What Causes Dry Skin Outside the Vagina?
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If you are experiencing dry itchy vaginal lips, or dry scabbing skin on the outside of your vagina, this could be from using irritating chemicals for hygiene or hair removal. A dry rash on the outside of the vagina can also be a sign of a skin infection or STD. Read below for more associated symptoms and treatment options.
External vaginal dryness and itching symptoms
You've tried to ignore it, but that bothersome flake and itch won't go away. It's become increasingly distracting, and feel embarrassed — but fear not, this is a common problem. Environmental irritants are often to blame, though there are many possible causes. See a physician for dry skin that persists in this area or if you experience other concerning symptoms.
Common accompanying symptoms of dry skin on the outside of the vagina
If you're experiencing dry vaginal skin, it's likely to also experience:
Why does the outside of your vagina itch
Though in a sensitive area, the skin around the vagina is much like skin in other parts of the body and is vulnerable to skin conditions that may occur anywhere else. The following details may help you better understand your symptoms and if and when you need to see a physician.
A chemical or hygiene product you apply to the skin around your vagina may cause dryness.
- Wipes: Though wipes make some people feel extra clean, the chemicals they contain can be irritating. If you do choose to use wipes, be sure they are designed for sensitive areas and not for household cleaning.
- Bleaching: Some women may choose to bleach the area around the vagina, and these chemicals can be extremely irritating.
- Spermicide: These creams and foams act as a form of birth control by killing sperm as they enter the vagina, though they are also not so friendly to the skin outside the vagina.
- Douching: While the cleansing feeling and perfumes can be tempting, douching causes more problems than it's worth.
- Lubricant: Some personal lubricants contain irritating chemicals, colors or scents.
- Condoms: Standard condoms contain latex, which can cause an allergy in some people. The good news is that there are alternative kinds.
Removing hair from around the vagina — or the products used to do so — may be part of the cause of dryness.
- Depilatories: Popular products like Nair remove hair without shaving or waxing, but they can cause skin irritation, especially if you don't follow directions.
- Shaving: This popular method of hair removal creates small nicks in the skin, which can lead to irritation or infection, especially if done with an old blade or without moisturizing.
- Waxing: Though effective in removing hair for longer periods, waxing is painful, removes the skin's natural protective layer, and causes irritation, especially it not done with the proper aftercare.
Infection can lead to dry skin around the vagina, such as the following.
- Skin infection: Sometimes bacteria can build up in our private areas, penetrate the skin, and cause infection. The hair follicles and glands are particularly susceptible.
- Sexually transmitted infections: Certain STIs like herpes or genital warts are particularly irritating to the skin.
- Yeast infection: This uncomfortable infection is caused by a fungus that likes dark, warm and moist areas, including the skin around the vagina.
Certain skin conditions can manifest as dryness.
- Allergy: Certain people may be allergic to detergents or fabrics in underwear. Eczema is also a type of allergic skin condition.
- Autoimmune condition: Diagnoses like psoriasis have characteristic skin findings that usually affect other parts of the body but can sometimes affect the area around the vagina.
This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.
Irritant contact dermatitis of the vagina
Contact irritant dermatitis of the vagina occurs when there is an irritant of some sort that causes damage to the skin. The irritation is often caused by friction or chemicals.
Top Symptoms: vaginal itch or burning, vulvovaginal redness, vaginal discharge, urinary changes
Symptoms that always occur with irritant contact dermatitis of the vagina: vaginal itch or burning
Symptoms that never occur with irritant contact dermatitis of the vagina: urinary changes, vaginal discharge
Lichen sclerosus is chronic skin condition in which a person forms patches of white, wrinkly, thin skin, often described as being like "cigarette paper." Most people with this condition will experience it on their anus and genital regions, and some will experience it on other parts of their body.
The primary symptom of lichen sclerosus is the presence of skin changes as well as bruising, bleeding, inflammation, itching and pain in the affected areas.
The condition slowly progresses over time without treatment. Lichen sclerosus is benign but can cause significant discomfort and disfigurement. Treatment options include topical and oral medications, phototherapy, and circumcision in men to remove damaged skin.
Top Symptoms: vaginal itch or burning, vaginal pain, painful sex, dry skin on the outside of the vagina, painful urination
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Eczema (atopic dermatitis) is a non-contagious chronic skin condition that produces an itchy rash. It is caused by a genetic condition that affects the skin's ability to protect itself from bacteria and allergens. The most susceptible are those with a family hi...
Atrophic vaginitis is a common condition that may affect up to 47% of postmenopausal women. It occurs due to low levels of estrogen which can be caused by menopause, medical treatments, and hormonal conditions, among other things.
Symptoms of atrophic vaginitis include vaginal dry...
Symptoms of menopause
Menopause is the name for the natural process by which the menstrual cycle (period) stops happening in a woman. Usually, the process is gradual (takes months or years) and occurs from the age of 45 to 55 years. Menopause is officially diagnosed once a woman stops having a period for 12 months continuously. A woman with menopause will notice a decrease in the number and regularity of her periods until they completely stop. In addition, she may notice a number of symptoms that occur as a result of decreased estrogen levels, such as hot flashes, changes in mood, sleep problems, vaginal dryness, changes in libido, and changes in sexual function. Certain medications exist that can decrease these symptoms.
Top Symptoms: fatigue, delay in or irregular periods, vaginal discharge, anxiety, trouble sleeping
Symptoms that always occur with symptoms of menopause: delay in or irregular periods
How to treat external vaginal itching
When it comes to the skin outside your vagina, prevention is a big part of keeping the area healthy. At-home treatments can provide relief in many cases. For more severe or persistent issues, see a gynecologist.
The following treatments can be tried at home to address your dry vaginal skin.
- Hold off on shaving or waxing: If you're experiencing irritation down there, don't add to the problem by prioritizing grooming over your health.
- Moisturize: Choose an over-the-counter cream or lotion that is free of colors and perfumes. Try to moisturize at least twice per day.
- Personal lubricant: Since some can be irritating, choose a brand that has worked for you in the past, if possible.
When to see a doctor
If at-home treatments are not enough, see your physician. He or she may recommend the following.
- Pelvic examination: A gynecologist can examine the area with special lights and tools to determine what might be causing your problem.
- Prescription creams and lotions: These medications can target your specific symptoms as determined by your doctor.
- Biopsy: Your doctor may take a small sample of your skin and send it to a laboratory for further examination under a microscope.
When it is an emergency
Seek help without delay if you have:
- High fever
- Quickly spreading redness or swelling
- Excessive vaginal bleeding
- Severe pain: Especially if it radiates to your belly or back
The following methods may help control your symptoms.
- Avoid irritating chemicals: Leave the Nair on the shelf and resist the urge to douche the vaginal area.
- Try a new detergent: Certain chemicals in laundry soap irritate sensitive areas, so it can't hurt to make a swap if you're experiencing discomfort.
- Wear well-fitting, cotton underwear: Synthetic fabrics don't breathe, especially if they're too tight or too loose.
- Change condoms or lubricant: If these items are a normal part of your routine, certain varieties contain irritating ingredients.
Questions your doctor may ask about dry skin on the outside of the vagina
- Are you sexually active?
- Do you feel pain when you urinate?
- Have you ever had a yeast infection?
- When was your last menstrual period?
Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.
Dr. Wilkinson received his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania and his BA from Princeton University where he was the Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Princetonian. He is currently a resident in psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco. Outside of the hospital, Jack worked as an editor at The JoongAng Daily of South Korea and a freelance writer.