Okay ladies. Time to talk about the vulva. That’s right….the vulva. And I don’t mean the Swedish automobile or the parkway in Chesapeake. I am referring to the female external genitals. Just the word ‘vulva’ makes many people cringe with discomfort. There are a slew of monikers for this body part. Over the years we have heard it all, but whether you call it your ‘business’, your ‘ female parts’ or just the succinct ‘ down there’, your vulva deserves a little discussion.
Seinfeld fans may recall the classic episode where Jerry dated a woman and could not remember her name but only that the name rhymed with a part of the female anatomy. It turned out her name was not ‘Mulva’ as he called her, causing her to storm out as the studio audience roared with laughter. So if the vulva is not too taboo for NBC, then it should not be for us, either.
Many lucky women really don’t have to give the vulva much thought because they never have any bothersome vulvar symptoms. And for those lucky women without skin sensitivities, feel blessed. For those of you who suffer from frequent vulvar irritation, itching, burning, redness or other bothersome symptoms-that’s right, you know who you are- I would like to offer some general advice on vulvar health and hygiene that might minimize your troubles.
- When it comes to the vulva, less is more. Meaning that excessive washing, scrubbing, drying, scratching, and general obsessing create more harm then good.
- Save the yummy scented stuff for the rest of your body. Avoid soaps, detergents, liquid cleansers altogether. Wash the vulva with plain warm water in the shower and gently towel dry.
- Moisture is your friend. If the vulva gets too dry, the skin can react negatively.
- When skin becomes red or chaffed or irritated, try a simple barrier protectant ointment, like Aquaphor, to help soothe the area and create moisture.
- Avoid powders to the vulva at all costs because they are drying!!
- When using topical medications, choose ointments rather than creams because creams contain alcohol which sting and also further dry the skin.
- God made the vulva hairy for a reason. Hair helps retain moisture, trap dirt, and protect the delicate mucosal skin of the vagina. If you have no vulvar issues, wear whatever trendy coiffure you like, but if you suffer from vulvar skin problems, go native (so to speak) and your skin will likely improve.
- Yes, your mother was right. Plain white cotton underwear is best. G-strings, thongs, tight fitting panties with lace and other non-breathable fabrics create vulvar skin problems for many women.
- If you choose to go hairless, try to avoid shaving. Shaving the hair flush with the
skin creates folliculitis and ingrown hairs. Clipping the hair short with clippers is a healthier choice.
- If you have recurrent problems that do not respond to the simple vulvar hygiene measures above, please see your physician. Sometimes there can be serious vulvar diseases that require medical evaluation and treatment. We are here to help you.
Stay tuned in upcoming months for more tips on women’s health from us, your friendly gynecologists.
-Reena Talreja-Pelaez, M.D.