Everything You Wanted To Know About Caring For Your Vulva
Dr. Jen Newell ND, recently had the pleasure of recording a podcast with Tabitha and Anis of The After 30 Podcast where they chatted all about the vulva and how to care for it. You can listen here.
VULVA VS VAGINA: LET'S SET THE RECORD STRAIGHT
While vagina has emerged as the term of choice for women's genitalia (excluding, of course, many of the ickier euphemisms, like vajaja and cooter), vulva is actually the correct term for all of the external organs, including the mons pubis (pubic mound), the labia majora and minora, the all-important clitoris, the external openings of the urethra (a.k.a, the hole you pee from) and the vagina.
The vagina is the muscular canal that connects the uterus to the vulva.
Below are Dr. Newell's favourite facts about the vulva.
VULVA FACT #1: HIGH SCHOOL CHEM101 - PH MATTERS
The vulva has a pH of about 5 whereas the vagina has a pH closer to 3.5 - this makes them acidic.
Whereas, soap is typically a pH of 9-10 (alkaline).
For this reason, soap and your vulva aren't compatible. Washing your vulva with soap can disrupt the natural acidic pH and lead to dryness, discomfort and irritation as well as a greater susceptibility to yeast or bacterial infections.
VULVA FACT #2: HORMONAL SHIFTS & YOUR SKIN
The skin of the vulva shifts with hormonal changes. At menopause and even during perimenopause as estrogen levels fall, the skin can thin and become drier, more prone to abrasions.
VULVA FACT #3: PRIVATE PARTS & PIMPLES
There are sweat and sebaceous glands in the vulva so it is possible to develop blackheads and pimples in this region as well as ingrown hairs.
VULVA FACT #4: LAUNDRY & LABIA
The best strategy to promote healthy vulvar skin is the decrease and remove irritating chemicals, excessive moisture and friction. Opt for fragrance-free laundry detergent and avoid fabric softener and dryer sheets, including those that are free of fragrance.
If you are experiencing any irritation or concerns, rinse your laundry twice to remove any detergent residue.
VULVA FACT #5: DRESS FOR SUCCESS
Tight clothing like workout tights and skinny jeans may be irritating to the skin. This can present as itchiness, redness and irritation.
Avoid thongs – they can cause bacteria to be transferred into the vagina or urethra putting the tissue at risk of infection and irritation. White cotton underwear is preferred if you are prone to infections or irritation or if you have an acute concern. Alternatively, another option that we have recently discovered is Huha Mineral Undies.
VULVA FACT #6: DON'T DOUCHE
You do not need to douche, the vagina is a self-cleaning organ and many douches can dry and irritate the delicate tissue. You also do not need feminine hygiene sprays, perfumes or wipes.
Most feminine hygiene products are harmful junk foisted upon women with the underlying subtext that the natural body is gross.
VULVA FACT #7: PREGNANCY & YOUR PRIVATES
Increased blood flow during pregnancy causes a feeling of fullness in the vulva and vagina not unlike feeling a little swollen. It can also lead to a colour change with the tissues appearing more blue-ish than before. Varicosities or veins may be more prevalent on the labia and inner thighs as well (these usually resolve within 6 weeks of delivery).
VULVA FACT #8: POST-PARTUM RESTORATION
Post-partum it is common for the tissue to feel stretched or looser than before and many women ask if their vagina will ever be the same…the answer is “not exactly”. Depending on how much it was stretched, the vaginal opening may return to a point very close to its original structure given enough time and pelvic floor exercises. We highly recommend consulting with a qualified pelvic floor physiotherapist.
VULVA FACT #9: MAINTENANCE IN MENOPAUSE
As we age:
- The vagina and vulva lose thickness. Additionally, the colour of the vulva can change from pink to a paler or darker hue.
- The clitoris can shrink and the labia can loosen
- Like skin anywhere else it becomes thinner and a bit less elastic. That plumpness becomes a bit saggy
- And just like the hair on our heads, the pubic hair may become grey.
Estrogen is the hormone responsible for keeping the vagina and vulva lubricated and elastic. As we get closer to menopause this hormone decreases.
A thinning vaginal wall can cause a host of challenges for women, many of which go unaddressed and assumed to be normal effects of aging. Vaginal atrophy, stress incontinence, irritation, itching and pain associated with intercourse become common symptoms with the onset of menopause.
There are specific moisturizers and lubricants that can help to prevent, treat and soothe vaginal atrophy and the thinning of the skin as we age. We highly recommend talking to your doctor or a qualified Naturopathic Doctor about this as some options available over the counter may contain potential irritants. At CONNECTED our patients have done exceptionally well with the AnteAGE VRS treatments.