Vulvar skin care guidelines

The goal is to promote healthy vulvar skin. This is done by decreasing and removing chemicals, moisture, or rubbing (friction). We suggest these products and practices because of their past success in helping to lessen or relieve vulvar/vaginal burning, irritation, or itching.

Laundry products

  • Use the detergent brand All Free Clear™ on all laundry that goes into your washer:
    • Use it for each load all the time. Do not use other detergents or substitute back and forth with others.
    • Use 1/3 to 1/2 of the suggested amount of detergent per load.
    • If you have a high efficiency washer, use the smallest amount of detergent you can. Rinse your clothes 2 times.
  • Do not use fabric softeners or dryer sheets in the washer or dryer. Even those that advertise as “free.”
    • You can use dryer balls to help soften clothes.
    • Do not use wool dryer balls.
  • You must hand wash your underwear if you use a shared washer or dryer (such as a laundromat, apartment or dorm).
    • Use All Free Clear™ and line dry your underwear.

Stain removing products and bleach 

  • If you have used a stain removing product:
    • Soak and rinse in clear water all underwear and towels on which you have used it. 
    • Then wash in your regular washing cycle using All Free Clear™.
    • This removes as much of the product as you can.

Clothing

  • Wear white, all cotton underwear. Cotton lets air in and moisture out. 
  • Do not wear nylon underwear with a cotton crotch. 
  • Do not wear thongs. 
  • Do not wear underwear when sleeping at night. 
    • Loose fitting cotton boxers or cotton pajama bottoms are fine.
  • Do not wear pantyhose. 
  • If you must wear pantyhose:
    • Cut out the diamond crotch. Be sure to leave about 1/4 inch of fabric from the seam to keep it from running.
    • Wear thigh high hose. Many stores now carry thigh high hose.
  • Do not wear tight clothing, mainly clothing made of synthetic fabrics. 
  • Take off wet bathing and exercise clothing as soon as you can.

Bathing

  • Do not use bath soaps, lotions, or gels that have perfumes. These may smell nice, but they can be irritating.
    • Many baby products and feminine hygiene products marked "gentle" or "mild" can have perfumes. 
  • We suggest you and all sexual partners use these soaps:
    • Dove for Sensitive Skin™
    • Neutrogena™
    • Basis™
    • Aveeno™
    • Pears™
  • Do not use soap directly on the vulvar skin.
    • Use warm water and your hand to keep the vulvar area clean without irritating the skin.
  • Do not use bubble bath, bath salts, and scented oils.
    • You may put a neutral (unscented) oil or lotion to damp skin after getting out of the tub or shower. 
  • Do not put lotion on your vulva.
  • Do not scrub vulvar skin with a washcloth. Wash with your hand and warm water.
  • Pat dry rather than rubbing with a towel. Or, use a hair dryer on a cool setting to dry the vulva.

Baking soda soaks

  • Soak in lukewarm (not hot) bath water with 4 to 5 tablespoons of baking soda to help soothe vulvar itching and burning. 
  • Soak 1 to 3 times a day for 10 minutes. 
  • If you are using a sitz bath, use 1 to 2 teaspoons of baking soda.

Hygiene

  • Use white, unscented toilet paper.
    • Do not use toilet paper with aloe.
    • Pat dry instead of wiping.
  • Do not douche. Baking soda soaks or rinsing with warm water will help rinse away extra discharge and help with odor.
  • Do not shave or use hair removal products on the vulvar area.
    • You may use scissors to trim the pubic hair close to the vulva.
    • You can choose to have laser hair removal.

Feminine hygiene

  • Do not use feminine hygiene sprays, perfumes, adult, or baby wipes.
    • You can use Tucks (witch hazel) hemorrhoid pads. Pour out the extra witch hazel and put mineral oil into the container.
    • You can use WaterWipes™.
    • If peeing causes your skin to feel burning, pour lukewarm water over the vulva while you pee to dilute the urine.
  • Do not use deodorized pads and tampons.
  • You can use tampons when your blood flow is heavy and able to soak 1 tampon in 4 hours or less.
    • Tampons are safe for most women.
    • If you wear them too long or when the blood flow is light, you may get vaginal infections, more discharge, odor, or rarely, toxic shock syndrome.
  • Use pads that have a cotton liner that touches your skin.
    • Do not use pads with a nylon mesh weave.
      • Nylon traps moisture. It keeps blood and discharge against your skin longer.
    • We suggest using Stayfree™, Carefree™, or 7th Generation™.
    • For urine leakage, use a pad designed to collect urine.

Ointments and creams

  • Do not use over-the-counter creams or ointments until you ask your health care provider.
    • Buy ointments that are paraben-free and fragrance-free.
  • You can use a skin protectant on your vulva as often as you need. We suggest that you use a thin layer of:
    • Extra virgin olive oil
    • Vegetable oil
    • Coconut oil
    • Zinc oxide ointment
    • White petrolatum (Vaseline™)
  • You can put this on as often as you need to protect the skin.
  • It also helps to lower skin irritation during your period and when you pee.

Staying dry

For women who have problems with chronic dampness: 

  • Do not wear pads daily.
  • Choose cotton fabrics when you can.
  • Keep an extra pair of underwear with you and change if you become damp.
  • Gold Bond™ or Zeasorb (AF) ™ powder may be put on the vulva and groin area 1 to 2 times per day to help absorb moisture.
  • Do not use powders that have cornstarch.

Sex

  • You can help dryness and irritation during sex by using a lubricant.
    • Silicone-based lubricants such as Uberlube™ work well.
  • Use a small amount of a pure vegetable oil (solid, liquid, or extra virgin olive oil). These oils have no chemicals to irritate vulvar/vaginal skin. Vegetable oils will rinse away with water and will not raise your chances of infection. 
  • Over-the-counter water-based lubricants tend to dry out before sex is over.
    • This can cause small tears in your vagina.
    • They may have chemicals that can irritate your vulvar skin.
  • It may be helpful to use a non-lubricated, non-spermicidal condom, and use vegetable oil as the lubricant. This will help keep the semen off the skin and can decrease burning and irritation after sex.

Birth control options

  • Low-dose oral birth control pills do not raise your chances of getting a yeast infection.
  • Lubricated and/or spermicidal condoms, contraceptive jellies, creams, or sponges may cause itching and burning.
  • We suggest you use latex condoms with vegetable oil as a lubricant to protect your skin.
  • Condoms used with petroleum-based lubricants may not work as well when used for birth control or to keep from getting sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
  • We have not found this to be a problem with vegetable-based oils.
    • But, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that condoms not be used with any oil-based lubricants for birth control or prevention of STIs.
Last reviewed: 
March 2020

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