Boric acid has dozens of uses across many industries. It’s used as a pesticide, added to swimming pools, used in several cleaning products, used as an adhesive in everything from paper to jewelry, and used as a supplement to help manage vaginal health.
We’re going to focus on the latter use of this incredibly versatile chemical to answer all your burning questions, especially: is it safe, and what can I use it for?
Boric acid derives from boron (B), the fifth element on the periodic table. Boron is found widely in nature, usually in the form of borates--salts or esters that contain boron.
Because borates are naturally released into our water and soil, boron is found in small amounts in many foods including fruits, nuts, and grains. Humans consume an average of 1.2 mg of boron a day through their diet (World Health Organization, 1998).
Boric acid is one type of borate with the addition of oxygen and hydrogen. It is commonly used in a vaginal suppository to treat various vaginal disorders.
No, boric acid and borax are not the same! Boric acid and borax are two different borates; borax is the common name for sodium borate, while boric acid is the common name for hydrogen borate.
Boric acid is known for being antifungal, antiviral, and antibacterial. Its very weak acidity can also help restore the natural pH balance of a healthy vagina. As such, many studies recommend the use of boric acid for treatment for vaginitis.
Vaginitis is the name of a group of disorders that cause the vagina or vulva to become irritated or inflamed. The disorders include bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections, as well as sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, genital herpes, and trichomoniasis.
Symptoms vary depending on your condition, but many of them generally share abnormal vaginal discharge, including visual changes to the discharge or a foul odor; vaginal itching or burning, including when you urinate; or visual changes to the exterior of the vagina or vulva, including redness, swelling, lesions, or bumps.
(Note: Urinary tract infections, or UTIs, are not considered vaginitis as they are an infection of the urinary tract rather than the vagina.)
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is the most common form of vaginitis. While bacterial vaginosis is not sexually transmitted, it is highly linked to starting sex with a new partner.
When you get a diagnosis of BV, the typical first-line treatment is to use an antibiotic. However, BV has a high likelihood of recurrence; one review found that 15-30% of BV cases recur within 3 months, and 52% cases will recur within 7 years (Wilson, 2004).
We will have to be patient to get confirmation of the efficacy of boric acid against BV. One ongoing study predicts, based on current data, that boric acid will be 77-88% effective in the treatment of BV (Mullins & Trouton, 2015).
Yeast infections are another incredibly common form of vaginitis which almost all people with vaginas will get in their lifetimes.
Boric acid has been used to treat vaginal infections for over a century! A review in the Journal of Women’s Health looked at 14 studies of boric acid in the treatment of chronic yeast infections. The study found that boric acid was very effective in treating chronic yeast infections, as well as being generally safe and affordable (Iavazzo et al, 2011).
The most common sexually transmitted infection around the world is trichomoniasis (“trich”, pronounced “trick”), which is an infection resulting from the parasite trichomonas vaginalis. More research is needed to determine the effect of boric acid on this parasite. However, one promising study found that boric acid prohibited the growth of T. vaginalis in vitro (Brittingham & Wilson, 2014).
We need more research to confirm the efficacy of boric acid against other STIs.
According to the Journal of Women’s Health review, “intravaginal boric acid is usually
well tolerated, especially in short-term treatment” (Iavazzo et al, 2011). In one study included in their review, some side effects were reported in 4% of the 92 patients examined:
However, none of these side effects were considered serious (Jovanovic, Congema, & Nguyen, 1991).
The Journal of Women’s Health review also reported that, while boric acid may not be safe in the first trimester of pregnancy, it is generally considered safe for the second and third trimesters (Iavazzo et al, 2011); however, if you are pregnant, always consult your doctor or OBGYN before taking any supplement or treatment.
Boric acid is not the same as other types of boron or borates, including borax. If you are purchasing boric acid to treat recurring infections in your vagina, the most important thing to look for is the ingredient label. It should say 100% boric acid with no additives.
If you are using boric acid (or any other treatment) for an active infection of your vagina, you should not have sex. (Your vagina probably won’t feel up to it anyway!)
When used for treatment of chronic or recurring vaginal infections, some partners of the people taking intravaginal boric acid reported a gritty sensation or male dyspareunia--pain in their genitals or pelvis--if they had penile-vaginal sex shortly after using boric acid (Jovanovic, Congema, & Nguyen, 1991).
As a result, many doctors recommend waiting to have sex until 24-48 hours after using boric acid suppositories.
Boric acid--an antifungal, antiviral, and antibacterial compound--is not the same as borax. It is generally considered a safe, effective, and inexpensive treatment for conditions of the vagina, especially recurring yeast infections and trichomoniasis.
In rare cases, side effects of intravaginal boric acid may include burning, a watery discharge, or reddening of the skin, but these generally aren’t serious. For the sake of both you and your partner, avoid having oral or vaginal sex for 24-48 hours after using a boric acid suppository.
If you think boric acid could help you manage your temporary or chronic vaginal condition, talk to your doctor. Short- or long-term treatment may help you improve your quality of life.