6 Underwear Rules Every Woman Should Live By

Newsflash: it’s National Underwear Day. Started by an underwear retailer called Freshpair, the holiday has been celebrated on August 5th since 2003. Sure, you might think this is a silly campaign to sell panties, but we probably don’t talk about our undies enough.

Example: Did you know that the wrong pair of undies during exercise can up your risk of infection? Or that there is a time when going commando is a good idea? Keep reading.

In honor of this very important holiday (kidding, kind of), we rounded up 6 underwear rules every woman should live by, with the help of top experts.

Let her breathe

Not only is tight-hugging underwear often uncomfortable when worn for long periods of time, it’s also not the healthiest situation for your vagina because it limits airflow. And just as important as well-fitting undies are those made with the right material.

“Cotton undergarments are the best due to their breathability,” explains Melissa Goist, MD, an ob/gyn at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “Synthetic fabrics tend to hold onto moisture, possibly causing skin irritation.”

Though cotton is likely your gyno’s first choice in fabric, it sometimes lays lumpy and bumpy under your clothes. But fear not, there are close runner-ups. “Panties made of things like polyester, nylon, Lycra or Spandex sometimes have more stretch and lay nicer under clothing and still come with that cotton crotch,” adds Melissa Piliang, MD, a dermatologist at the Cleveland Clinic.

Use a skin-friendly laundry detergent

Treat your skin down there as sensitively as possible, our experts advise. “I like a hypoallergenic detergent, one that’s made for sensitive skin, free of dyes or perfumes,” Dr. Piliang says.

You should also avoid using bleach on laundry day if your knickers are involved.

“You never want to bleach your panties,” warns Dr. Piliang. “Not only does it break down the fibers of the cloth and wear your underwear out faster, it can also expose you to chemicals when it interacts with elastic that can cause an allergic reaction on the skin.”

RELATED: 4 Ways to Pamper Your Sensitive Skin

Change them (duh)

Seems obvious, right? But in addition to changing them daily, you should avoid sitting too long in a damp pair on a sweaty summer afternoon—or worse, post-workout, if you’re prone to yeast infections.

“Underwear can trap moisture,” says Dr. Goist, adding that bacteria and yeast “love to multiple in a warm and wet environment.”

Whether you’re prone to infection or not, use dampness as a cue to send your undies to the laundry basket. “If the discharge is bothersome—you can feel the wetness or moisture—then you should get a new pair,” Dr. Goist adds.

It’s also important to note that lingerie has a shelf life: “Once the elastic is failed and they’re not staying in place and causing extra rubbing and shifting around, it’s time to throw them out and get some new ones,” Dr. Piliang says.

RELATED: The Perfect Pair of Performance Underwear

Think before you thong

“Due to the nature of the design, thongs can potentially promote transmission of colon bacteria towards and into the vagina,” says Dr. Goist. “This potentially will disrupt the normal bacterial milieu and increase the risk of vaginal and urinary infections.”

And if you’ve ever had the displeasure of working out in a G-string, you may want invest in a panty that’s designed for exercise to keep in your gym bag.

“Lots of sports gear incorporates that element these days,” Dr. Piliang says. “Bras, socks, shorts, and underwear now come in a kind of nylon wicking material that will absorb the sweat and pull it away from the body so it can dry. The last thing you want to do is sit there in a soaking wet pair of underwear.” (Again, especially if you’re prone to yeast infections.)

A good general rule of thumb: limit your thong use to when you really need to wear them (we’re looking at you, Little Black Dress).

RELATED: 5 Things You Definitely Should Not Be Doing to Your Vagina

Study the stains

Grossed out? Don’t be. You don’t have to get that up close and personal with your unmentionables, but you should be paying attention because your discharge can tell you a lot about your health and whether things are working as they should down under.

“Normal is different for everyone,” says Dr. Goist. “Often an off-white discharge is not concerning, but if you have an odorous discharge or notice new blood—and you are not about to menstruate—you should call the physician to discuss.”

RELATEDGood Gyno Hygiene: Debunking Pelvic Myths

Know when to go bare

You’ve probably wondered whether going commando is safe for your lady bits. Turns out, it is—if you’re comfortable sans that little layer between you and, well, everything else.

“Commando is safe as long as there is no other fabric causing friction on the vulva,” explains Dr. Goist.

But there are a few instances where skipping underwear is not in your best interest (and not just when you’re in a dress on a windy day).

“First of all, wear undies when you work out,” says Dr. Goist. “If you don’t the friction from the workout can cause major discomfort and soreness.” She also advises never to skip underwear when wearing jeans to prevent painful chafing that can lead to sores—and then possible infections. Yeeouch!

Your safest bet is relaxing undie-free at bedtime. In fact, it’s sometimes a healthier option at night. “If a woman is having vaginal problems, discharge, or pain then often sleeping commando is encouraged,” says Dr. Goist, who gives the go-ahead for snoozing easy and breezy in a nightgown or your birthday suit.

RELATED8 Ways to Fall in Lust With Your Body

Bottom line: “There are many different types of panties these days, and somewhere you’re bound to find something that feels both nice on your skin and comfortable on your body,” concludes Dr. Piliang. Whether you’re a cheeky gal, lacy lady, boy-short lover or full-coverage fan, always practice these safe and sanitary undie habits.

The Gross Reason You Should Choose Your Exercise Undies Wisely

 

Is it a bad idea to wear thong underwear when I work out?

Honestly, it’s not great. Thongs can create a lot of friction and irritate the delicate skin in your nether regions as you’re running, biking or doing any other repetitive movement. This can mean extra discomfort if you’ve got hemorrhoids, which are swollen veins that can cause severe anal pain and itching (they’re common post-childbirth).

RELATED: 7 DIY Natural Health Cures Anyone Can Do

Thongs also make it easier for bacteria to travel from your backside to your front, increasing your risk of urinary tract infections; this is especially a problem when you’re sweating because the added moisture provides a perfect environment for bacterial growth. It doesn’t help that these undies are often made from nonbreathable fabrics like spandex, which can trap moisture and make other issues, such as yeast infections, more likely.

This is not to say you should go commando whenever you’re at the gym in less than ideal underpants—it’s good to have some fabric between you and your running shorts. But the smartest advice is to pack a pair of full-back cotton underwear in your gym bag, or invest in shorts or workout pants with built-in moisture-absorbing panties.

RELATED: The Ultimate Underwear Picks for Gym-Goers

Health‘s medical editor, Roshini Rajapaksa, MD, is assistant professor of medicine at the NYU School of Medicine.

 

Yeast Infection Symptoms and Facts Every Woman Should Know

Sorry to be a downer, but if you haven’t had a yet—you’ll probably get one eventually. Three out of four women will experience one sometime in her life—and half will have two or more. “These are so common because yeast normally lives on your skin and around your vagina,” says Melissa Goist, MD, an ob-gyn at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. When something disrupts the vagina’s natural balance of healthy bacteria, yeast (aka the fungus Candida) can grow out of control. And then comes the telltale down-there itching and burning sensation that can drive you up a wall.

Whether you’ve been visited by a yeast problem once, a bunch of times, or not yet, you may be surprised by the truth about these frustrating infections. Here are the facts every woman should know.

RELATED: Am I Normal ‘Down There’?

The symptoms can mimic other problems

One study found that as few as 11% of women who have never had a yeast infection could identify the symptoms, while other research has found that only one-third of women who thought they had a yeast infection actually did. Why the confusion?

The signs are similar to other down-there problems. If you have a yeast infection, you might notice burning, itching, pain during sex, and a thick white odorless discharge.

But if it smells fishy, it may instead be bacterial vaginosis (BV), and if you have only burning and pain during urination, that suggests a urinary tract infection. Bottom line: It can be difficult to figure out.

First-timer? Go to the doctor if you think you have one

Now you know the signs, but remember: Just because you can buy over-the-counter treatment for a yeast infection doesn’t mean you always should. The first time you experience symptoms, it’s important to see your doctor (or hit up an urgent care center if you can’t score an appointment) because if it turns out you don’t have a yeast infection, at-home treatments can make inflammation worse or not provide any relief at all, Dr. Goist says.

A doctor will be able to correctly pinpoint the problem (yeast infection or something else) then give you personalized treatment, like an Rx for the oral antifungal fluconazole as well as a topical skin cream to reduce inflammation.

After that, you’ll know exactly what to watch out for, and your doc may give you the all clear to self-treat your next one with an over-the-counter antifungal, like Monistat or generic clotrimazole.

RELATED: What’s That Itch Down There?

You don't need products to prevent them

Gynecologists like to call the vagina a “self-cleaning oven.” That’s because it doesn’t need any help with douches, scented gels, perfumes, and other “feminine” products to stay clean. In fact, rather than helping prevent a yeast infection, these can cause an imbalance of the healthy bacteria in your vagina that makes you more susceptible to a yeast infection, explains Dr. Goist.

What to do if it happens after sex

A yeast infection is not technically a sexually transmitted infection (STI), but sex can throw off the bacterial balance in your vagina, upping your risk for a yeast overgrowth. That said, if you get what you think is a yeast infection after sex with a new partner, it’s a good idea to see your doctor, so you can rule out any potential new STIs, as well.

RELATED: 17 Things You Should Know About HPV

The truth about wet bathing suits

You’ve probably heard hanging out in wet clothes is a recipe for disaster. Doctors often say it’s a good idea to change out of a wet suit or sweaty exercise clothes because yeast thrives in warm, wet environments. And that’s true. But it’s mostly important for women who suffer from recurrent episodes rather than the general population. “Unless you know you’re prone to yeast infections, you won’t necessarily get one by hanging out in a wet suit,” Dr. Goist says. Make changing a priority if you get them frequently, otherwise, you’re probably fine.

Switching birth control pills may make you more susceptible

Anything that alters your hormone levels—like changing to a new hormonal birth control pill (that increases your estrogen levels) or too much stress (high cortisol) is a risk factor. Other things to watch out for: taking antibiotics, which kill healthy bacteria in the vagina, allowing yeast to thrive; or having uncontrolled blood sugar levels if you have type 2 diabetes (high blood sugar can feed yeast). If any of these sound like you and you get yeast infections, come up with a plan with your doc about how to control them.

 RELATED: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Your Vagina

This Common Drug to Treat Yeast Infections Is Tied to Miscarriage Ris

By Steven ReinbergHealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Jan. 5, 2016 (HealthDay News) — A well-known antifungal drug used for vaginal yeast infections may be linked to a slightly increased risk of miscarriage, according to a study of more than 1.4 million Danish pregnancies.

Of the more than 3,300 women who took oral fluconazole (Diflucan) in the 7th through 22nd week of pregnancy, 147 had a miscarriage, compared with 563 miscarriages among the more than 13,000 women who did not take the drug, the researchers found.

“From our study, we can only see that women who have been treated with oral fluconazole more often experience miscarriages than untreated women and women who used a topical [vaginal] antifungal,” said lead researcher Ditte Molgaard-Nielsen, an epidemiologist at the Statens Serum Institute in Copenhagen.

However, the study cannot prove that fluconazole causes miscarriages, she added.

“Our findings cannot precisely show whether fluconazole causes miscarriage. We cannot rule out that fluconazole-treated women differ from untreated women in ways that are associated with an increased risk of miscarriage,” Molgaard-Nielsen said.

She added that until more data are available on the association between fluconazole and the risk of miscarriage, the drug should be prescribed cautiously to pregnant women.

The report was published in the Jan. 5 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Vaginal yeast infections are common during pregnancy. In the United States, it is estimated that 10 percent of pregnant women will develop one. Treatment is either a topical antifungal cream or the oral drug fluconazole, Molgaard-Nielsen said.

“Topical antifungals (vaginal suppositories) are first-line treatment for pregnant women, but a small number of pregnant women receive oral treatment with fluconazole, for example in cases of recurrence, severe symptoms, or when topical treatment fails. But oral fluconazole may also be used as first treatment by personal preference,” she said.

Dr. Jennifer Wu, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said that fluconazole is the only oral drug used to treat yeast infections.

“Women who are trying to become pregnant or who are pregnant should avoid fluconazole,” Wu said. “For these women, a topical medicine is the preferred treatment.”

The researchers also looked at the association between fluconazole and stillbirth. Although fluconazole was tied to an increased risk of miscarriage, it did not significantly increase the risk of stillbirth, Molgaard-Nielsen said. Among the more than 5,300 women who took fluconazole from the 7th week of pregnancy to birth, 21 had a stillbirth, compared with 77 stillbirths among the more than 21,500 women who did not use the drug.

“Although the risk of stillbirth was not significantly increased, this should be investigated further,” she added.

For the study, Molgaard-Nielsen and colleagues collected data on more than 1.4 million pregnancies from 1997 to 2013. They compared women who used oral fluconazole during pregnancy to those who didn’t.

Dr. Jill Rabin, the co-chief of the division of ambulatory care at the Women’s Health Programs-PCAP Services at Northwell Health in New Hyde Park, N.Y., said she prefers using topical treatments for yeast infections because of the side effects of fluconazole, such as flu-like symptoms.

Rabin said that all vaginal yeast infections are not the same and treatment needs to be targeted to the specific type of infection.

Moreover, symptoms that appear to be a yeast infection may be something else, she added. “Women should not assume that if they have a discharge and an itch that it is a yeast infection,” Rabin said.

Rabin cautioned against trying to treat these symptoms with over-the-counter drugs. “Women should not try to treat themselves, especially if they are pregnant,” she said. “You want to call your doctor, not Doctor Google.”

More information

For more on vaginal yeast infections, visit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.


Popular Yeast Infection Drug Linked to Miscarriage Risk, FDA Says

TUESDAY, April 26, 2016 (HealthDay News) — Doctors should use caution when prescribing the antifungal drug fluconazole during pregnancy because it may raise the risk of miscarriage, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns.

Fluconazole (brand name Diflucan) is used to treat vaginal yeast infections.

“Patients who are pregnant or actively trying to get pregnant should talk to their health care professionals about alternative treatment options for yeast infections,” the FDA advised Tuesday.

The agency said it is evaluating the results of a recent Danish study that suggested a link between fluconazole and miscarriage, along with additional data and will release final conclusions and recommendations when the review is completed.

Current labeling information suggests that a single 150 milligram (mg) dose of oral fluconazole to treat vaginal yeast infection is safe to take during pregnancy. However, the FDA noted that in rare cases higher doses taken during pregnancy (400 mg to 800 mg a day) had been linked to abnormalities at birth.

In the Danish study, most of the fluconazole use appeared to be one or two doses of 150 mg.

“Until FDA’s review is complete and more is understood about this study and other available data, FDA advises cautious prescribing of oral fluconazole in pregnancy,” the agency said in a news release.

The agency noted that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends only antifungal creams to treat pregnant women with vaginal yeast infections—even for longer periods than usual if the infections persist or recur.

While the Danish study showed that pregnant women treated with fluconazole had a greater risk of miscarriage than those who used an antifungal cream, it did not prove the drug causes miscarriages, the authors noted.

Still, “women who are trying to become pregnant or who are pregnant should avoid fluconazole,” said Dr. Jennifer Wu, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, when the Danish study results came out. “For these women, a topical medicine is the preferred treatment.”

Fluconazole (available as a pill or suspension liquid) is the only oral drug used to treat yeast infections during pregnancy, Wu said.

More information

The U.S. Office on Women’s Health has more about vaginal yeast infections.


Yeast Infection Symptoms

Anyone who’s had a  knows how uncomfortable the intense vaginal itching, irritation, and discharge can be—and most women can count themselves in this category. Three out of four will have a vaginal yeast infection at some point in their lives, according to the CDC.

Though yeast infections are very common, determining whether you actually have one isn’t always easy. Symptoms can mimic other down-there conditions, such as bacterial vaginosis, or may be confused for an allergic reaction or sensitivity to a new kind of lotion, soap, or other product.

“So many women think any change in what they feel in their genitals—whether a little itching or discharge or odor—is a yeast infection,” says Alyssa Dweck, MD, a gynecologist in Westchester County, NY and assistant clinical professor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. “Many times, it’s not.”

RELATED: 3 Common Below-the-Belt Health Issues and How to Deal With Them

When an overgrowth of Candida yeasts occurs, the most common symptoms are irritation, itchiness, and a very specific type of discharge. “It’s thick, white, and curd-like,” says Dr. Dweck. “Sometimes the discharge can be slightly watery, but there’s usually no foul odor associated with it.” (Bacterial vaginosis, on the other hand, is often described as having discharge with a “fishy” smell.)

With proper vaginal yeast infection treatments, symptoms can improve within a few days. Some infections may even go away on their own, Dr. Dweck says. In severe cases, though, women may experience swelling, redness, or painful sex and urination. 

“The degree of itching and inflammation dictate how severe [the infection] is,” says Dr. Dweck. “But everyone is different.”

She stresses that not all vaginal itching or discharge is a sure sign of a yeast infection, and you should visit your doctor to make sure it’s not a reaction to a product you’re sensitive to or even an STD. This is especially important if you’ve never had a yeast infection before.

“You don’t want to prolong your symptoms and discomfort by treating it incorrectly,” Dr. Dweck says.

What Causes a Yeast Infection

If you’ve had a yeast infection before, you’re probably already familiar with the telltale symptoms—intense itch, irritation, and a thick, white discharge. The uncomfortable down-there condition is triggered by an overgrowth of Candida yeast, most commonly Candida albicans. Candida lives normally in the intestinal tract, but a change in the balance of yeast and bacteria can cause a  to develop.

Women of all ages—from adolescents to menopausal women—can develop yeast infections, but some are more prone than others, says Alyssa Dweck, MD, a gynecologist and assistant clinical professor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine based in Westchester County, NY. , diabetes, antibiotic use, or having any sort of immunosuppression (due to  or chronic steroid use, for example) may increase your risk. Additionally, high estrogen levels may drive Candida overgrowth, making some women on the pill more susceptible as well.

Experts are conflicted on whether or not certain lifestyle factors can contribute to yeast overgrowth. “There are lots of questions about clothing choices and yeast infections, but I think the jury is still out on this,” says Dr. Dweck. “For women who are very prone to yeast infections, the type of material they’re wearing—be it underwear, workout clothes, yoga pants—may matter, since synthetic or non-breathable fabric could increase their chance of infection.”

RELATED: The Best Yeast Infection Treatments, According to a Gynecologist

That said, there’s no need to replace your entire underwear drawer just yet. “Many women can wear anything and be totally fine,” says Dr. Dweck. “It’s really for those who are particularly prone to yeast that might find it helpful to modify their habits.”

That includes sleeping in underwear made of a breathable fabric (like cotton), not douching, and avoiding sanitary pads or tampons that are scented. Sex could play a role, as well, although Dr. Dweck notes that more research is needed.

The bottom line? “A simple, one-time yeast infection is no big deal,” says Dr. Dweck. But if you seem to be getting them often, it’s important to visit your doctor and make sure there isn’t an underlying cause. “Your doctor can check for other problems that might be leading you to get constant infections.”

Vaginal Yeast Infection Treatments

You probably already know the telltale symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection, which include intense itching, inflammation, and a thick, white discharge (and if you need a refresher, here’s a rundown of yeast infection symptoms). The good news: Once you’ve gotten your diagnosis, you have a few options for treating the uncomfortable condition—some are even available to you over the counter.

Alyssa Dweck, MD, a gynecologist and assistant clinical professor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in Westchester County, NY, explains that doctors will usually recommend one of two treatments for a : antifungal cream or oral tablets.

“I think both are equally effective,” she says, adding that the decision to use one or the other is often personal. “Some people are just not comfortable putting things in the vagina, or want to go with what’s on their insurance plan, so they’ll choose the pill.”

We asked Dr. Dweck to give us the lowdown on each treatment type—and also weigh in on whether or not home remedies are worth trying.

RELATED: 20 Facts Every Woman Should Know About Her Vagina

Antifungal creams

Antifungal creams are the go-to over-the-counter treatment for yeast infections. “They are generally well-tolerated and preferred by some women because they don’t need to call their doctor to get them,” Dr. Dweck explains. “And they work well.” Another selling point: Some come with external wipes that are meant to be used in combination with the treatment to calm itch.

These creams—which can be applied by hand or with an applicator that’s inserted into the vagina—are sold by a number of brands (you’ve probably spotted ones like Monistat and Terazol on your pharmacy’s shelves). They’re also available in a variety of strengths, ranging from one- to seven-day treatments, but they all belong to the same family of medication, called azoles. Not sure which strength you need? Dr. Dweck says the choice is a personal one, but she generally recommends the three-day option to patients: “One-day regimens can cause irritation, and the seven-day ones can be cumbersome, so three days is a reasonable option for most.”

Still, they’re not for everyone: “I do warn those who have sensitive skin to be cautious when it comes to using the one-day treatments, which are stronger,” says Dr. Dweck. Antifungal creams can also be messy—some of the OTC products are marketed specifically for nighttime use for this reason.

Oral tablets

If you’d prefer not to use a cream, you can also take an oral antifungal medication called fluconazole (Diflucan). “This is the main thing that I see women wanting to be treated with now,” says Dr. Dweck. “It’s less messy than a cream.”

It does require a prescription from your doctor, though, so some women may prefer to try an over-the-counter treatment for a faster fix. Depending on your symptoms, your doc may prescribe just one pill, or two pills taken 72 hours apart. 

RELATED: 10 Home Remedies You Can Find in Your Kitchen

Home remedies

The use of home remedies for yeast infections has long been disputed, and many experts are conflicted about whether or not these DIY treatments really work.

The most popular home treatments are yogurt and probiotics, but their effectiveness “is somewhat controversial,” says Dr. Dweck. “It seems that the literature does not support this 100%, although some studies reveal that it can help for women who are very prone to infections to take probiotics.” One small study, published in 2003 in the journal FEMS Immunology & Medical Microbiology, found that healthy women who took the probiotic lactobacillus rhamnosus experienced a decrease in vaginal yeast after 28 days in comparison to a control group. But in a 2006 review, researchers expressed skepticism about the results of earlier clinical trials on probiotic use, arguing that the women studied were often not a relevant sample—for example, they didn’t report experiencing recurring vaginal infections, or the studies weren’t conducted on at-risk women, such as those taking antibiotics.

In other words, while it isn’t proven that yogurt or oral probiotics can cure or prevent a yeast infection, it won’t hurt to incorporate them into your diet, especially since they both boast additional health benefits: yogurt is a good source of protein and calcium, while probiotics may help aid digestion.

A lesser-known home remedy is gentian violet, a topical antifungal that’s “painted” on the areas that are itchy or affected by yeast. “This can be a messy and inconvenient treatment form, and it does stain,” says Dr. Dweck. “Every so often, I will get a patient who is either allergic to the other treatments or not getting relief from them, and will resort to this old-fashioned standby.”

Finally, as for those Internet claims that you can treat a yeast infection by inserting yogurt or garlic into your vagina, Dr. Dweck isn’t a fan. “There’s really no place for it in treatment,” she says.

Putting Garlic in Your Vagina to Treat a Yeast Infection Isn't a Good Idea

If you’ve ever googled “yeast infection home remedies,” you’ve probably come across claims that inserting a garlic clove—or a paste made from raw garlic—into your vagina will help you feel better stat. The theory behind this natural treatment is that garlic’s antifungal properties could help clear up the uncomfortable condition, which is caused by an overgrowth of Candida yeast. 

My friend actually tried this remedy one night when she was desperate to ease the itch down there and unable to get to a pharmacy. She went to bed with a garlic clove in her vagina, but woke up with the same discomfort and discharge. What’s more, she discovered the garlic actually sprouted(!!) inside her.

After hearing about her somewhat disturbing experience, I was curious: Is there actually anything to this garlic treatment, or is it just an old wives’ tale? To learn more, I turned to Lauren Streicher, MD, an ob-gyn based in Chicago—and she cleared the situation right up.

“It’s ridiculous,” Dr. Streicher said. “[Garlic] isn’t something that any gynecologist would ever recommend.” And it’s no substitute for science-backed medicinal treatments (like over-the-counter antifungal creams, and the oral antifungal medication fluconazole).

RELATED: 20 Facts Every Woman Must Know About Her Vagina

So why has the garlic myth persisted for so long on the Internet? Dr. Streicher’s guess is that some women become frustrated when expensive OTC antifungal creams don’t offer relief, and decide to experiment with home remedies instead.

But that led to another question: If antifungal creams are the right treatment for yeast infections, why do they sometimes fail to ease the itch?

One possible reason is that yeast may not be causing the itch in the first place. Many women who think they have a yeast infection actually have bacterial vaginosis, explains Dr. Streicher, who is the author of Sex Rx: Hormones, Health, and Your Best Sex EverBacterial vaginosis is a common condition triggered by an overgrowth of normal vaginal bacteria.

The two below-the-belt issues have similar symptoms, including discharge—though with a yeast infection, it’s “a characteristic white, clumpy, thick discharge” that isn’t associated with a foul odor, says Dr. Streicher. Bacterial vaginosis, on the other hand, leads to thinner discharge with a distinctive “fishy” smell. 

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Bottom line: If an OTC antifungal cream doesn’t clear up your symptoms within a few days, or they recur within a week, call your doctor. She can prescribe a stronger antifungal, or figure out if something else is causing your discomfort.

As for natural home remedies for your nether regions, Dr. Streicher recommends steering clear. “Any time you put something inside a body that’s never been studied, it could be harmful,” she says. “There’s no way to know if it’s helpful [and] there’s no way to know that it’s harmful, because it has never been studied.”

Gabrielle Union's Yeast Infection Cure: Yogurt

When we heard that actress and author (and Health coverstar) Gabrielle Union recently confessed to putting yogurt in her vagina to cure a yeast infection—a treatment we’ve heard about that other women swear by—we definitely wanted to take a closer look.

“I ended up in a situation where I had a , and I didn’t want to go to CVS to buy Monistat,” Union told Unstyled, Refinery 29’s fashion podcast. “I called my girlfriend, who always has an answer for everything, and she was like, ‘Go get yogurt and then you’re gonna just put the yogurt up your vagina.”

Union said she picked up some vanilla-flavored yogurt, then got to work applying it—with little success. “It’s not going in, it’s just slapped on the outside, which is providing a bit of relief, but I need to get it in there,” she recalled. So she called back her friend, who recommended using a straw from a local fast-food joint as a makeshift applicator.

RELATED: The Best and Worst Foods for Your Vagina

Union didn’t say whether the yogurt worked. So we decided to ask a gynecologist if yogurt really can cure a yeast infection, or at least ease symptoms, such as itching and burning.

While an over-the-counter antifungal cream or prescription oral med are the preferred methods of treatment for a yeast infection, yogurt does seem to offer at least temporary relief, says Mary Jane Minkin, MD, clinical professor in the department of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at Yale Medical School. “A yeast infection is an overgrowth of yeast, and the good-guy bacteria in yogurt, the lactobacilli, maintain an acidic environment, which makes it hostile for yeast to grow.”

However, she cautions, the strain of bacteria that’s native to the vagina may be different from the strain in your favorite yogurt. If that’s the case, the yogurt may not help much after all. Since there’s no way to tell which brand is best suited to your body, at least make sure you’re buying a yogurt with live cultures, or you won’t get any yeast-fighting benefits, says Dr. Minkin. Opt for an unflavored variety too.

Flavored yogurts, especially fruity ones with jellies or jams, can be packed with sugar, and sugar can fuel the growth of vaginal yeast, she adds.

To keep the mess minimal, apply the yogurt internally rather than externally on the vulva. To do so, a makeshift applicator like Union’s straw isn’t a terrible idea, Dr. Minkin says, “although it might scratch you, whereas other applicators are smoother.” You can actually purchase vaginal suppository applicators online (like this 15-pack for $12 at Amazon) or at a pharmacy, she says, and simply fill the applicator with yogurt.

If an applicator isn’t available, coating your finger with yogurt before inserting it into your vagina works just fine too. You can also dab a little yogurt on a tampon and insert it that way, as Health’s medical editor Roshini Raj, MD, has previously recommended.

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Your most mess-free option for yeast infection relief might be to regularly eat yogurt. Delivering those lactobacilli to your gut can help ward off future infections, Dr. Minkin says—and you’ll get some protein and calcium while you’re at it.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there’s not a whole lot of research on just how effective slathering up with yogurt below the belt is when it comes to treating a yeast infection—but who doesn’t have a friend like Union’s who swears by the technique? Bottom line, it’s worth a shot. “If it works, great! If not, at least you haven’t hurt yourself,” Dr. Minkin says.