The personal care and maintenance of the vulvar tissue is important for overall women’s health. Feminine hygiene includes many aspects of a woman’s daily life including: the clothes that are worn, the type of detergent or lubricant she uses, or the way she cleanses the vulvar tissue. Lifestyle choices can help maintain healthy vulvar tissues.
Health care professionals consider the vulvar tissue as an extension of the skin. The vulvar tissues are often seen as the most sensitive and delicate part of the female genitals. Vulvar care and hygiene is important to maintain overall good vulvar health. Good vulvar hygiene may help minimize symptoms such as itchiness, redness or even burning. Even if you are not experiencing any vulvar discomfort or pain, the way you take care of the vulva on a day-to-day basis is important.
Vulvar Skin Care
There are many practical and easy ways a woman can maintain excellent vulvar health on a daily basis. Below are some easy practical suggestions to consider. Most of the helpful suggestions have been adapted from the National Vulvodynia Association patient educational handout.
- Consider wearing white cotton underwear. You may even prefer not to wear any underwear at all. If your vulvar is irritated consider some loose boxer shorts to prevent further rubbing of clothes on the sensitive tissues.
- Consider some changes in undergarments including wearing only thigh high or knee high hose instead of full length pantyhose. If you absolutely must wear pantyhose, consider removing the center of the crotch.
- Tight clothes may be irritating the vulvar tissues (where sweat can accumulate), and when possible, wear loose fitting pants or skirts. Tight jeans may increase friction as you walk and further exacerbate irritation and redness.
- If you are a swimmer, remove wet bathing suits after you are done swimming and shower to remove all the chlorine. Put on a new suit afterwards.
- For the avid exerciser, shower after exercise to eliminate excessive perspiration and change your clothes promptly.
- When doing your laundry, especially for underwear, consider hypoallergenic laundry detergents or those which are very mild, such as those made for babies.
- Some advocates recommend double-rinsing underwear and other undergarments and clothing that may come into contact with the vulva.
- Fabric softener should be avoided when doing laundry due to the possibility that some of the chemicals can be irritating.
- When using the bathroom use only soft, white, unscented toilet paper. Gently pat the area dry with light pressure only. It is best to avoid the repetitive back and forth motion caused by rubbing.
- Consider trying lukewarm or cool-to-cold baths to relieve burning and irritation. The bath tub should only be filled with an inch or two of water. Some women have found relief by adding 4-5 tablespoons of baking soda, colloidal oatmeal such as Aveeno®, or even adding a few chamomile tea bags to the water. These basic additions may help calm irritation or vulvar itching.
- Some important products to avoid include bubble bath, feminine hygiene products like sprays, or any type of perfumed creams or soaps. Never spray perfume in or around the genitals. If you have a concerning odor, seek medical professional care.
- Some companies market over-the-counter products specifically for the vulvar region and it is important to read all the ingredients on the product before using them. If you have skin sensitivities, be cautious of using products which may have harsh chemicals.
- When washing the vulvar area, consider using a soft cloth or even just your fingers to cleanse the vulva. Use only cool to lukewarm water as hot water may further irritate. If you want to use some soap, use a very mild soap, baby soap or soap specifically made for sensitive skin. Try brands such as Dove® or Neutrogena®. Make certain that it is unscented and without perfume. Avoid rubbing the area and pat the area dry with a soft towel gently.
- If your vulva is irritated or uncomfortable, it may be helpful to rinse the vulva with water each time after urination Some women carry a very small spray bottle that can be easily filled with tap water. Regular timed urination may also be helpful.
- Drink plenty of water and fluids to help dilute the urine. Urine may contain chemicals which can be irritating to an already sensitive vulvar skin.
- Consider using 100% cotton menstrual pads and tampons. Two brand names are Natracare® and Organic Essentials®. However, there are other products available at your local store or that can easily be found online.
- Shaving the area around the vulva can be irritating to some women. No matter what method of hair removal you are considering, whether it is shaving, waxing or laser hair removal, be aware that the vulvar area is very delicate. Use new razors and ample shaving cream for shaving and make certain you visit only reputable licensed places for waxing and laser in order to take precautions to minimize hair irritation. Ingrown hairs may also appear and care must be taken to avoid them from getting infected. Monitor for any hair removal complication and seek care soon if this should develop.
- Make sure to read the label of the lubricant you are using as it comes in contact with the vulvar tissues. Consider using one without additives or preservatives. An excellent choice is Good Clean Love® or Intimate Organics®, or Yes®. Additives, like bactericides, spermicides, warming agents and flavors, may increase vulva irritation. Saliva is often used as a good safe lubricant.
- Many women urinate immediately before and immediately after sexual intercourse to prevent infection. Regular rinsing of the vulva with cool water after sexual intercourse may also be helpful.
- Contraceptive creams or spermicides may be irritating; consider avoiding them. Choose contraception carefully after a detailed discussion with your health care professional.
- Exercise is an important aspect for overall general health and wellness. Exercise should not be avoided but you may consider avoiding certain exercises that may put direct pressure on the vulva. Bicycle riding, intensive spinning classes and horseback riding can cause direct pressure on the vulva and may increase irritation.
- Consider limiting intense exercises that may create a lot of friction in the vulva area. You may experiment with walking as it is low intensity exercise, but walk briskly rather than jogging.
- Some women find immediate relief after exercise or intercourse by using a frozen gel pack wrapped in a towel. This may also help relieve symptoms after exercise.
- Yoga, Pilates, stretching, mindfulness and relaxation exercise may also be helpful to maintain good flexibility.
- Swimming can be an aerobic exercise, but consider limiting the time in swimming pools that are very chlorinated. Hot tub use should be restricted. Change suits often and rinse them thoroughly.
- It is important to maintain excellent hydration by drinking enough fluids. Your urine will then be less concentrated and diluted making it less likely to burn or irritate the vulvar area.
- A foam rubber donut may be very helpful for women who must sit for long periods throughout the day. Also, try to get up from time to time and walk around.