There’s nothing quite as awkward as a sudden, unyielding itch down there. 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 are a number of reasons why your V may feel itchy, dry, or irritated, especially if you’re menopausal. About 1 in every 3 women experience vulvar itching (and there’s a good chance that many women aren’t reporting their discomfort at all). So why does vulvar itching and discomfort happen, and what can you do about it? Let’s start with a little 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 menopause hits and estrogen levels begin to drop, so does the moisture in your vulva. This leads to dryness, burning, irritation, redness and general discomfort.
What are some common vulva skin conditions?
If you’re not menopausal 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 vulva 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, deodorants, and others.
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 - this could be anything from K-Y Jelly to tea tree oil to latex.
To treat eczema of the vulva, your doctor will likely recommend corticosteroid ointments that you can use twice daily until your symptoms subside, along with a gentle skincare 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 those patches could crack open and lead to an infection.
How do I prevent vulva irritation?
There are a few ways you can easily prevent vulva irritation. First, use clean 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 that is developed specifically for sensitive skin - and definitely pass on the fabric softener.
You should avoid using perfumes, bubble baths, or scented lotions since any one of these can cause vulvar itching. Finally, wear loose, breathable, and natural fabrics whenever possible to avoid sweat and irritation of your most sensitive area.
What kinds of products can relieve vulvar itching?
A vaginal moisturizer with hyaluronic acid can go a long way in soothing vulvar itching and discomfort. One thing to note about vaginal moisturizers is that they’re not the same as vaginal lubricants. A lubricant is intended specifically for sexual activity and is applied right before sex. A moisturizer is intended to relieve any vulvar itching and discomfort that you feel at any time throughout the day.
What should I look for in a quality vaginal moisturizer?
Try to avoid products with long lists of ingredients. Many popular vaginal moisturizers contain chemicals that could actually irritate your vulva even more, so it’s important to check those ingredients first. Look for vaginal moisturizers with hyaluronic acid and vitamin E.
Hyaluronic acid is found in many skin serums and creams because of its ability to retain high numbers of water molecules and form a moisturizing film. It’s ideal for maintaining a water balance, which is why it’s widely used in dermatology. Vitamin E has great antioxidant properties and takes part in the metabolism of cells, making it ideal as a key ingredient in a vaginal moisturizer.
Overcome vulva irritation and itching for good
Vulva irritation is just a fact of life for many women, but there’s no reason why it should slow you down. Avoid common irritants and check in with your doctor if you notice anything out of the ordinary on your vulva - it’s far better to get treated than to suffer in silence.
To learn more about vaginal dryness and how you can overcome it, read our blog post: Menopause Mythbusters: 7 Biggest Myths About Vaginal Dryness.