Guide: Understanding, preventing and treating an irritated vulva
The vulva , the external part of the female genitalia, is an area that is both sensitive and resilient. However, many menstruators around the world experience vulvar irritation at least once in their lives. These irritations, although common, can be a source of discomfort, itching and sometimes pain. But what exactly causes these vulvar irritations ? Are there ways to prevent them and, if they do occur, how to treat them effectively? In this article, we will explore in depth the causes, prevention methods, and available treatments for vulvar irritations.
Little reminders of what a vulva is
The term “vulva” is familiar to us, but what do we really know about it beyond this name? The lack of education on this subject in schools means that many people, whether they menstruate or not, have limited knowledge of the vulva. So let’s take a moment to clarify this subject together!
What are the different parts of a vulva?
👉First, the vulva is the external part of the female genitalia. It is located between the pubis (the upper part) and the anus (the lower part). So far, so good. This is the sequel that we know less about! The vulva is therefore not a single organ but is made up of several structures. Let’s take a closer look!
The labia majora:
These are folds of skin and fat that protect all of the external genitalia. They can vary greatly in size, shape and color from one woman to another. And note that their shapes and sizes are all OK!
The labia minora:
Located inside the labia majora, they have thinner skin and are generally more pigmented. They protect the entrance to the vagina and the urethra.
It is the sensitive erectile organ which is mainly composed of spongy tissue. It is the main source of sexual pleasure for many women. The clitoris is covered by a fold of skin called the clitoral hood.
The vaginal opening (vaginal orifice):
This is the entrance to the vagina. In women who are not sexually active or before puberty, this opening is partially covered by the hymen, a thin membrane.
The opening of the urethra:
Located between the clitoris and the vaginal opening, it is through this orifice that urine is expelled from the body.
These small glands are found on either side of the vaginal opening. They produce a fluid which contributes to lubrication during sexual intercourse.
What is the role of the vulva?
The vulva plays many roles, each one as important as the last!
First, it acts as a shield, protecting the internal reproductive organs from potential infections and/or external injuries.
The vulva is also at the center of the sensations that we feel thanks to its many nerve endings, in particular the clitoris. It therefore plays a crucial role in female sexual pleasure! 🥵
In addition, thanks to the glands it contains, such as the Bartholin glands, the vulva secretes lubricants facilitating sexual intercourse and vaginal hydration. Thus, the vulva not only serves as an interface between the female body and the external environment, but it is also intimately linked to women's reproductive health and well-being.
The vulva is very fragile and requires special and gentle care. To do this, avoid douching or using chemicals and irritants. But we will see this in more detail a little later in the article.
What is vulvitis?
It is worth starting by mentioning what the term “ vulvitis ” (or “vulvo vaginitis” if it also affects the vagina) means. This term is commonly used to refer to inflammation of the vulva or irritation. It can affect anyone. any part of the vulva, including the labia (labia majora and minora), the clitoris and the vaginal opening. However, it is important to know that not all irritations of the vulva are necessarily vulvitis in the strict medical sense of the term and can come from different causes.
The different causes of vulvar irritation
Understanding what can cause an irritated vulva in order to better prevent and cure these irritations is important. Let's take a look at the different (and numerous) origins that can cause this vulvar irritation.
Few women will never have yeast infections during their life! These infections are mainly caused by the fungus Candida albicans . They often result in inflammation of the vulva accompanied by intense itching. The discharge may become thick, resembling curdled milk, and may sometimes be accompanied by a strong odor. (Be aware that taking antibiotics, diabetes or a weakened immune system can increase the risk of yeast infection.)
This bacterial imbalance in the vaginal flora occurs when “friendly” bacteria are supplanted by “enemy” bacteria. Symptoms include white discharge, often runny, accompanied by a “fishy” odor. Vaginal bacteriosis can also increase the risk of other infections and complications, especially during pregnancy.
Genital herpes :
This viral infection is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). Initial symptoms may include a tingling or burning sensation before small, painful, fluid-filled blisters appear. These blisters burst to form ulcers which can take several weeks to heal.
It is a sexually transmitted parasitic infection caused by a protozoan called Trichomonas vaginalis. Symptoms vary, but can include itching, burning , green or yellow, smelly discharge, and sometimes pain during urination or sex.
Human papillomavirus (HPV):
There are more than 100 types of HPV, but only a few can cause genital warts. Which makes it difficult to detect this infection! These warts can be flat or cauliflower-shaped and vary in size. They can be itchy, but are often painless. Certain strains of HPV are also associated with types of cancer, including cervical cancer.
2. Vulvar dermatoses*
- “Vulvar dermatoses” refer to a group of skin conditions that specifically affect the vulva region. They can be of inflammatory, infectious, neoplastic or other origin.
Lichen sclerosus is a chronic skin infection that primarily affects the genital area, including the vulva. It manifests itself by the appearance of white spots which, over time, can merge and expand. These areas can become thin and fragile, which can lead to cracking, bruising or bleeding, irritating the vulva.
As for lichen planus, it is characterized by itchy eruptions, often of a purplish hue or which present skin lesions.
Dermatitis is a skin reaction that occurs when the skin comes into contact with an irritant or allergen. As seen previously, this can be caused by a variety of products like soaps, lotions, menstrual products or contraceptives. The resulting symptoms are redness, itching, swelling, and in some cases, peeling or blistering.
Eczema is a chronic skin problem that causes dry, red, itchy areas. Although it can manifest itself on various parts of the body, when it affects the vulva, the sensations can be particularly uncomfortable. Triggers for eczema vary from person to person and can be linked to factors such as stress, food, or (again) contact with certain allergens or irritants.
Finally, psoriasis is a chronic skin disease characterized by an acceleration in the life cycle of skin cells. This acceleration leads to the formation of thick, red, scaly spots on the skin. Although psoriasis can affect many areas of the body, when it affects the vulva, it can cause itching, pain or other forms of discomfort!
3. Hormonal imbalances
Hormonal fluctuations during the menstrual cycle
During the menstrual cycle, levels of hormones, including estrogen and progesterone, vary. These hormonal fluctuations can influence vaginal pH and secretion production, which in some women can cause dryness or, conversely, increased humidity, as well as itching or discomfort in the vulvar area. . These changes can also make the vulvar area more sensitive to external irritants, such as hygiene products.
During pregnancy, a woman experiences many hormonal, vascular and immune changes. These changes can increase the sensitivity of the vulva . For example, increased blood circulation can lead to swelling and increased sensitivity of the vulva . Additionally, hormonal changes can change vaginal pH, making some pregnant women more susceptible to infections like candidiasis, which can cause itching and irritation. Finally, stretching of the skin of the vulva as the belly grows can also cause discomfort.
Vulvovaginal atrophy due to menopause
Vulvovaginal atrophy is a common symptom of menopause. It is caused by the decrease in estrogen levels that occurs during this time in a woman's life. This hormonal drop leads to thinning and dryness of the vaginal mucosa, which can make the vulva more susceptible to irritation, itching, and burning sensations. Additionally, it can lead to painful sex.
4. Chemical irritants:
Feminine hygiene products
The female intimate area has a delicate microbial balance , and douching can disrupt this balance by eliminating bacteria that are beneficial to us. Sprays and wipes, although marketed as hygiene products, may contain chemicals and fragrances that irritate or dry out the sensitive skin of the vulva. Choose gentle and above all natural products. A small wash with clean water is more recommended.
Soaps and shower gels
These products, particularly those that are perfumed or contain aggressive agents, can alter the natural pH of the vulva and therefore cause irritation or itching by destabilizing the balance of the vaginal flora. It is recommended to use gentle, unscented cleansers for the intimate area.
Detergents or softeners
Chemical residue left on clothes by some detergents or fabric softeners can come into contact with the vulva and cause irritation. For particularly sensitive people, we advise you to choose hypoallergenic or natural detergents and to rinse the underwear thoroughly.
Intimate perfumes and deodorants
Although they are becoming rarer in our uses (fortunately), they are nevertheless designed for the intimate area and may contain chemical substances and perfumes which are not suitable for the delicate skin of the vulva . Their regular use can also cause dryness, itching and irritation. Avoid if you want a healthy vulva!
5. Allergic reactions:
Topical products (creams, ointments)
Using topical products on the vulva, whether creams, ointments, or other types of treatments, can sometimes cause irritation. We are all different, and not all products are suitable for your skin. Some people may have allergic reactions or may be more sensitive to active ingredients, preservatives, fragrances or other components.
💡Little tip: before applying a product to the entire area, it is recommended to test a small amount on a limited portion of the skin (the wrist for example) to check for any reactions. If irritation occurs, it is best to discontinue use of the product and consult a healthcare professional.
Be careful with condoms which can be irritating to certain vulvas! Latex is in fact a material commonly used in the manufacture of condoms. However, some people may be allergic or sensitive to latex, which can lead to irritation, redness, itching, or even more severe reactions when exposed. In these cases, it is recommended to use condoms made from alternative materials, such as polyurethane or polyisoprene, which are generally well tolerated by people with latex allergies.
And yes, tampons and sanitary napkins can cause irritation! This is often due to the chemicals, fragrances, or materials used in their manufacture. Additionally, prolonged wearing of these products, especially in humid conditions, can create a favorable environment for bacterial or fungal growth. To reduce the risk of irritation, it is recommended to change tampons or pads regularly, to favor unscented products and, if possible, to opt for organic cotton versions or other more natural and environmentally friendly alternatives. the skin. Discover all our healthy menstrual protection for the outside and inside of the body. And if you're wondering which hygienic protections to choose, check out our article!
Wearing clothes or underwear that are too tight can cause constant friction, which can cause vulvar irritation, redness and itching, particularly underwear made from synthetic materials that do not allow proper ventilation of the area. respondent. This can promote sweating and bacterial or fungal growth, and thus lead to imbalances in the vaginal flora. We strongly advise you to choose cotton underwear which offers better breathing!
Hair removal or shaving
Hair removal and shaving of pubic hair can irritate the vulva. Ingrown hairs, cuts, wax burns, or allergic reactions to hair removal products are common. Additionally, shaving can make the skin in the intimate area more vulnerable to infection because it creates tiny scratches that can allow bacteria to enter. To minimize irritation, it is advisable to always use a shaving gel or foam, shave in the direction of hair growth, and exfoliate regularly to prevent ingrown hairs.
7. Environmental factors
Frequent hot baths
Hot baths, especially when taken regularly, can destabilize the natural balance of vaginal flora. Prolonged heat and humidity can disrupt the vaginal ecosystem, potentially encouraging the proliferation of bacteria or fungi. Additionally, using scented products or bath salts in hot water can also irritate sensitive vulvar skin.
Chlorinated swimming pools or jacuzzis
Chlorine is frequently used in swimming pools and hot tubs to kill bacteria and keep the water clean. However, this chemical can be irritating to vulvar skin. Repeated or prolonged exposure to chlorinated water can dry out the skin of the vulva, making it more vulnerable to irritation. Additionally, the pH of chlorinated water can differ from that of the vaginal area, which can also cause imbalances.
Some medications have side effects that can influence vulvovaginal health. For example, some treatments can cause vaginal dryness, making the area more susceptible to irritation. Other medications can affect vaginal pH , which can alter the balance of naturally occurring bacteria and fungi, increasing the risk of infections and irritation. It is essential for women to discuss the potential side effects of any medication they are taking with their doctor, especially if they notice any changes in their vulvovaginal health.
Factors linked to sexuality:
Insufficient lubrication during sex
Natural vaginal lubrication is essential for comfortable sexual intercourse. When this lubrication is insufficient, whether due to hormonal fluctuations, medications, insufficient arousal, or other factors, friction during sex can cause microtrauma to the vulva and vagina. These traumas can cause pain, burning, itching and irritation. For some women, this lack of lubrication may be recurring and may require the use of personal lubricants to avoid discomfort during intercourse.
🌈 For good, safe lubrication, My Lubie water-based lubricant is one of the safest for the good health of your intimate area. In addition, it has moisturizing and soothing power and does not contain any irritating chemicals.
Vulvar irritation after sex, also called post-coital irritation, can occur for a variety of reasons. In addition to the insufficient lubrication mentioned above, allergic or sensitive reactions to products used during the act (such as lubricants, latex condoms, or spermicides) can also cause irritation. Additionally, intense or prolonged sexual activity, even with adequate lubrication, can sometimes cause irritation from repeated friction. Symptoms can vary from mild redness to a more intense burning or itching sensation.
🌈 To relieve your irritation, protective intimate care from the Nidéco brand is perfect!
What are the symptoms of vulvar irritation?
We have just discussed some of the symptoms of an irritated vulva, however, these symptoms are numerous and can manifest in many ways. Let's see together an exhaustive list.
Itching (pruritus): often the first and most common symptom experienced.
: Redness: the skin of the vulva may appear red or even purplish depending on the intensity of the irritation.
Swelling (edema): The vulva may be swollen or thickened.
Burning or pain: especially during urination or sexual intercourse.
Dryness or roughness of the skin: Sometimes the skin may become dry or flaky.
Peeling or flaking: The skin may peel, especially if it is very dry or affected by dermatosis.
Abnormal vaginal discharge: change in color, odor or consistency, especially if there is an infection.
Wounds, cracks or ulcerations: Small cuts or open areas may develop, particularly with infections or certain dermatological conditions.
Vesicles or pustules: These are small blisters or pimples filled with fluid or pus, often associated with viral infections like herpes.
Warm or tingling sensation: The area may feel warm or have tingling sensations.
Increased sensitivity:The area may become hypersensitive to touch, pressure, or heat.
Color changes:skin may become lighter or darker in response to chronic irritation or inflammation.
Should we be worried about vulvitis? Is that bad ?
Now that we know that vulvitis can be caused by a variety of factors, including infections (such as candidiasis), irritation (e.g. from hygiene products), allergies or other medical causes... Should we worry? Is that bad ? We'll answer you!
👉 Generally speaking, vulvitis is not considered a serious condition , however, it can cause considerable discomfort. Most vulvitis can be treated quickly and successfully using topical treatments or changes to hygiene habits. But if vulvitis is not treated in time, it can lead to complications, such as secondary infections due to scratches or breakdown of the skin barrier. In rare cases, persistent, untreated inflammation can lead to more severe complications.
It is important to consult a professional in the following cases:
- When symptoms are severe or last longer than expected.
- When symptoms recur frequently.
- When vulvitis is accompanied by other unusual symptoms, such as smelly vaginal discharge, ulcerations, or unexpected bleeding.
- When usual treatments do not provide relief.
Although most vulvitis is benign and treatable, it is essential to pay attention to your body and not hesitate to consult a health professional!
How to prevent these irritations?
The irritation and itching are not pleasant and, in many cases, could be avoided. So, to prevent this effectively, there are some good practices to know!
Opt for cotton clothes:
Cotton fabrics are particularly suitable for underwear because they allow the skin to breathe. Unlike synthetic materials, cotton absorbs moisture while ensuring good air circulation, which reduces the risk of humidity and bacterial proliferation, two major factors of irritation.
Avoid tight clothing:
Clothing that is too tight, like some jeans or leggings, can put constant pressure on the vulva, causing friction which, over time, can lead to irritation. It is recommended to alternate with looser clothing to let the intimate area breathe.
Bring a change of underwear:
Staying in damp clothing, such as a swimsuit after swimming, creates a humid environment conducive to irritation and infection. Remember to change quickly and put on dry clothes to maintain a healthy intimate area.
Avoid scented products:
As we have seen several times throughout the article, many feminine hygiene products such as sprays, douches and wipes contain chemicals (perfumes, additives) which can irritate the private parts of the most sensitive. It is strongly recommended to avoid this type of product!
🌈 If you are a fan of intimate wipes, Jho's biodegradable ones are perfect for your vulva. They contain Aloe Vera, Orange Blossom and Cranberries, with 99.6% ingredients of natural origin to take care of your private parts.
Although it may seem like a solution to feeling "cleaner", douching can disrupt the balance of the vagina's natural flora, leading to infections and irritation.
👉 Did you know that the vaginal area cleans itself naturally? The vagina has natural self-cleaning mechanisms. Thanks to its bacterial flora, mainly composed of Lactobacillus, and its secretions, it maintains an acidic pH and evacuates dead cells and harmful bacteria. This is why it is not recommended to use vaginal douches or internal cleansers, as they can disrupt this balance. For optimal hygiene, simply clean the external area with water and, if necessary, mild soap.
Take care when shaving:
As we have seen, trauma to the vulva can increase the risk of irritation or infection. Shaving the intimate area therefore requires special attention to avoid cuts and irritation. To do this, remember to use a clean, sharp blade and shave in the direction of hair growth to minimize risks.
🌈We really like Uny’s shaving cream. It helps fight against attacks on your skin when shaving. This treatment, rich in candeia wood extract, prevents redness and irritation. You can complete it with after-shave cream which helps fight ingrown hairs, all with the wonderful reusable razors from Uny !
Avoid sexual intercourse if irritation occurs:
If you experience any irritation or discomfort, it may be best to avoid sex until the area is completely healed. This will prevent further irritation and give the skin time to regenerate.
🌈To pamper your vulva, Baûbo moisturizing balm will become your best accomplice! Equipped with intense hydration, it will be your solution to soothe and alleviate the daily discomforts linked to your vulva. You can also discover it in a boxed version !
How to relieve vulvar irritation?
Now that we have seen how to prevent these risks, let's see how to relieve the symptoms linked to vulvar irritations.
Hygiene and gentle cleanser
We can't repeat it enough, but choose a gentle, fragrance-free, natural cleanser specifically designed for the intimate area. Remember to dry well, gently patting with a soft cloth, rather than rubbing.
🌈At Gapianne, we fell in love with Jho's organic intimate cleansing gel . In addition to its intoxicating orange blossom scent, this treatment based on shea butter has a pH adapted to your vulva which allows it to be cleansed without unbalancing this area. It's very soft, try it!
Apply aloe vera gel:
Aloe vera gel is known for its soothing properties. Apply it directly to irritated skin as a treatment or lubricant during sexual intercourse. However, make sure it doesn't contain any additives or irritating ingredients!
🌈If you are looking for a natural and moisturizing lubricant, Maude lubricant based on aloe vera is THE lubricant you need!
To help restore and maintain the balance of vaginal flora, consider taking probiotics in capsule or cream form. They can be particularly useful in preventing and treating infections, such as candidiasis, which can sometimes be the cause of irritation.
🌈If you are regularly affected by mycoses, Dijo's natural probiotics to swallow, specifically designed to strengthen the vaginal flora, can help you reduce their occurrence. For increased effectiveness, you can pair it with the Miyé moisturizing intimate gel with prebiotics and probiotics. Say goodbye to the nasty fungus that makes life unpleasant!
Take a sitz bath with lukewarm water:
To soothe irritation, immerse the affected area in a bath of lukewarm water for 10 to 15 minutes. This method is simple and natural but can offer great relief.
Use a cold compress:
Applying a cold compress to the irritated area provides temporary relief by reducing inflammation and slightly numbing the area. We highly recommend it! Be careful, however, not to leave your intimate area wet; remember to dry it well.
Creams and gels:
Soothing creams and gels:
To alleviate feelings of discomfort, many soothing creams and gels are formulated with natural ingredients known for their beneficial properties. In addition to aloe vera, which hydrates and conditions the skin, these creams and gels may contain chamomile, calendula or vitamin E, all renowned for their abilities to soothe, nourish and protect delicate skin. It's essential to choose products without irritating fragrances or additives, and to always check the ingredient list to make sure it's suitable for your skin type and specific needs.
🌈At Gapianne, we really like Jho's intimate moisturizing gel based on hydrosols and floral waters to hydrate and soften the vulva. It is particularly effective against intimate dryness.
Consult a healthcare professional
Consulting a professional when you want to treat vulvar irritation is essential. Not only does this approach ensure a precise diagnosis, avoiding unsuitable treatments which could worsen the situation, but it also allows various causes to be quickly identified, whether it is a simple mechanical irritation or more serious infections. It is important to have informed medical advice. In addition, calling on the expertise of a professional provides you with important information on vulvar health, and ensures appropriate and reassuring care.
Tired of vulvar irritations? Discover our routines for a healthy vulva
At Gapianne, our ambition is to offer you a caring and secure environment, dedicated to your intimate questions. Our objective ? Provide you with solutions that are adapted and respectful of your body. Faced with the inconveniences linked to irritation of the vulva, we have developed specific routines adapted to various origins of this problem. Discover them!
Routine for vaginal dryness
Against intimate dryness, adopt these 3 actions: clean, moisturize, lubricate and find more comfort on a daily basis.
This routine is composed of a cleansing treatment to gently cleanse, a gel to moisturize and rebalance as well as an oil to lubricate and nourish your intimate area.
Anti-mycosis and cystitis routine
As for repeated mycosis and cystitis, we advise you to help your body rebalance its vaginal flora and take care of it. Prebiotics, probiotics and hydration are the key words!
Anti-itching and discomfort routine
To avoid discomfort, we have brought together the must-have natural products to take care of your vulva and prevent irritation. Hydration and respecting the PH of your skin should be at the heart of your concerns.
Sexual comfort routine
For gentle and pain-free sexual intercourse, we recommend this well-being and sexual comfort routine: composed of a lubricating oil to prevent friction, intimate wipes and a moisturizing balm for afterward.
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Nous sommes 4 amies : Jen, Victoire, Anne et Marine. Comme les 34 millions de Françaises, nous avons rencontré différentes problématiques liées à notre intimité. C'est pourquoi nous avons créé Gapianne, une boutique qui propose les meilleures solutions bios, Made in France et non toxiques pour la santé ainsi que des ressources détaillées pour vous accompagner. On fait connaissance ?