Vulva is a term not many may use to talk about our lady parts. But did you know that vulva only means the external area of our genitals?
With their unique makeup and microscopic residents, it’s important to be familiar with what makes up this sensitive area of ours to care for it and protect ourselves from a host of infections and diseases just waiting to happen. A simple itch that you shrug off in the beginning can morph into a serious condition that needs a month-long course of antibiotics.
Which is why shedding some light on vulvovaginal health – one of the biggest players in a women’s health and hygiene – is important; and we’re here to do exactly that! Find everything you need to know about your vulva along with tips and guidelines to level up your care down there, right here in this blog!
The basics of vulva and vagina
It's important to note that the vulva and vagina are two separate but interconnected parts of the female reproductive system.
The vulva is like the gatekeeper to your lady bits – it's the external part of your genitalia that includes the mons pubis, labia majora, labia minora, clitoris, and vaginal opening. It's the area that you can see and touch.
The vagina, on the other hand, is the internal canal that connects the cervix of the uterus to the outside of the body. It's where menstrual blood and vaginal discharge come from, and it's also where sexual intercourse occurs. The vagina naturally produces discharge that gets rid of dead cells and bacteria, so there is no need to clean it with soaps and washes as it is a self-cleaning organ.
But does that mean the same rule applies to the vulva? No.
Understanding the Vulvovaginal Area
The vulva is the first line of defense to protect the female genital tract from infection, which makes it all the more important to understand it and work together with your vulva.
To maintain proper vulvar care, you must understand two important aspects of the vulva that must always remain balanced: the pH (measurements that denote something’s acidity or alkalinity) of the vulvovaginal area, and their bacterial balance.
The pH of the vulva is typically 3.4-4.7, slightly acidic in nature, while the vaginal pH keeps changing with a person's age and the stages of their menstrual cycle.
And about the bacterial balance, we’re still trying to understand what makes a ‘balanced’ bacterial population as the vulvar bacterial population vary greatly among people.
But we do know for sure that the acidic nature of the vulva, the bacterial population, and the vaginal discharge are all components that reduce the likelihood of infections and maintain the health of the vulvovaginal area. Hence, it’s important that you do not disturb these delicate balances, which can be a little hard as everything from feminine hygiene practices, sex, the use of antibiotics, menses, hormone replacement therapy, to even increased sweating can affect this balance.
Vulvar care and hygiene
The rest of this blog lists everything that you can do to keep your vulva and vagina healthy.
Clothing and laundry
- Only go for cotton underwear as it doesn’t trap moisture for the growth of micro-organisms and allows airflow.
- Do not wear pantyhose as it too can trap moisture and heat in the vaginal area. Instead wear thigh-high or knee-high hose instead.
- Wear loose-fitting pants or skirts to allow airflow and reduce the risk of moisture buildup.
- Get out of wet bathing suits or sweaty exercising clothing as soon as possible (for the same reason as the three points above)
- Use dermatologically approved detergents to wash cloths as harsh detergents can irritate the skin and disrupt the natural pH balance of the vulva.
- Double-rinse the underwear or any clothing that comes in contact with the vulva to remove any residual detergent from the washing.
- Avoid using fabric softeners on the underwear or any clothing that comes in contact with the vulva as fabric softeners can contain fragrances and other chemicals that can irritate the skin and disrupt the natural pH balance of the vulva.
- Use soft, white, and unscented toilet paper as they are less likely to irritate the sensitive skin in the vulvar area than colored or scented toilet paper. It is also important to avoid using rough or scratchy paper that can cause skin irritation.
- Avoid getting shampoo on the vulvar area as they can be harsh on the sensitive skin in the vulvar area.
- Avoid bubble baths, perfumed creams or soaps, or intimate female hygiene products as these products can contain harsh chemicals and fragrances that can irritate the vulvar area and disrupt the natural pH balance. BTW, who says your vagina should smell like flowers?
- Luke-warm water is gentle and effective for cleaning the vulva, which also allows the vagina to maintain its natural self-cleaning process. Greatest women’s personal hygiene supporter through and through – water.
- Pat the area dry, rather than rubbing it with a towel.
During and after sex
- Use water-soluble lubricants as oil-based lubricants can damage condoms and increase the risk of infection.
- Urinate after sex and clean the vulva with cool water to flush out any bacteria that may have entered the urethra during sex, reducing the risk of urinary tract infections.
- Do not use contraceptive creams or spermicides as they can contain harsh chemicals that can irritate the vulvar area and disrupt the natural pH balance.
- Limit intense exercises that place direct pressure or create a lot of friction on the vulvar area such as horseback riding and cycling; or use cushioned seats or pads to reduce pressure and friction.
- Use a frozen gel pack wrapped in a towel can help to soothe and reduce inflammation and discomfort in the vulvar area after exercise.
- Stretching and relaxation exercises can help reduce tension and discomfort in the vulvar area after exercises.
- Avoid swimming in highly chlorinated pools.
During your periods
- Do not use scented women’s sanitary pads, tampons, panty liners or other scented women’s hygiene products.
- Avoid using pads or panty liners that seem to trap moisture against the skin.
- Only use menstrual products when necessary and change them frequently to maintain hygiene and reduce the risk of infection.
It’s absolutely not necessary to follow each and every suggestion and tips mentioned above; different situations call for different measures. But by now you must have realized that even though the vulva and vagina are so sensitive and need to be given the utmost care, they are mostly fine by themselves, and that assaulting them with perfumes, soaps, and creams is likely to cause more harm than good.
If you’re worried about the way your vagina looks, smells, and feels, the best place to go is not your local medical store or the internet, but to your doctor. They will provide you with the right information, diagnosis, treatment, and the best course of action. Adios!
November 22, 2022. 8 mins read
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