Yes, this summer is different than most. But chances are that on at least one particularly hot day, you'll find yourself sitting by a pool (or maybe a kiddie pool), or sun-bathing at the beach, or lounging at the lake — near some type of swimming hole. Maybe you'll spend most of the day going in and out of the water, keeping your damp suit on until well after the sun has set. We want you to enjoy yourself. But please, please: Consider bringing a change of bottoms. Because that wet bathing suit may very well disrupt your vaginal balance.
"Vagina health is achieved by a balance between various bacteria and yeast," Gil Weiss, MD, OB/GYN, partner at Association for Women’s Healthcare in Illinois, tells Refinery29. "These organisms live in harmony and help maintain a healthy vagina." But, Dr. Weiss notes, anything that disturbs this balance has the potential to cause a local infection. In other words, your wet bathing suit could be the perfect breeding ground for maladies such as yeast infections, vaginitis, or urinary tract infections.
Diane Young, MD, an OB/GYN at Cleveland Clinic, agrees. She previously told Refinery29 that yeast in particular likes warm, damp conditions — the exact environment offered by your wet bathing suit. After spending time in damp bottoms, you might notice the telltale white discharge and itchiness. A rash on your skin could also be a sign that something's amiss. "A yeast, or Candida, infection, can be in the vagina, on the vulva, or on your skin," Dr. Young explained. "You can get fungal infections in a lot of places."
You may be especially likely to get a yeast infection after spending time in a pool, compared to a lake or the ocean, due to chemicals like chlorine. Just as chlorine kills the bad bacteria in the pool, it can also kill the good bacteria in the vagina, according to Dr. Weiss. "Chlorine can neutralize the healthy vaginal pH, making it more basic and disrupting the delicate balance between yeast and bacteria, therefore contributing to a yeast infection," he explains.
All this to say: When you'll be getting wet, bring a change of dry clothes — underwear, a second bathing suit, whatever — so you don't have to sit around in damp bottoms for too long. That's especially true for people with weakened immune systems or preexisting risk factors such as diabetes, who may be at greater risk of infection.
If you forget and develop any signs or symptoms of a vaginal infection, Dr. Weiss says that it's best to contact your healthcare provider first to ask about next steps. Remember: Changing out of your swimsuit doesn't mean your day of summer fun is over — you're just keeping your vaginal pH in check!