Caring For Your Vulva
The vulva is an essential part of the female anatomy, yet it is often shrouded in mystery and taboo. Understanding what the vulva is and how to care for it is important for maintaining overall health and wellness. It also allows women (or those with vulvas) to feel more empowered and confident in their own bodies. In this blog, we'll explore what the vulva is, what vulvar care entails, and why it's essential to prioritize proper vulvar care.
What is the vulva?
The vulva is the external female genital area that includes the labia majora and minora, clitoris, vaginal opening, perineum and the anus. It is a sensitive area that requires proper care and attention to avoid infections or discomfort. The vulva is prone to irritation and inflammation, which can lead to issues with infections, skin/dermatologic concerns and other pain related conditions such as vulvodynia, sexually transmitted infections, dermatitis, eczema and psoriasis. There are also some auto-immune conditions that may arise and affect the vulva including Sjogren’s, lichen sclerosus and lichen simplex chronicus.
What does vulvar care entail?
Vulvar care includes a combination of hygiene practices and lifestyle choices that help maintain vulvar health. Proper vulvar care involves:
Keeping the area clean: Using water to clean the vulva is best. I know it sounds a little ‘off’ to say that using water is the best way to keep your vulva healthy and clean, but this is the truth. Females have been inundated with marketing and generational myths around having to use harsh soaps, douches or scented products to keep this area clean. But please don’t buy into this bias. These sorts of products often only result in more irritation and inflammation and can throw off the pH balance within the vagina itself, making one more susceptible to infections such as bacterial vaginosis or urinary tract infections.
Wearing breathable clothing: Choose loose-fitting, breathable clothing made from natural fibers such as cotton. Avoid tight-fitting clothes, synthetic fabrics, and pantyhose, as they can trap moisture and cause irritation.
Wipe from front to back: Always gently wipe from front to back after urination or bowel movements. This can help minimize the transfer of bacteria such as e-coli from the anal region to the vulva and urethra which can lead to urinary tract infections.
Practicing good hygiene during menstruation: Change pads and tampons frequently during menstruation to prevent bacterial growth and odour. Also, consider using 100% cotton hygiene products and/or menstrual pads or underwear that can be washed and re-used.
Avoiding Irritants: Perfumed soaps, bubble baths, coloured toilet paper and harsh laundry detergents can irritate and dry the skin. Douching can disrupt the natural balance of bacteria in the vagina, leading to infections and inflammation. This is such an important point that it needs to be repeated ;). For individuals that use prescription creams such as steroids, estrogen or other topicals that leave them feeling like the need to ‘clean’, using a pH balanced cleanser would be the next best solution to using water alone. Some examples are Cetaphil Restoraderm or Eucerin Gentle Hydrating Cleanser.
Why is vulvar care important?
Proper vulvar care is essential for maintaining overall health and wellness; and for some it may even improve sexual health and enjoyment. By practicing good hygiene and using protection during sexual activity, women can reduce the risk of sexually transmitted infections and other vulvo-vaginal infections. This, in turn, can improve sexual pleasure and overall quality of life.
Certain populations may be more susceptible to vulvar conditions and should pay special attention to proper vulvar care. These populations include:
Menopausal women: The hormonal changes that occur during menopause can lead to thinning and dryness of the vulvo-vaginal tissue, making it more susceptible to infection and inflammation. Using a vulvar moisturizer can help keep the tissues hydrated and protected.
Pregnant and Postpartum women: Similarly, hormonal changes during pregnancy and postpartum can increase the risk of vulvo-vaginal dryness, vaginal infections and inflammation.
Women with diabetes: Diabetes can increase the risk of vulvo-vaginal dryness, vaginal infections and inflammation. Proper vulvar care can help prevent these conditions and reduce the risk of complications.
Women with a history of vaginal infections: Women who have had a history of vaginal infections may be more susceptible to these conditions in the future. Proper vulvar care can help prevent recurring infections.
All in all, the vulva is an essential part of the female anatomy that requires proper care and attention to maintain overall health and wellness. By practicing good hygiene, wearing breathable clothing, and avoiding irritants and douching, women can reduce the risk of vulvar dryness, vulvo-vaginal infections and inflammation. Proper vulvar care is particularly important for menopausal women, pregnant women, women with diabetes, and women that experience recurrent infections. The use a vulvar moisturizer can help individuals experiencing vulvar dryness and irritation.
- Kober, M. M., & Bowe, W. P. (2020). The effect of vulvar care on vulvar disease. Dermatologic clinics, 38(3), 379-385.
- Herrera, Isa. (2009). Ending Female Pain A Woman’s Manual. On Demand Publishing.