There’s nothing quite as awkward as a sudden, unyielding vaginal itch. It never seems to happen in the privacy of your own home, instead striking in the middle of a meeting, during a big dinner, or another equally inopportune public place. And once you feel it, it’s all you can think about.
There’s a range of reasons your vagina may feel itchy, dry, or irritated, especially if you’re menopausal. About one in three women experience vulvar itching (and there’s a good chance that many women aren’t reporting their discomfort). So why does itching and discomfort happen, and what can you do about vulvar skin conditions? Let’s start with an anatomy lesson.
Where is my vulva, anyway?
The skin on the outside part of your vagina is called your vulva. This includes the labia majora, labia minora, clitoris, perineum (the flesh between the anus and the vagina) — everything that protects your sex organs and urinary opening. One of estrogen’s many jobs is to keep this area lubricated. Once perimenopause hits and estrogen levels begin to drop, so does the moisture in your vulva. This leads to dryness, burning, irritation, redness, and general discomfort.
Common vulva skin conditions
If you’re not postmenopause and you’re experiencing vulvar itching, you might assume that you have a yeast infection. But the vulva is an incredibly sensitive area, so there are a number of things that could cause irritation.
Eczema is an inflammatory skin condition that causes extreme dryness, cracking, and redness on patches of your skin. It’s possible to develop eczema on your vulva, typically as a result of an irritant like scented soap, baby wipes, douches, lotions, and deodorants.
Usually, if you have eczema and are exposed to one of these irritants, you’ll feel a stinging and burning sensation. It’s also possible to develop eczema after being exposed to an allergen you weren’t aware of — anything from K-Y Jelly to tea tree oil to latex.
To treat eczema of the vulva, your doctor will likely recommend a corticosteroid ointment that you can use twice daily until your symptoms subside, along with a gentle skin care regimen.
Another common vulva skin condition is psoriasis, which results in pink patches on the labia majora. It’s important to see your doctor for treatment, because the patches could crack open and get infected.
How to prevent irritation
There are a few ways to prevent vulva irritation. First, use water only to wash your vulva, since soap can be an irritant. Undyed, unscented toilet paper is also your friend. You’ll want to use detergents that are free from scents and dyes to wash your underwear, or opt for one specifically for sensitive skin. Definitely pass on the fabric softener.
Avoid using perfumed body wash, bubble baths, or lotions. Finally, wear loose, breathable, and natural fabrics whenever possible so your body can breathe.
A vaginal moisturizer with hyaluronic acid can go a long way in preventing irritation and soothing discomfort if it happens. Avoid products with long lists of ingredients and instead look for a moisturizer with hyaluronic acid and vitamin E. The former is found in many skin serums and creams because of its ability to attract and retain water molecules and form a moisturizing film. The later has antioxidant properties and aids metabolism.
Used regularly a high-quality vaginal moisturizer can be a savior for women with dryness, itching, and other vulvar skin conditions.
To learn more about vaginal dryness and how to overcome it, read 7 Biggest Questions About Vaginal Dryness Answered.