Fall is almost here, bringing us more bearable temperatures, an excuse to eat candy corn, and the unstoppable resurgence of the pumpkin spice industrial complex. It also means changing conditions for your vagina and vulva. The good news: Your vagina’s a fan of the shift from summer heat and humidity to dryer, colder weather, says Dr. Raquel Dardik, MD, a gynecologist and clinical associate professor at NYU Langone’s women’s health center — it’s those layers of clothing you’re piling on that you should watch. Here’s Dr. Dardik’s take on which parts of autumn do and don’t affect your vulvovaginal health.
YOU’LL LIKELY FEEL MORE COMFORTABLE IN THE FALL
If you struggle with yeast infections in the summer, autumn weather is a blessing. “Yeast thrive in humid, hot, moist places,” Dr. Dardik says. “It’s not that the vaginal area specifically changes, but the vulvar area does get a lot hotter, stickier, and sweatier in the summer, so that does increase the likelihood of having yeast infections.” Even if you don’t get an infection, sweat can lead to friction in your pelvic area, irritating the sensitive skin there. When you consider the more frequent waxing and shaving and damp bathing suits that characterize summer, it’s easy to see why it’s not the #1 season for genital comfort. Bring on the sweater weather.
WATCH OUT FOR TIGHT OR SYNTHETIC CLOTHING
Autumn does bring one risk for yeast infections: Cold-weather outfits call for leggings, tights, and body-hugging pants, which is cool as far as your vagina is concerned as long as none of these items are too tight. Anything that traps moisture and doesn’t allow it to escape can create a moist, warm environment that yeast love. Synthetic underwear is also to blame for this: “For women who like to use pantyhose that are multi-synthetic or underwear that’s not entirely cotton, that’s not the best,” Dr. Dardik says. “Looser and breathable clothing is what helps the most in terms of decreasing not just infections, but discomfort in general.”
DRY WEATHER DOESN’T MEAN DRYNESS DOWN THERE
While it might seem like dry air would contribute to vaginal dryness, that’s fortunately not the case: Your vagina is its own internal ecosystem. If it is feeling dry, likely culprits include hormonal changes, products with irritants and allergens, and certain medications. Of course, the skin around your vagina can get dry just like any other skin, but it’s generally well-protected. “Most women aren’t walking around with no underwear and a skirt in cold weather,” Dr. Dardik points out.
YOU’LL BE EATING MORE SUGAR, BUT THAT DOESN’T MEAN MORE YEAST INFECTIONS
Yes, it’s the season of pumpkin spice and pecan spice, but your gyno’s not going to yell at you for mainlining Halloween candy. While it’s a common belief that diets high in sugar and refined carbohydrates can cause yeast infections, Dr. Dardik says that we don’t know enough to confirm it. “We know that women who have diabetes are at higher risk for yeast infections,” she says, but “there’s not a lot of research indicating whether women who eat diets that are higher in sugar but are not diabetic have any higher risk of yeast infections.” (There are, of course, countless waysthat sugar can wreak havoc on your body.)
And while we’re on the subject of diet and vaginal health, don’t expect your Chobani habit to keep you infection-free. “Having a daily yogurt is certainly not going to hurt you, but it doesn’t seem to do a lot for the vaginal area,” Dr. Dardik says. “It doesn’t seem that whatever we’re ingesting actually makes it there.” (Research does suggest that probiotic supplements or suppositories, which are inserted directly into the vagina, can help treat bacterial vaginosis, though.)
No matter the weather, Dr. Dardik says that many women experiencing vaginal irritation automatically conclude that they have yeast infections…then try home remedies. “With women who have recurring infections, it’s not always yeast.” In fact, it could be bacterial vaginosis, for example. “Self-treating recurrent problems doesn’t help,” she continues. “For example, tea tree oil happens to be one of the [remedies for irritation] that you can find on the internet… Tea tree oil is actually incredibly caustic, and if people put tea tree oil directly on the vaginal area, it will burn the skin off. And I have seen that.”
Sorry, bye, convulsing in horror forever. Ultimately, if something is awry down there, asking an ob-gyn = better than surfing the internet. And it’s definitely a better than a week of peeling skin where you least want it. Now, go throw on a cable knit and indulge in a PSL, if that’s your thing, safe in the knowledge that your vagina loves this season as much as you do.