Guidelines for Vulvar Skin Care

The vulva includes all of the female external genital structures, including the labia majora and minora, the tissue surrounding the clitoris, urethra, and vaginal opening and the perineum (refer to picture on page 2). These tissues are naturally moist and tend to be very sensitive to external substances. Proper vulvar skin care is very important to reduce the development of vulvitis.

What is vulvitis?

Vulvitis is simply defined as an inflammation of the vulva. There are a variety of causes including infections, diseases, injuries, allergies, and external irritants. Stress, illness, hygiene practices, insufficient rest, and inadequate diet can contribute to a woman’s susceptibility to vulvitis.

What are the symptoms?

Vulvitis symptoms may include redness, swelling, itching, and burning of the genitalia. Blisters or crusting can occur. Chronic irritation can cause thickening of the skin.

How is the condition evaluated?

A clinician should be consulted when symptoms do not respond to self-help measures, reoccur frequently or are accompanied by pain. At this visit the clinician will review your medical history and discuss the current symptoms. Part of this review may include a discussion regarding personal hygiene, clothing worn, and use of fragrances, soaps, detergents, and sanitary supplies. The exam usually involves a thorough inspection of the external genitalia, a pelvic exam, sampling of vaginal secretions, and possibly screening for sexually transmitted diseases. Occasionally a specialized exam called colposcopy (a visual exam using magnification) is recommended if symptoms persist.

What can be done for vulvitis?

When symptoms are significant, medication may be needed to provide some immediate relief. If an infection is identified, medication would be prescribed accordingly. However, since the symptoms are frequently related to the use of external agents such as perfumed soaps, detergents, scented fabric softeners etc., it is important to identify products that may be contributing to the irritation. Look closely at the products used for bathing, laundry, and personal hygiene. Listed below are some suggestions to implement at home to reduce irritation.

Laundry

Clothing

Bathing and Hygiene

Other Factors

References

“Guidelines for vulvar skin care” (2006). Drexel University College of Medicine.
“Self help tips for vulvar skin care" (2007). National Vulvodynia Association.