, let's acknowledge that the vagina is an amazing, self cleaning, complex organ. It is not dirty, smelly, or in need of fragranced refreshment– despite what marketing might make us believe! The vagina will naturally always have its own slight odour and differs from person to person. Trying to combat your natural scent with fragranced products is not healthy for such a delicate area. We have to use products that work in harmony with our body, not against it.
The vagina keeps itself clean with the help of a host of healthy bacteria (aka its own microbiome), balancing its ph level and creating a slightly acidic environment . The vagina usually sits at 3.8 - 4.5 on the ph scale, where numbers below 7 are considered acidic, and numbers 7-14 on the scale increase from neutral to more alkaline . The natural odour of the vagina is influenced by the ph and balance of bacteria, and will normally vary throughout the menstrual cycle, also shifting temporarily in response to sex, increased sweating, or anything that impacts the ph balance. The shift in scent associated with menstruation is due to a mix of the bloody discharge, sweat, bacteria and acidity in the vagina .
What does normal period odour smell like?
- Metallic - Typically due to the iron in period blood, this is a normal part of menstrual bleed.
- Sweet - Indicates the balance of bacteria has shifted the vagina's ph level to be more acidic and balance the alkaline affect of menstrual blood 
- Sweaty/body odour - The genital area is home to special sweat glands called apocrine glands. The sweat from these glands can smell stronger when it mixes with bacteria on the skin and period blood when you're menstruating 
What does abnormal period odour smell like?
- Fishy - Indicates an infection, usually due to the ph being disrupted and bacteria becoming imbalanced. It can also be a sign of the STI Trichomoniasis  Please see and consult your GP if you notice this type of odour.
- Rotten - Usually due to a tampon being left in too long, which also increases the risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) . A rotten smell can occur regardless the type period care product you use– disposable or reusable. These include disposable pads, tampons, period underwear, cloth pad, and menstrual cup. Any of these that are worn or left in for too long can begin to produce a foul odour, especially when period discharge mixes with sweat and bacteria on the skin.
Just like seeing your own bleed is a good indicator of health so is noticing the natural scent in your pants– if it is abnormal or smells stronger and stranger than usual, it may indicate there is an issue which may require GP attention. This is another reason it is important to understand your own natural scents instead of trying to cover them up with fragranced products like scented pads, tampons, or washes and wipes!
Fragranced products contain chemicals which not only disrupt the vaginal ph and cause bacterial imbalance, but can also be absorbed by the body and are linked to hormone disruption . This is not what you want for such a delicate area of your body, and the disruption to the vaginal microbiome will only lead to worse smells! To manage vaginal odour especially during your period, you can keep a happy microbiome and healthy ph level by following these tips.
Tips to manage vaginal odour:
- Douche - Douching flushes out good bacteria, causing imbalance and leaving the vagina more vulnerable to infection .
- Use fragranced products - synthetic fragrances and chemicals used on the vulva or in the vagina disrupts the natural processes of the microbiome, leading to irritation and infection.
- Wear sanitary items for too long - wearing pads or tampons for too long allows bad bacteria to become overgrown and can cause bad smells and infections.
- Wear tight fitting clothing all the time - restrictive, tight clothing reduces airflow, creating a moist and warm environment for bad bacteria to grow and create that dreaded pong.
- Change sanitary items regularly especially during warmer months- the aim is to keep your bits as dry and clean as possible so that menstrual fluid, sweat, and bacteria don't get too built up (and cause a stink).
- Wear cotton underwear - natural, organic, cotton is breathable and absorbent, which helps to keep things dry and stop bacteria overgrowth.
- Choose organic products - Certified organic products are kept pure and natural, so there are no nasty chemicals such as pesticides and bleach to cause irritation and upset that delicate ph and microbiome balance .
- Simply clean your lady bits in the shower with warm water from front to back (vulva to anus). Soap or shower gel isn't necessary. Make sure to gently wipe the area dry after showering and before getting dressed.
Essentially, natural odours are unavoidable and nothing to be ashamed of! Scent is an important indicator of your health down there, and shouldn't be combated with fragrances and smothered in synthetics. Work in harmony with your body to accept what occurs naturally and support your vaginal health!