In addition to Breast Cancer Awareness Month, October is also World Menopause Month. Oddly fitting, really, since — in North America at least — October is the quintessential representation of change. The harvest season is nearing its end. Cooler weather becomes more prevalent, with some hotter and colder days sprinkled in. The leaves begin to turn as trees prepare for winter hibernation in their own beautiful way. Everything prepares for the ethereal serenity of winter.
Like October, women of a certain age undergo a transition from one stage of life to the next. Our bodies begin to slow egg production until, eventually, it ceases entirely, at which point we are no longer able to conceive. As is true of autumn into winter, this change does not occur overnight.
From perimenopause to postmenopause, women experience a variety of physiological and psychological symptoms. While menopause affects every woman differently, it is generally uncomfortable. One of the more common symptoms is vulvar itching, which affects about one in every three women. While your mind is already focused on self-care and health for Breast Cancer Awareness month, take some time to focus on self-care down there.
First, read Love Your Labia to get a lay of the land — so to speak — and general do’s and don’ts of vulvar care. Then ask yourself when was the last time you gave your vulva a little TLC.
Things to think about
As estrogen levels begin to drop during perimenopause and after menopause, so goes the moisture in your skin. This leads to dryness, burning, irritation, redness, and general discomfort. Think for a moment about your self-care regimen.
- Do you shower or bathe daily?
- Do you prefer scalding, tepid, or cold water?
- Do you use soap or body wash?
- Is your soap or body wash scented? If so, do you use any scented cleansers on your vulva?
- Do you moisturize? If so, which parts of your body?
- Are your moisturizers scented? If so, do you use any scented moisturizers on your vulva?
- Do you moisturize daily or just when you feel you need it?
If you’re already experiencing vulvar itching, taking a hot shower or bath, and using scented cleansers or moisturizers can exacerbate the issue. Just the simple act of cleansing with soap, rather than soap-free water, can irritate the vulva. Soaps, perfumes, dyes, scents, and bubble baths can all cause vulvar itching and irritation.
Unlike other symptoms of menopause, vulvar symptoms typically remain or worsen with time because of prolonged lack of estrogen. However, just because these symptoms become the lifelong friend you never wanted doesn’t mean they should slow you down or hold you back. You can prevent and relieve vulvar itching and irritation with these simple steps.
- Avoid the common irritants listed above.
- Wear loose, breathable fabric to avoid sweat and moisture depletion.
- Use an unscented, dye-free vulvar moisturizer at least once daily.
How to choose a vulva moisturizer
When purchasing a moisturizer, consider two things: ingredients and frequency of use. When comparing products, look at the length of the ingredients list. A short list of ingredients that begins with water is ideal, as most moisturizers contain chemicals that could further irritate your vulva.
Look for hyaluronic acid (aka sodium hyaluronate). It’s among the most powerful ways to restore your skin’s moisture barrier because of its ability to attract and retain water. Also look for vitamin E. Found in foods such as almonds, hazel nuts, avocado, and lobster, vitamin E is an antioxidant that protects against cell damage, making it an ideal ingredient in a moisturizer.
Ingredients matter a lot, but prolonged relief is also determined by frequency of use. Women who have tried vulvar moisturizers typically discontinue use for myriad reasons — the packaging isn’t discreet, the product is messy, etc. — and if you don’t use the product, it can’t help.
Consider the reasons you have discontinued using moisturizers in the past and look for one that you won’t abandon. If the packaging wasn’t discreet or too large to travel with, look for a brand that provides travel-size products that you can use on the go. Maybe you hate going to the pharmacy to purchase a moisturizer. Find a brand that allows you to shop online.
Once you’ve found your high-quality moisturizer, use it daily. You’ll be glad you did.