The Low Down on Vulvo-Vaginal Moisturization

The vulva and vagina are essential parts of the female anatomy – but are you giving it the attention they deserve? Taking care of our entire body – from A to V – empowers us to love the skin we’re in.

What is the vulva?

First things first: what is the vulva? It’s ok if you’re not sure – for many years, female sexual organs were taboo to talk about. Time to change that!

The vulva is the external female sexual organ. Everyone’s looks a bit different, but they all contain the same parts:

  • Vagina opening. The opening through which females menstruate and give birth; it also plays a central role in sexual function.
  • Labia (lips). These are the folds of skin around your vaginal opening. It is made of the labia majora (outer lips) and labia minora (inner lips).
  • Located at the top of the vulva, the clitoris is a female’s source of sexual pleasure.
  • Perineum. The area between the anus and vulva in females.
  • Anus. The opening to our rectums, the anus also has many sensitive nerve endings that can give rise to sexual pleasure.

You are probably more familiar with the vagina, which is the internal part of the female genitals, connecting the vulva to the uterus and cervix. The end of it is called the vaginal opening.

Why is vulvar and vaginal moisturization important?

The vulva and vagina are very sensitive areas that are prone to dryness, irritation and inflammation, which can lead to:

  • Infections
  • Skin concerns
  • Pain disorders (e.g., vulvodynia)
  • Painful penetration (dyspareunia)

All of these conditions can negatively impact a women’s quality of life and sense of well-being. This is why proper vulvar and vaginal care are critical. Key to this is moisturization which helps prevent dry vulvar skin, improve elasticity, and reduce irritation. This is especially important as we age, as our bodies produce less estrogen, which causes our vulvar and vaginal skin to thin and become less supple. Chest/breastfeeding and certain medications can also trigger vaginal and vulvar dryness. However – women of any age can experience dryness “down there.”

Experiencing dryness? You’re not alone. Vaginal dryness impacts about 15% of pre-menopausal women and up to 57% of post-menopausal women.1

How do you treat vulvar and vaginal dryness?

Personal lubricants and moisturizers are highly effective at relieving mild to moderate vulvar and vaginal dryness. They are usually the first treatment used in women experiencing dryness, as they are non-invasive and non-hormonal. Other treatment options include:

  • Low-dose vaginal estrogen
  • Oral or transdermal (i.e., skin patch) hormonal therapy

Lubricants vs. moisturizers – what’s the difference?

Both lubricants and moisturizers are topical and available over-the-counter (without a prescription). However, there are some key differences:

  • Lubricants are immediate-acting and provide temporary relief from vaginal and vulvar dryness and pain related to sexual activity. They are come in a variety of forms and textures (water, oil or silicone-based).
  • Moisturizers are very effective in reducing pain and friction, but also help heal damaged tissue and maintain vaginal and vulvar moisture and acidity. If applied regularly, the effects are longer-lasting than with lubricants.


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Who can benefit from regular moisturization?

While anyone can benefit from routine vaginal/vulvar moisturization, it can be especially beneficial in those at a higher risk of dryness, including women:

  • In peri-menopause
  • Post-menopause
  • Postpartum
  • Athletes
  • Who received chemotherapy or radiation therapy
  • With autoimmune conditions affecting skin health
  • Taking medications that dry the skin



1Edwards D and Panay N. Climacteric 2016;19(2):151-161.

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