Tan Discharge: Should You Be Worried?


Are you experiencing tan vaginal discharge? It’s normal to have light brownish discharge sometimes, but occasionally, it can be a sign of an underlying issue. And what if you have tan discharge when you’re pregnant? Read on to find out what could be causing your tan discharge and what to do about it.

Note: Do you have white discharge or brown discharge? We can explain that, too!


What Causes Tan Discharge?

Tan vaginal discharge is almost always caused by small amounts of old blood in the discharge. This means that you might see very light brown discharge for any number of reasons.

Most of the time it’s totally normal, but some underlying causes require intervention from a medical professional. We’ll go over the most common causes of tan colored discharge here.


Hormones and Tan Discharge: Normal

By far the most common—and most benign—cause of tan vaginal discharge is hormonal shifts. This could be caused by the following:

  • The beginning or end of your period: At the very beginning or end of your period, you may have some brown or light tan discharge as your body is either gearing up to expel the uterine lining or pushing out the last bits for the month.
  • Ovulation:  Some people have a little bit of spotting with ovulation, which could manifest as a tan colored discharge or light beige discharge.
  • Perimenopause: The hormonal shifts of early menopause can cause all kinds of shifts in your menstrual cycle, which may include irregular spotting. You may even just see light brownish discharge instead of a period some months.
  • Hormonal birth control:  As your body adjusts to hormonal birth control, you may experience breakthrough spotting throughout your cycle. This may manifest as tan vaginal discharge. If this persists for over six months, you may need to be on a different dose.


Pregnancy and Tan Discharge: Probably Normal

You may see brown or tan discharge both during implantation bleeding (indicating the start of a pregnancy) and when you pass your mucus plug at the end of the pregnancy (which is an early indicator of labor). Your cervix may also be a little more prone to bleeding after sex during pregnancy, which can cause tan vaginal discharge. All of these are totally normal situations.

However, in some cases, tan discharge may be an early sign of miscarriage. So while tan discharge is probably totally normal while you are pregnant, you should still consult with a doctor just in case. 


Sex and Tan Discharge: Probably Normal

Are you noticing some tan discharge after intercourse? If you see some very light brown discharge in the few hours or next day following sex, it’s likely due to some minor vaginal tearing or abrasion. This is especially likely with rough sex. You might also feel a little bit of irritation or tenderness in the vaginal area if this is the cause.

However, if the tan discharge doesn’t resolve quickly or is accompanied with other symptoms, like itching, pelvic pain, or an unusual smell, you could have an STD. See a doctor, and have your partner(s) get treated, too.


Tan Discharge Caused by an Infection or Condition: Serious

There are also situations where tan discharge could be caused by an underlying infection or condition requiring medical attention. Here are the major ones:

  • An STD or STI: If your tan discharge is accompanied by an unusual smell, burning or itching, and/or pain with sex, it could be caused by an STD or STI.  If you are experiencing pelvic pain, your STI may have migrated up your reproductive tract and become Pelvic Inflammatory Disease, or PID. PID can have long-term fertility complications if not treated promptly with antibiotics.
  • A vaginal infection: Another potential cause of very light brown discharge accompanied by itching or pain is a vaginal infection like bacterial vaginosis. This can be cleared up with antibiotics.
  • Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS): PCOS is a condition that causes lots of cysts to grow in the ovaries. This leads to irregular periods, which can cause spotting with brown or tan vaginal discharge—sometimes even instead of a period. Other symptoms of PCOS include acne, weight gain, body hair growth, fertility issues, and depression.
  • Cervical cancer: This is extremely unlikely, but one of the early indicators of cervical cancer is post-menopausal spotting. Other symptoms include pain during or after sex, weight loss, and weakness. 


When Should I See a Doctor for Tan Discharge?

You should see a doctor for tan vaginal discharge if any of the following are true:

  • The discharge lasts for many days without resolving, or seems to recur at random times with no explanation
  • It is accompanied by other symptoms, like pain, itching, an unusual smell, fever, irregular periods, or abnormal weakness.
  • You’re pregnant (just to be safe)!