It is really important for women to recognize their own scent so they know what is normal for them and can recognize any change(s) in their bodies (similar to doing breast self-exams). Perhaps you may perceive that your normal vaginal scent is a problem — but it may just be your normal scent. (Also read Changes in vaginal scent and Body aroma.) However, having a sweaty or strong vaginal odor is another issue.
Vaginal odor can be caused by several factors. The most common cause is vaginal bacterial overgrowth known as bacterial vaginosis, which has a “fishy” or “musty” smell. “Fishy” smells can also result from vaginal infections, such as trichomonas vaginalis, and, in some women, from semen in the vagina. The vagina could also smell “yeasty” because of vaginal yeast overgrowths. (Also check out archived Alice Antibiotics and yeast infections, Yeast infection, and Burning after sex without a condom).
Synthetic underwear, pantyhose, tights, and Spandex exercise clothes do not allow air to circulate around the vulva (the outer lips of the vagina). A moist environment promotes overgrowths of normal skin bacteria that could cause vaginal odor.
A physical exam by a health care provider can determine whether or not the odor is being caused by something that is treatable with a medication, such as for bacterial vaginosis, trichomonas, and yeast. In these cases, the unpleasant smell usually goes away after the treatment. The physical exam can also detect other health problems that might cause unusual body odors. If you are a Columbia student, call x4-2284 to make an appointment with a health care provider in Primary Care Medical Services. If you are not a Columbia student, see a gynecologist or primary health care provider.
To change vaginal odor caused by overgrowths of normal skin bacteria, try the following:
Wash your vulva with warm water and unscented, gentle soap with mild antibacterial action (this will help keep the skin intact and make it less likely for microscopic cracks to develop, where bacteria like to grow).
Wear underwear and exercise clothes made from materials that “breathe,” such as cotton.
Wear loose pajama bottoms or a night gown — or nothing at all — to let your vulva “breathe.” (read archived Alice Air out vagina at night?).
Keep your vulva as dry and aired as possible because bacteria love moist, dark, and trapped environments.
Don’t use antiperspirants, deodorant tampons, and powders with talc or perfumes or other feminine hygiene ingredients, because they can be irritating.
Douche no more, since it has been linked to Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID). If deemed necessary, douching should be done only under the direction of a health care provider. Otherwise, douching is not recommended.
Vaginal odor could also be caused by excessive sweating (known as hyperhidrosis) in your vaginal area because it produces a moist environment (read archived Alice Profuse sweating). Applying cornstarch can help control moisture and odor, temporarily, as you have already discovered. You may just be one of the women who needs to bathe twice a day, similar to men who have to shave twice a day.
Antiperspirants also help control sweating and odor, and you are right to avoid applying them to the mucous membranes of the vagina because they can be very irritating to such sensitive skin. Considering these have been very temporary solutions to vaginal sweating and odor for you, frequent reapplication of these products can be inconvenient and cumbersome, and already apparently is a source of frustration for you. Alice suggests you ask your health care provider about a special prescription product that could provide you with more relief.
In addition, it may be helpful for you to avoid conditions of excess heat, and stay clear of diets that are too high in sugar, caffeine, and alcohol, because all of these may also contribute to your problem of vaginal sweating. If you want to have your nutritional plan evaluated, consider making an appointment with a nutritionist at the Health Service