Yeast infections are one of those health issues that are often both physically uncomfortable—thanks to the itching, burning, and gross discharge—and socially awkward (holla if you’ve ever bought Monistat from a male drugstore checkout). We can obviously get over the minor embarrassment factor in order to get relief, but if you’re curious about at-home, DIY ways to soothe or prevent yeast infections, it pays to know which ones are legit and which are a waste of time—or can even make things worse.
But first, a few tips on figuring out what’s actually going on down there. Research shows that only 35 percent of women correctly self-diagnose a yeast infection, says gynecologist Jacquelyn Stone, MD, at digital women’s health clinic Maven. People often mistake bacterial vaginosis for yeast infections since the symptoms are similar. (One telling difference is that yeast makes your discharge look white and clumpy, while BV may cause it to turn yellowish and have a strong smell odor.) Another condition that can be confused for yeast: trichomoniasis, a common and curable STD, which can also cause discharge and itching.
Before heading to your doctor or starting treatment, it’s smart to pick up a drugstore vaginal pH test. “It’s worth doing this easy OTC test first,” says Stone. “If your pH is high, that’s a symptom of BV, and you should see your doctor for antibiotics. If the test is negative and you know you’re not at risk for sexually transmitted infections, treating the yeast yourself should be fine.” In addition to three- or seven-day drugstore treatments (which are more effective than one-day kits, says Stone), here are four remedies you can use at home that actually help:
- Yogurt contains active cultures, a.k.a. live microorganisms, that may help prevent yeast infections by “keeping the good bacteria where they’re supposed to be,” says Stone. (“No need to actually put it on or in your vagina,” she adds.) Another good-for-you reason to eat yogurt on the regs.
- Coconut oil is proven to kill all species of candida (the scientific term for yeast) and is perfectly safe to apply topically to the vulva, Stone says. It may not be enough to kill an existing infection on its own, but can help soothe itchiness and prevent recurrent infections. Bonus: It’s a great all-natural lube.
- Boric acid capsules, which you can get in drugstores or health-food stores, can be directly inserted into your V, and may help nix resistant or recurrent yeast infections, per Stone.
- Probiotic supplements help replenish lactobacillus (that “good bacteria” you heard about earlier) that keeps your vaginal area—and your digestive system—healthy and balanced. You can get them at any grocery or drugstore, and there are even special formulations for women.
- Airy, cotton undies: These can prevent extra moisture from building up, which stops the overgrowth of yeast, says Stone. If you feel the itch coming on, opt for a pair that wicks, rather than the pretty ones that won’t keep you dry.
But absolutely avoid these DIY strategies that inevitably surface on Google—they won’t do you any favors:
- Cranberries help prevent UTIs, but do zilch for yeast infections.
- Douching is terrible, Stone confirms. “That area is meant to clean itself. Douching messes up the normal healthy bacteria and leads to BV and yeast infections.”
- Washing with soap does the same thing as douching—so keep the body wash away from your bikini area, especially the part that doesn’t naturally grow hair.
- Tea tree oil has antiseptic and antifungal properties, which may be why some people say it helps with yeast, but do not use it on your vagina, Stone says. “It’s scented and could cause burning.”
- Garlic has been shown not to have antiseptic or antifungal properties, Stone says. Avoid.
- Apple cider vinegar may be good for your diet, but it won’t do anything for a yeast infection. Skip it.
There you have it, ladies. Here’s hoping that these at-home remedies will save you some time and discomfort before you hit up your doc for an Rx.