All about Vulva and Vulvar care
Dr. Renuka Dangare

Dr. Renuka Dangare

Apr 08Sexual health

All about Vulva and Vulvar care

You tend to be very conscious and considerate of your face and always see to it that it’s hydrated and moisturized. You’d only use products that will keep your skin irritation-free and suit it best. But there is also another sensitive area in a female body that deserves exceptional care and hygiene maintenance. It’s called the vulva.

Why do we need to talk about vulvas?

Not all women are aware that different vulvas can look different too and the appearance of a menstruator’s external genitalia can also provoke body image anxiety in them. This is why we chose to speak on vulvas.

Vulvas are so varied and unique in appearance. The length of the outer lips or labia majora can vary as much as 6-12 cm and the inner labia 2-10. This completely drives out the notion that every vulva has to be the same size.

Each vulva also can change appearance and colour depending on age, pregnancy, hormonal balance and menopause.

What is Vulva?

The word Vulva is a Latin derivation of the word ‘womb’ or ‘covering’. As the name suggests, Vulva is the area around your vagina that covers all your external genitalia and urinary opening. The anatomy of Vulva is as follows:

  • Fleshy outer lips – The labia majora – is covered with pubic hair and is like a cushion. Inside the labia majora, there are thinner and delicate skin flaps called labia minora
  • Clitoris – It is made up of erectile tissue like the penis and plays the most vital role during an orgasm
  • Vestibule – This is the area that reflects the inside where the vagina begins
  • Bartholin’s Glands – Are located on the sides of the vaginal opening and produce lubrication for sexual intercourse.

All these forms up the Vulva.

vulva

Can vulvas change in pregnancy and in childbirth?

During pregnancy, the levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone increase in the expectant mother. This, in combination with increased blood flow to the area, can cause your vulva to become swollen. The colour of one’s vulvar skin and the vaginal opening may darken. Some pregnant women develop varicose veins in the vagina, vulva, and anus (these usually are called haemorrhoids) during pregnancy. They may be uncomfortable, but they usually go away after pregnancy

During childbirth, the vulva stretches to accommodate the birth and may undergo tearing. Small tears heal on their own but large tears may need stitches.

During breastfeeding, progesterone keeps the vulva dry. Using water-based lubricant at this time will enhance sexual experiences.

Why is Vulvar care important?

Vulvar skin is highly prone to infections and irritation. Any dermatological product that does not have a balanced Ph, can terribly cause harm to your vulvar skin. And this sensitivity can bring up unwanted yeast infections, skin conditions and painful situations. Vaginal discharge and smelly vagina are also caused by an unhygienic vulva that lacks proper care and treatment.

Sometimes, women also witness that the skin down there goes absolutely dry and becomes very itchy. And this uncontrollable itchiness, gives rashes and discomfort to the vulval skin. An unhealthy vulva, can also adversely affect one’s sexual health and can cause discomfort during sex.

How should I care for my vulval skin?

  • Choose the right underwear: Always wear cotton or silk material underwear. And it should be loose, comfortable and not at all so tight that the skin is deprived of its natural air contact.

  • At the end of the day, make sure your vulva is clean and dry.

  • Avoid vulvar beautification products: General body care products like soaps, body washes, scrubs, shower gels, deodorants, talcum, wet wipes and whitening creams can consist of allergens that can cause irritation to the vulval skin. Try keeping them at bay as much as possible.

  • Make sure to keep nails clean and trimmed when touching the vulva and avoid scratching.

  • Pubic hair removal: Hair removal creams or waxing can be very harsh on the vulva. The chemicals present in these, can make the skin dry and/or cause rashes. Shaving or trimming with the right techniques can be an alternative to this.

  • When choosing laundry products, try to wash your underwear with gentler detergents and avoid any bleaching agents.

How should I wash my Vulva?

  • The vulval area should be cleaned at least once in a day with emollient or mild soap and water. And do not worry if there’s no foam. The lesser the foam the better the cleaning. Too much foam can dry out the vulva.
  • Do not use sponges or loofahs to clean the vulval area. This can cause friction that can lead to rashes and injuries.
  • Always pat the vulva dry and prefer fragrance free toilet paper.
  • Face wipes or makeup removing wipes should never be used to clean the vulva.

Vulval health during Sex and Birth Control

The vulva is meant to protect all the female sex organs and a healthy vulva ensures a pleasure-filled experience. Many women go through burning and irritation around the vulva after or during sex. This is mainly due to a lack of natural lubrication in the vulva.

So it’s suggestive to use an external lubricant during sex. Silicone and water-based lubricants work the best. An alternative to lubricants is vegetable oil. It will get washed away easily and also serve as the perfect hydrant. Be mindful to never use oil-based lubricant with latex products as it may affect the integrity of these products and lead to easy tearing. As far as possible, a sterile lubricant is best.

When it comes to birth control options, oral birth control pills do not increase the risk of vulval infection. However, non-lubricated condoms might cause discomfort and dry out the vagina. Using latex condoms with water-based lubricant is a great option.

When do I need to get checked?

  • Self-examination is the best way to take charge of your vulvar health.
  • Look for any painful lumps, bumps, sores or discharge in your genital region.
  • White patches with itching may be a sign of a fungal infection of your skin.
  • Talk to your doctor immediately if you notice any of these changes and don’t self medicate. If you have had unprotected sexual contact with a partner whose sexual history you are unaware of, consider getting tested for STI’s .

What is a Bartholin’s cyst?

Bartholin’s glands are situated under the skin on either side of the vaginal opening. They release fluid that contributes to your body’s natural lubrication. Any blockage in the outflow tract of that gland can cause a cyst and infection of that cyst can cause an abscess.

If you have a painful swelling on your labial folds, don’t try to scratch it or irritate with fingers, instead seek a provider’s opinion immediately.

The ultimate goal of vulvar skincare is to promote healthy vulvar skin. This can be attained with a clean routine followed by the usage of the right products and gentle care throughout.

Disclaimer: This information is educational and should not be construed as medical advice. Please consult your doctor before making any dietary changes or adding supplements.

Proactive For Her is a digital clinic for women, offering accessible, personalised, and confidential healthcare solutions. We offer out-patient care, diagnostic services and programs for various health concerns of Indian women, across their lifetime - from puberty to pregnancy to menopause.