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What Causes Dry Skin Outside the Vagina?

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Last updated June 18, 2022

Dry vaginal skin quiz

Take a quiz to find out what's causing your dry vaginal skin.

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.

Dry vaginal skin quiz

Take a quiz to find out what's causing your dry vaginal skin.

Take dry vaginal skin quiz

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.

Irritating chemicals

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.

Hair removal

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.

Infectious causes

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.

Skin conditions

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.

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.

Rarity: Common

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

Urgency: Self-treatment

Dry vaginal skin quiz

Take a quiz to find out what's causing your dry vaginal skin.

Take dry vaginal skin quiz

Yeast infection

A vaginal yeast infection, also called genital/vulvovaginal candidiasis, is actually caused by the fungus Candida albicans and is very common. The organism is a normal inhabitant of the mouth, gastrointestinal tract, and vagina.

Antibiotics can kill off the healthy bacteria in the vagina, allowing overgrowth of the fungus. Women who are pregnant, on the birth control pill, or diabetic are more prone to yeast infections, as are those who have weakened immune systems. It can also be transmitted through sex or through mouth-to-genital contact.

Symptoms include itching, burning, pain, and soreness inside the vagina and on the external tissues (the vulva,) and a thick, white vaginal discharge.

If not treated, the yeast infection can become "complicated," severe, and difficult to cure.

Most yeast infections are diagnosed simply through the patient's description of symptoms. Recurrent infections may be diagnosed through pelvic examination and vaginal swab.

Treatment often is just an over-the-counter cream, though oral anti-fungal medications are sometimes prescribed.

Vaginal trichomonas infection

Trichomonas vaginalis infection (or "Trichomoniasis" or "trich") is a common sexually transmitted disease caused by a parasite of the same name. It affects over 3 million people per year, but only about 30% have any symptoms.

You should go see your primary care doctor in the coming days. He or she may order a number of tests to identify if the bug is actually the cause of your symptoms. Treatment involves prescription metronidazole or tinidazole.

Non-specific skin rash

Nonspecific skin rash means any sort of unexplained outbreak on the skin.

Common causes of rash are contact dermatitis, sun damage, or allergic reaction. However, many rashes are a symptom of disease and should not be ignored.

Nonspecific rashes have widely varied symptoms:

  • May be flat and smooth; slightly raised or with swollen welts; clean and dry; or blistered and oozing.
  • May spread widely over the body, or be confined to one site.
  • May appear after eating certain foods; or after exposure to certain plants or to insect stings or bites.
  • Other symptoms may be present, including pain anywhere in the body; nausea; vomiting; fever; headache; or abdominal pain and upset.

Diagnosis is made through patient history and physical examination to determine the exact type, location, and history of the rash, along with any other symptoms that may be present.

Those symptoms will be investigated with blood tests or imaging. Skin swabs may be taken and tested. After the process has ruled out as many causes as possible, a course of treatment can be determined.

Lichen sclerosus

Lichen sclerosus is a rare skin condition that can occur on any part of the body but usually affects the vulva, penis, and anus.

The cause is unknown. It may be an autoimmune disease linked to a hormone imbalance and may start with skin that was previously damaged.

Lichen sclerosus is not contagious and is not considered an STD (sexually transmitted disease.)

Most susceptible are children; women after menopause; and uncircumcised men.

Symptoms include thin, fragile skin with patches of white. There may be pain and severe itching, sometimes with bruising, bleeding, and ulceration.

It is important to seek treatment from a medical provider, because lichen sclerosus has been associated with skin cancer. It can also make sexual intercourse very painful for both men and women.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination and skin biopsy.

In children, symptoms often improve at puberty. For mild cases in adults, no treatment is necessary. But if the condition interferes with quality of life, corticosteroid creams can be tried. In some cases, circumcision is recommended for male patients.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: vaginal itch or burning, vaginal pain, painful sex, dry skin on the outside of the vagina, painful urination

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Irritant contact dermatitis of the vagina

Irritant contact dermatitis of the vagina is a condition that causes the skin of the vagina to become red, sore, or irritated after coming in contact with a substance one or many times. Some substances that can cause this include water, soap, powders, cream, and clothing. Other symptoms include blistering, dry skin, sores, and swelling.

Avoid using products that may irritate your vagina. In particular, stay away from douching and using vaginal washes.

Rarity: Common

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

Urgency: Self-treatment

Eczema (atopic dermatitis)

Atopic dermatitis, also called eczema, dermatitis, atopic eczema, or AD, is a chronic skin condition with an itchy rash.

AD is not contagious. It is caused by a genetic condition that affects the skin's ability to protect itself from bacteria and allergens.

AD is most often seen in infants and young children. Most susceptible are those with a family history of AD, asthma, or hay fever.

Infants will have a dry, scaly, itchy rash on the scalp, forehead, and cheeks. Older children will have the rash in the creases of elbows, knees, and buttocks.

Without treatment, a child may have trouble sleeping due to the intense itching. Constant scratching may cause skin infections and the skin may turn thickened and leathery.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination, patient history, and allergen skin tests.

AD cannot be cured, but can be controlled through prescribed medications, skin care, stress management, and treatment of food allergies. Those with AD often have allergies to milk, nuts, and shellfish. Keeping the skin clean and moisturized helps prevent flareups.

Dry vaginal skin quiz

Take a quiz to find out what's causing your dry vaginal skin.

Take dry vaginal skin quiz

Bacterial vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis is an inflammation of the vagina due to overgrowth of the bacteria which are normally present.

It is not considered an STD (sexually transmitted disease) but nearly all cases are found in women after unprotected sexual contact, especially with multiple partners.

Frequent douching is also a factor.

Male partners do not carry this condition, but it can spread between female partners.

Common symptoms include an itchy, foul-smelling discharge that may look grayish or greenish, as well as burning during urination. However, some women have no symptoms.

The greatest risks of bacterial vaginosis are secondary. The symptoms can be similar to actual STDs and so should not be ignored. This condition makes a woman more vulnerable to actual STDs, as well as to pelvic inflammatory disease and to infections following any gynecologic surgery.

Pregnant women with bacterial vaginosis are at risk for premature or low-birth-weight babies.

Diagnosis is made through symptoms, and/or pelvic exam and vaginal swab.

Treatment consists of oral medication, and sometimes a cream or gel that is inserted into the vagina.

Atrophic vaginitis

Atrophic vaginitis is a condition causing dryness of the vagina. It is caused by a drop in estrogen levels, which happens due to menopause, stress, medication side effects, and childbirth. Other symptoms include painful sex and vaginal soreness.

You should consider visiting a medical professional to discuss your symptoms. Atrophic vaginitis is evaluated with a review of your symptoms and a pelvic exam. Once diagnosed, it can be treated with estrogen replacement, moisturizers, and lubricants. Avoiding douching and perfumes may help dryness from worsening.

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.

At-home treatments

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

Prevention

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.

Hear what 1 other is saying
Menstrual chafingPosted April 6, 2020 by K.
So I’m not sure what is going on with my vulva health anymore. I recently just got off my menstrual cycle. While on I only wore pads. I started to experience irritation. When I checked I noticed that the blood had started to dry onto my lips. Very confused about how it happened. I would check every 3 hours as I was paranoid due to my consistent change of pads. I would wipe the blood of carefully with wipes until I showered. With wiping I felt a stinging sensation. I looked and the area was red. I thought it would calm down once I got off my cycle. Now that I am off, I checked and the skin that was red has now turned a slight shade difference than my regular color. The skin is hard and flaky. I’m not sexually active. The skin doesn’t hurt when touched. I accidentally took a few flakes off. They do not hurt. I just don't know how to return my skin to normal. It doesn’t sting. I just don't want flaky scab skin down there. Please share any advice. Upon research, the best I could come up with was chafing due to period and pad. But I am not sure. I also found no information on treating.
Dr. Rothschild has been a faculty member at Brigham and Women’s Hospital where he is an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He currently practices as a hospitalist at Newton Wellesley Hospital. In 1978, Dr. Rothschild received his MD at the Medical College of Wisconsin and trained in internal medicine followed by a fellowship in critical care medicine. He also received an MP...
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