Learn why lounging in a wet bathing suit can have detrimental effects on your vaginal health. Discover essential tips for maintaining vaginal hygiene during the summer to prevent yeast infections and promote optimal vaginal well-being!
It’s officially summer, which means we’re spending more time at the pool, beach, lake, and pretty much anywhere else that can provide us with a bit of relief from scorching temperatures. But, while studies show swimming can provide an array of healthy benefits — including supporting a healthy heart and lungs — it can lead to some not-so-great side effects down there, thanks to the effects of a wet swimsuit and how it can wreak havoc on vaginal health by messing with pH balance and possibly leading to common concerns like yeast infections.
“Vaginal health is important because it’s part of overall well-being,” says Dr. Michael Green, MD, a board-certified OBGYN and Chief Medical Officer at Winona. Dr. Green explains that, just like taking care of your teeth and skin, it’s important to take care of and protect your vagina, too. And, one way to do so is through maintaining your vaginal pH balance to a slightly acidic level (3.8 to 4.5), which can get thrown out of sorts when wet swimsuits are involved. “Prolonged exposure to moisture can disrupt that balance, leading to conditions such as yeast infections,” Dr. Green notes.
Understanding Vaginal Health
Moisture from the pool, ocean, or lake can impact vaginal health and lead to yeast infections, bacterial infections, and irritation because of its effect on the vagina’s essential microorganisms. “The vagina is a muscular canal connecting the uterus to the external genitalia,” explains Dr. Green. “Microorganisms such as lactobacilli live and thrive within the vaginal canal and the cervix, though most are found in the lower part of the canal, also called the vaginal vestibule.” In this part of the vagina, numerous glands secrete fluids to moisturize and lubricate the area, and the microorganisms interact with these fluids to maintain a balanced microbiome. “These bacteria are essential to vaginal health because they produce lactic acid, which keeps the vagina’s pH in check by inhibiting the overgrowth of yeast and other harmful bacteria.”
When the vaginal microbiome is compromised and thrown out of balance, women can experience bacterial and yeast infections since the bacteria aren’t as easily able to prevent the overgrowth of yeast and bacteria.
The Impact of Wet Bathing Suits
Bacteria and yeast thrive in moist, warm, and dark environments, making wet bathing suits a culprit in the cause of yeast infections in the summer and one of the main reasons why you don’t want to lounge in a wet suit for too long. “The longer you stay in wet clothes, the more time there is for moisture to accumulate, potentials disrupting vaginal flora, which can facilitate yeast development,” says Dr. Green.
In addition to bacteria and yeast infections, the moisture can also cause irritation, which Dr. Kim Langdon, MD, an OBGYN at Medzino, says can cause irritation. “When yeast gets out of control, they morph into hyphae which act like roots that invade the [vaginal] tissue,” she explains. When this occurs, the body’s immune response gets triggered, which can cause inflammatory symptoms that are uncomfortable.
The good news is there is a way to prevent the effects of a wet swimsuit without forgoing the pool or beach altogether. According to Dr. Green, there are no hard rules since everyone is different and some people are more prone to yeast infections than others. However, taking certain measures can help lower the risk of infections and irritation.
Whether you’re spending the day at the beach, lounging by the pool, or boating on the lake, Dr. Green recommends always having a change of dry clothes — including dry underwear — with you. That way, if you decide to swim and your swimsuit is taking a little too long to dry, you can swap out your garments for something that won’t cause an overgrowth of yeast. You can even pack an extra swimsuit to change into to stay dry while remaining pool or beach ready.
It’s also worth investing in a swimsuit made of quick-drying materials. The best quick-drying swimsuit materials include polyester and lycra. Some, including those designed with thicker fabrics, such as the popular crinkle fabrics, can take a little longer to dry. Regardless of your swimsuit material (and how fast it dries), it’s always a good idea to rinse off after swimming, as some bodies of water can cause irritation.
In addition to causing excess moisture, swimming can also irritate the vagina thanks to things such as chlorine and salt. According to Dr. Green, chlorinated pools can dry out the vagina and act as an irritant. “Swimming too long in chlorine may cause itching or burning for some women or may make the vagina more susceptible to infection,” he explains. Because of this, it’s worth limiting the amount of time spent in a pool and always give your bathing suit a rinse after you get out.
While the ocean has minimal impact on vaginal health, Dr. Green says some might still experience some irritation. “The thing to watch out for while swimming in the ocean is mostly dryness due to exposure to salt water,” he explains. Much like swimming in a pool, Dr. Green recommends hitting the beach showers and rinsing off post-swim.
Post-Swim Care: Maintaining Proper Hygiene
To maintain proper hygiene after swimming, Dr. Green says the best thing you can do is rinse off and change into a pair of dry underwear made of breathable material, such as cotton, which “does not promote moisture retention and facilitates airflow,” says Dr. Green. Additionally, using a mild, non-abrasive soap to cleanse can also help keep everything clean and healthy.
Like swimming, it’s also important to properly dry off after showering or bathing since excess moisture — no matter where it comes from — can throw vaginal pH out of balance. So, before slipping into a pair of clean underwear, always make sure to dry off completely.
Practicing good hygiene when swimming isn’t the only thing to consider in order to maintain vaginal health — things such as diet, hydration, using scented products, and wearing tight workout clothing that isn’t sweat-wicking can also impact the vagina’s microbiome.
According to research, the foods we eat can impact not only the gut microbiome but also the vagina’s exosystem of microorganisms. So, it’s important to maintain a nutrient-rich and balanced diet in order to maintain vaginal pH and overall health. Additionally, the amount of water you drink can directly impact the vagina. Similar to skincare, dehydration can lead to irritation which, for the vagina, includes itchiness and burning sensations.
As we learned with swimwear, the goal is to maintain a clean and dry area down there, which is equally as important when it comes to athleisure. Wearing workout clothes that aren’t moisture-wicking and fit tightly can
create that same dark, moist, and warm environment that allows yeast to thrive. So, if you’re planning to get your sweat on, be sure to do so in garments that wick moisture, and don’t lounge around in your sweaty workout clothes afterward.
Seeking Professional Help
While it’s important to practice good vaginal hygiene in order to maintain a balanced vaginal pH, things happen. If you find yourself experiencing persistent and recurring symptoms of vaginal discomfort — whether it be caused by wearing a wet swimsuit or otherwise — please consult with a healthcare professional to address the itching, burning, and other symptoms such as abnormal discharge since concerns such as yeast and bacterial infections require medical assistance to be properly treated.
When it comes to summer activities, you can totally have fun in the sun. However, popular activities such as swimming in the ocean or pool can wreak havoc on your vaginal health if you aren’t careful. Whether you’re prone to yeast infections or not, it’s always a good idea to keep a fresh swimsuit or change of dry clothes (including breathable underwear) in your beach bag so that you can avoid the side effects of a wet swimsuit and potentially prevent infections.