Vulva Care

Posted in Health Information Brochures

The vulva is the term used to describe the external female genitals and includes the inner and outer labia (lips), the opening to the vagina, and the clitoris. 

THE SKIN OF THE VULVA

Taking care of the skin of the vulva is an important part of your healthcare. There are a few key factors to consider when looking after the skin of the vulva.

  1. Correct washing and care.
  2. Avoiding irritants.
  3. Reducing excess moisture.
  4. Avoiding scratching and/or rubbing.

WASHING THE VULVA

  • The skin of the vulva is sensitive and only requires gentle washing with warm water.
  • You only need to use water, avoid the use of soaps, body wash, wipes etc. Even hypoallergenic, sensitive and so called natural products can cause irritation.
  • If your skin is particularly dry you can try using an unscented unperfumed wash such as Aqueous Cream, QV or Dermeze. 
  • Washing once a day is plenty. More frequent washing can cause dryness and irritation.
  • Avoid having a bath too hot and avoid bubble baths, perfumed oils, medicated oils or antiseptics. If you do use these make sure yourinse the vulva with warm water afterwards. Unscented bath oilsor a handful of salt may be good alternatives.
  • Gently pat the vulva dry, don’t rub the skin. If your skin is irritated you may like to try using a hairdryer on ‘cool’ setting to dry the vulva.

VULVAL SKIN IRRITANTS

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, antiseptics, and peroxide.
  • Bubble bath, bath salts and other perfumed products.
  • •Feminine hygiene’ products.
  • Some brands of toilet paper.
  • Some sanitary napkins and panty liners (especially if scented).
  • Some laundry detergents.
  • Deodorants.
  • Douches.
  • Waxing, shaving or depilatory creams.
  • Tight synthetic clothing and dyes in some underwear.

TO PREVENT VULVAL SKIN IRRITATION

  • Wash the vulva as outlined above.
  • Avoid ‘feminine hygiene’ products e.g. sprays, wipes, powders etc.
  • Try unscented, undyed, unbleached toilet paper.
  • Try a different type of laundry detergent, preferably hypoallergenic 
  • Use tampons rather than pads if pads are irritant.
  • Avoid using panty liners. If discharge is heavy try changing yourunderpants during the day instead. If you need panty liners tryto use unscented and unbleached products.
  • Wear loose clothing including 100% cotton underwear.
  • Avoid removing pubic hair, particularly shaving, as it can cause significant irritation to the skin.

If vulval skin irritation occurs and persists despite trying the preventative suggestions, see a medical professional. Avoid trying to self-treat with over the counter products and creams. Only use products prescribed or advised by a health professional.

EXCESS MOISTURE

Excess moisture can enhance the effects of irritation:

  • Take off wet swim wear as soon as possible (especially if swimming in a chlorinated pool). 
  • Wear underwear that will absorb moisture – some synthetic underwear will hold moisture at the surface whereas 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, just gently wash with your hands.
  • Gently pat dry with a towel or use a hairdryer on cool.
  • Avoid hair removal in the area.
  • Avoid tight clothing.
  • Consider using a protective ointment before exercise.
  • Use water-based, non-perfumed, hypoallergenic lubricants during sexual activity.

IF SKIN IS ITCHY

  • Keep nails short 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 if an existing condition is persistent.

VULVAL SELF-EXAMINATION

One way to pick up on changes in the vulva before they become an issue is to perform vulval self- examinations. The sooner changes are detected the less likely symptoms will persist and potentially the need for extended treatment may be reduced. You can do this on a regular basis, once a month, or whenever you think of it.

HOW TO DO A VULVAL SELF-EXAMINATION

  • Find a private place and time when you can relax.
  • 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, and the perineum (area between the vaginal opening 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 like substance that is secreted from the vagina. It generally appears on underwear, but may be seen during a vulval 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 it’s important to know what normal discharge looks like (usually clear or creamy white). If there are unusual changes to the colour, smell, or amount of your vaginal 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 look different from person to person as well as at different stages on our lives.. It’s important to know that what is normal and healthy for one person may look different on another person. Many things can influence the way we feel about our bodies (e.g. what media we watch, read, listen to, attitudes form our family of origin, our thoughts about what others think, and our own attitudes and feelings). 

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 labialibrary.org.au 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 or make an appointment at the SHFPACT clinic to talk with a doctor or nurse.


VOLVA CARE BROCHURE PDF

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Last updated October 2018

References: Melbourne sexual health Centre: Genital Skin Care. Dept of Obstetrics and gynaecology Uni of Washington: Guidelines for vulvar skin care. UK Vulval Pain Society: How to perform a vulval self-examination. ANZ Vulvovaginal Society.

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