Vulva Care

on . Posted in Women's Health

Click here to download a copy of the Vulva Care information sheet in PDF

The vulva is the term used to describe the external female genital organ and includes the inner and outer lips and the clitoris.

The skin of the vulva
Taking care of the skin vulva is an important to ensuring its health and comfort.

There are 3 key facts to consider when looking after the skin of the vulva

  1. Avoid irritants
  2. Reduce excess moisture
  3. Decrease scratching and/ or rubbing

Vulva skin irritants
Vulva skin is very sensitive, but only requires washing with warm water – preferably once a day. Even products labelled “mild” or “hypoallergenic” can still be irritating.

Some of the most common substances that can irritate the vulva include the following:

  • Soaps or anything that will lather and remove healthy oils from the skin
  • Tea tree oil and scented oils
  • Medicated creams (ointments are preferred)
  • Bubble bath & bath salts and other perfumed products
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Some brands of toilet paper
  • Some sanitary napkins and panty liners
  • Some laundry detergents
  • Deodorants
  • Douches
  • Waxing, shaving or depilatories
  • Tight synthetic clothing and dyes in some underwear

If vulva skin irritation occurs or to prevent irritation:

  • Avoid over the counter creams
  • Avoid feminie hygiene products e.g. sprays, wipes, powders etc.
  • Only use products prescribed by a health professional
  • Try unscented, undyed toilet paper
  • Try a different type of laundry detergent
  • Use tampons
  • Wear loose clothing including 100% cotton underwear
  • Refrain from removing pubic hair
  • Only wash the skin with warm water- preferably once a day (even water alone can over dry the skin if washing is frequent)

If irritation occurs and persists despite trying the preventative suggestions a consult with a medical professional is advised.

Excess moisture
Excess moisture can enhance the effects of irritation
To prevent infections from excess water:

  • Take off wet clothing (e.g. from swimming or gym workouts) as soon as possible
  • Wear underwear that will absorb moisture – some synthetic underwear will hold moisture at the surface where cotton will absorb it.
  • Carry extra underwear to change into if needed.

Scratching and/ or rubbing
Skin damaged or irritated by friction and rubbing is more easily infected. Scratching can also create what is known as an “itch-scratch cycle” where skin and nerve fibres thicken, which increases itching.
To avoid damage and irritation from scratching and rubbing

  • Avoid rubbing the vulva with a washcloth or paper
  • Pat dry with a towel
  • Avoid hair removal in the area
  • Avoid tight clothing.
  • Consider using a protective ointment before exercise.
  • Use water based, non- perfumed lubricants during sexual activity.

If skin is itchy

  • Cut nails if scratching is happening at night when asleep.
  • Wear loose underwear
  • Avoid heating the skin – avoid electric blankets, showers/ baths that are too hot, synthetic clothing pressed up again skin
  • Keep skin cool – use a covered ice pack or a damp cloth, if using creams store in the fridge.
  • Try distraction or relaxation techniques when the urge to scratch strikes
  • Consult with a health professional if this is the first occurrence or it is persistent.

Vulva self-examination
One way to pick up on changes in the vulva before they become an issue is to perform vulvar self- examinations. The sooner changes are detected the less likely symptoms will persist and potentially the extensiveness of treatment may be reduced.

How to do a vulval self- examination

  • Find a private place and time when you can relax
  • Examinations can be done about once a month, between periods.
  • Use a hand mirror so you can see what you are looking at
  • Starting at the top (known as the mons pubs – the place where public hair grows) gently touch and feel as well as look at the skin. Work your way down by checking the clitoris, the outer lips, the inner lips the perineum (area between the vaginal opening and the anus) and the anus.
  • Look out for any changes in the colour of the skin, any thickening of the skin (such as warts or skin tags), any ulcers or sores, any symptoms of persistent itching or soreness.
  • If anything is different consult a health professional.

Discharge
Discharge is the fluid or mucus like substance that is secreted from the vagina. It generally appears on underwear, but may be seen during a vulva examination. Discharge is a normal and healthy ‘housekeeping’ function of the vagina. Discharge can also be an indication that something is wrong with the body so its important to know what regular discharge looks like. If there are changes in discharge then a visit to a health professional is recommended.

A note about the appearance of vulvas
As with many parts of our bodies vulvas can look different throughout the life span and from person to person. It’s important to consider what is normal and healthy for one person may look different on another. Many things can influence the way we feel about our bodies (e.g what media we watch, read, listen to, our thoughts about what others think, other reactions or values). It’s good to take a moment to consider the reality versus the fantasy of what we see and hear. It can also help to understand more about the vulva and see the different types of vulvas out there. It should be noted that pornography and other sexual imagery are not good places to learn more about our bodies – the vulva included. Reputable, evidence based sites like the Labia Library http://www.labialibrary.org.au/ (created by Women’s Health Victoria) aim to help women understand more about their vulva and become more comfortable with the way it looks. Anyone with concerns with the way their vulva looks should talk with a health professional first or make an appointment at the SHFPACT clinic to talk with a doctor or nurse.

 

Click here to download a copy of the Vulva Care information sheet in PDF

References used
Genital skin care/ Melbourne sexual health Centre
Guidelines for vulvar skin care/ Uni of Washington, Dept of Obstetrics and gynaecology
How to perform a vulval self-examination/ UK Vulval Pain Society
ANZ Vulvavaginal Society http://www.anzvs.org

 

 

 

 

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