Fact vs Fad: How to Prevent Infection—For Good
words by Tara Michaela (she/her)
Favorite Product: Salve & Tonic
Vaginas, like people, require an individualized approach. But for the most part, less is more. A lot of companies perpetuate outdated notions of what it means to be “fresh” and “clean.” They over-complicate our routines, insert unnecessary but trendy ingredients because that’s how they sell products. I promise you — you don’t need douches, or vagacials. But, if you’re prone to yeast infections, UTI’s, or BV like I am, you may have realized that just rinsing your vulva with water doesn’t quite cut it.
Two years ago, I was diagnosed with chronic yeast infections. Every time I’d have sex (even using condoms), everytime I’d skip a shower (even changing underwear), the swelling and itching would come back in full force. When I experienced symptoms, I found peace and comfort in a combination of Momotaro’s Salve, certain over-the-counter suppositories, and the occasional Fluconazole — a commonly prescribed antifungal. But waiting around for the next infection to show up was not a sustainable plan for me, and I doubt it is for you.
Even when you’ve finally found your method of choice to soothe symptoms, the real question arises: how do I keep my vagina balanced so I don’t have to deal with any more infections? Prevention is the best cure am I right?
Trial and error is an important, even necessary process in figuring out what works for your vagina, but that doesn’t mean you should go in blind. Here is my tried and tested guide to keep those infections from returning…for good.
Trade in the morning toast for a bowl of yogurt.
As with every aspect of your health, diet plays a key role. Yeast infections are caused by an overgrowth in Candida which is literally yeast, so avoiding excessive sugars and yeast-based (read: carb heavy) foods may help keep infections at bay.
Unsweetened yogurt and other fermented foods, on the other hand, are good sources of healthy bacteria that help fight off infection. Look for foods containing “live or “active” cultures with lactobacillus, acidophilus, or bifidobacterium — they’re the strains of bacteria already found in your vaginal microbiome that help maintain a healthy vaginal pH.
Drink more water than you think you need, then throw in a glass of (unsweetened) cranberry juice.
People who regularly get UTIs can lower their risk if they drink six 8-ounce glasses of water a day. When you drink more water, you output more urine, which can help flush out bacteria hanging out in your bladder and urethra.
I managed to increase my water intake just by keeping a reusable water bottle with me all the time time — having it within eyesight and within arms reach served as a subtle reminder.
Unless you were born yesterday, you’ve likely been told about the benefits of cranberry juice for urinary tract health as well. While studies have shown that these claims are likely exaggerated, cranberries do contain proanthocyanidins (PACs), which help keep bacteria from sticking to the lining of the bladder. Plus, there’s no harm in drinking more liquid to get that urine flowing. Just be sure to look for organic cranberry juice options with as little added sugar as possible!
Take a probiotic.
If there’s one daily supplement you should invest in, a probiotic is it. There’s more and more literature praising the benefits of a healthy microbiome from your gut health to your mood to your immune system (and, duh, your vaginal microbiome). A probiotic supplements your microbiome with a boost of that good bacteria, which, if you remember, makes it that much harder for bad bacteria to overgrow, and in some cases can even adhere to harmful bacteria and kill them.
Personally, my Momotaro Probiotic lives on my bedside table next to my other daily medications, so I never forget to take it. I love that it doesn’t need to be refrigerated and it doesn’t have a gross aftertaste like other turmeric based probiotics marketed for vaginal health I’ve tried.
Skip the pH balancing products. Use unscented soap instead!
Proper genital hygiene is a tried and true, effective means of prevention. I’ve totally tried scented wipes and washes before, which, if anything, have caused infections rather than prevented them.
For cleanliness without the (unnecessary) chemicals, I swear by Dove’s Unscented Bar Soap for Sensitive Skin. I exfoliate externally with a loofah and my bar of Dove before I use any scented body washes or scrubs on the rest of my body to avoid getting the excess on my vulva. When it comes to the inner labias, clitoral hood, urethra and vaginal opening, water is all you need.
READ MORE Learn Your Vulvovaginal Anatomy
There has been much debate around whether the whole “wear cotton underwear to keep the moisture away” thing is a myth or not. Regardless, keeping your vagina as dry as possible is key. That means patting the region dry post shower or bath (and exercise). You should not however, use baby powder, talcum powder, or cornstarch.
You may not want to risk getting an infection from using a towel directly on or around your vaginal opening, so I always make sure to pat dry my upper and inner thighs and mons pubis and wait a minute before putting on my underwear to allow the area to air dry as much as possible.
No time to shower? No problem.
Pee after sex (or any sort of vulvovaginal play).
The number one rule to keep UTIs at bay. I don’t know about you, but if I forget to pee after sex as soon as I can, there is a 100% chance I’m waking up the next morning with the pain and pulling of a UTI. That’s because the bladder doesn’t have much protection against infections, and people with vaginas have shorter urethras, so bacteria can easily enter. You should pee after any sort of sexual act where your vulvovaginal region is exposed to bacteria, not only penetrative sex.
Read the labels (on your bottle of lube, condoms, tampons).
If you’re prone to infections, you’ll want to be very careful about the products you deem necessary to use vaginally. Flavored lubes often contain glycerin, which is basically just sugar and encourages an overgrowth of yeast and bad bacteria. Really you should be wary of any lubes with this ingredient.
You should also be wary of using lube "alternatives" like vaseline and baby oil, or anything with petroleum — the viscous ingredient stays in your vagina longer than you’d think, and can throw off your pH, so stay clear of this as a lube option.
Condoms with spermicides often contain Nonoxynol-9, which can kill the good bacteria in your biome making it that much harder to fight off a vaginal infection of any kind. You should also always avoid anything listed with "fragrance" as an ingredient. When tampons and pads are scented, they too can throw off your pH balance, your period need not smell like a bouquet… it’s a period.
Sleep without underwear.
Bad bacteria like hot, moist, wet places, remember? Well what’s hotter, more moist, and wetter than night sweats? I can’t think of much. Even if you don’t overheat at night, your vulva might— it’s at least five to seven degrees warmer down there! Of course your comfort comes first, but if you are comfortable sleeping sans undies (or in the buff!), this trick could be a life saver. And it’s not necessary to do every night — I forego the underwear as often as I remember and any time I feel an infection coming on.
2021 means out with the old—old routines that allowed infections to run your life—and in with the new — new forms of self care that result in a more confident, comfortable you. 2021 also means the days of staying silent about vulvo-vaginal health are over. Take any of my tips you find valuable and share them with your friends. No one deserves to suffer through infections in silence.
Meet the Author
Tara Michaela (she/her) @tara.michaela
"I love Salve because it definitely did the most to get rid of symptoms from yeast infections, but I think Tonic is slept on — it's so multipurpose! I use it for ingrown hairs around my vulva, any dry patches of skin, on my face after doing face masks, on my hair if I straighten it or have a weave, AND it makes my baths super shiny and smell amazing."
Favorite Form of Self Care
A tie between masturbation, naps, and getting my nails done.
Also by Tara
Momotaro Apotheca and its materials are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. All material on Momotaro Apotheca is provided for educational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition.