How to Properly Care for Your Vulva

How to Properly Care for Your Vulva

By: Lynn Simpson, MD • Posted on November 14, 2016

The Most Common Concerns About The Vulva

The vulva is the external part of the female genitalia. Vulvar concerns are some of the more common reasons that women seek gynecologic care.

Vulvar concerns that should lead to medical evaluation include the following symptoms:

  • Itching
  • Burning
  • Pain
  • Associated vaginal discharge
  • Lumps
  • Bumps
  • Ulcerations
  • Pigment changes
  • Pustules
  • Odors
  • Rashes

There can frequently be a combination of several of these symptoms. Occasionally, women try to diagnose these symptoms themselves and the most common culprit is “yeast.” Self-treatment can sometimes be successful, but it can also make the problem worse or even prolong the diagnosis of a more serious health concern.

Itching is a common vulvar complaint. There are many causes of itching. Sometimes it is a “yeast” infection. But many times, it is not.

An Itchy Vulva

Infections in the Vulva

Infections that can cause itching include:

  1. Herpes
  2. Vulvar Condyloma (Warts)

Itching can also occur from the discharge that occurs with other infections such as:

  1. Bacterial vaginosis
  2. Trichomonas

Non-Infections in the Vulva

Desquamative inflammatory vaginitis

A noninfectious cause of itching, pain and profuse vaginal discharge.

Skin dermatitis

Itching can occur from a skin dermatitis which can be caused either by an individual’s sensitivity (or allergy) to a substance or from the substance itself causing an actual irritation of the skin. Even products that have been used for years can cause a sensitivity.

Atrophic vaginitis

The skin of the vulva also changes with age, hormones and environmental concerns like heat and occlusion that can occur from wearing tight clothes or non-breathable fabrics like nylon.

Atrophic vaginitis is common in the menopausal years and the itching is caused by decreased hormone levels. This can make the skin even more vulnerable.

Substances To Avoid Using On the Vulva

Substances that can irritate the vulva include:

  • Creams
  • Gels
  • Wipes
  • Feminine products
  • Spermicides
  • Deodorant soaps
  • Avoid panty liner use

When the vulvar skin gets too dry it will cause itching and burning. Excessive washing can dry out or injure the skin. Very little soap should be used on the vulva, and it should be applied with fingertips, not a washcloth, which is too abrasive to this sensitive skin. A mild soap such as Cetaphil can be used heavily diluted with water and the skin should always be gently patted dry.

Vulvar Skin Diseases

Lichen simplex chronicus

Lichen simplex chronicus is a skin disease that can cause itching and is similar to eczema.

Chronic Vulvar Skin Diseases

Lichen sclerosis, lichen planus and psoriasis are chronic vulvar skin diseases that can cause severe itching along with other skin changes. Chronic vulvar skin diseases cannot be cured, but can be treated to reduce or eliminate symptoms.

Vulvar itching can occur even when there are no specific findings on an examination. This itching can be accompanied by the following symptoms:

  • burning
  • rawness
  • painful intercourse
  • irritation


An extreme sensitivity to touch, especially around the opening to the vagina is called vulvodynia. It can be a very frustrating condition to have, but treatments are available that can be very helpful.

Diagnosing a Vulvar Disorder

Bumps, lumps, skin cracks, ulcerations, pustules, peeling skin and skin color changes have both infectious and noninfectious causes. These can be both painful and non-painful. The symptoms may involve the entire vulva or only one small area.

Some infectious causes of the symptoms listed above include:

  • Herpes
  • Warts
  • Molluscum contagiousum
  • Yeast
  • Staph
  • Strep infections

Some of the noninfectious causes of these symptoms include:

  • Cysts
  • Varicose veins
  • Blood vessels nodules
  • Moles
  • Skin cancers

The diagnosis of a vulvar disorder involves a visit to your doctor so a physical exam can be performed. It's also important to share your history of symptoms and the duration of time they have been present.

Along with the exam, your doctor may obtain tests that can include cultures and sometimes skin biopsy. After obtaining results, a treatment plan will be determined depending on the cause of the vulvar disorder. There are many causes for vulvar concerns and it is important to have a thorough medical evaluation so the correct treatment can be implemented.

You do not have to suffer in silence, help is available!

Be Strong. Be Healthy. Be in Charge!

-Lynn Simpson, MD

Lynn Simpson, MD is a retired physician from the Center for Specialized Women's Health at Cleveland Clinic. Dr. Simpson was a physician at Cleveland Clinic from 2010 - 2021.

She earned her medical degree from The Ohio State University College of Medicine and Public Health. Dr. Simpson completed her residency in OB/GYN at Grant/Riverside Methodist Hospitals in Columbus, Ohio. She has numerous publications in Obstetrics and Gynecology.

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