What a gynecologist wants you to know about skincare for your vulva and vagina

Intimate wellness and feminine care is having a moment. Popping up on pharmacy and supermarket shelves, there’s masks, oils, creams and washes – but is it safe? Gynaecologist Dr Amy Goh explains what you should know before using vulva-care beauty products. 

It’s no secret the v-beauty category has exploded, there’s sheet masks for ‘down there’, pubic hair oils, creams and washes all designed to be used on our delicate areas. Even period protection has had a much-needed major modern makeover.

But as the category continues to grow and evolve it can also become more confusing. ‘Do I really need a five-step-skincare routine for below my belt?’ and ‘What’s the difference between my body wash and a vulva-wash, really?’ are often thoughts that pop in to my own mind. Of course, it’s a personal choice, but to help you navigate and understand intimate care a little better, we asked Gynaecologist Dr Amy Goh for her expert opinion.

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First things first, your vulva and your vagina are different

The terms ‘vulva’ and ‘vagina’ are often used interchangeably when referring to the female genitalia but are actually describing two different areas.

What is the vulva?

Refers to the external genitalia, i.e. all the parts outside of the body, including the labia majora and minora, the clitoris – the vulva vestibule, the area enclosed by the labia minora – several glands open into the vestibule and help to keep the area lubricated including the Bartholin’s glands – the urethral meatus where the urethra (the tube that transports urine from the bladder out of the body) exits (where you urinate from), and the vaginal orifice, or the entry into the vagina.

The skin over the vulva is similar to, but thinner than skin over the rest of the body and so is more sensitive and more susceptible to irritation. Because it is the same skin as the rest of the body, it also means that skin conditions on the rest of the body can also occur on the vulva, e.g. psoriasis and vitiligo.

Every woman’s vulva is different and it is important for us to understand that. There is no set definition or normal appearance when it comes to the vulva, including colour, size, shape, and amount of hair. Furthermore, the appearance of the vulva changes depending on where a woman is in her menstrual cycle, if she has had vaginal births, if she is post-menopausal, or even if she has gained weight.

Ok, then what is the vagina?

Refers to the tube connecting the uterus (womb) to the external genitals; it is an internal organ and is often referred to as ‘the birth canal’. The vagina is made of elastic, muscular tissue. It is approximately seven centimetres long, and can expand in both width and length depending on sexual arousal or during birth. The vagina allows for sexual intercourse, childbirth, and menstruation (periods).

Whilst the vulva and vagina are considered as two distinct areas, their health and hygiene are closely related and often have an impact on each other.

V-beauty should be for external-use, only

It’s important to note the vagina is self-cleaning, it has its own bacteria and ecosystem that changes throughout a menstrual cycle, and throughout a woman’s life. Intimate beauty products for vulva-care are designed to be applied on the external vulva skin only. If they are inserted into the vagina it can change the vaginal ecosystem, upsetting the delicate pH balance. In addition, vaginal skin is different to and a lot more sensitive than vulva skin.

Dr Goh’s top V-care tips:

  • It’s important to wash the outside of the vagina, AKA the vulva – at least once a day with lukewarm water and a mild cleanser. Avoid cleaning the inside of the vagina because it is designed to keep itself clean with the help of natural secretions. This can disrupt the pH and create an environment where abnormal bacteria and yeast can thrive.
  • Wash from front to back—never the other way around. Cleaning your anus first may lead bacteria to enter the vagina causing urinary tract infections and vaginal infections. After cleansing the sweat or bacteria off your vulva skin, rinse thoroughly then pat dry. When showering, water can prevent product entering the vagina and remove any sweat or bacteria.
  • Don’t use a sponge on the vulva as it is likely to harbour bacteria or mould that can do harm to your vulva.

Try:

Synk Organic Not Just a Pussy Wash, $27.95, at Synk Organic

Fig Femme Revive Hydrating Mist, $17, at Fig Femme

Lady Suite Probiotic Refreshing Cleanser for Harmony Down South, $26, at Adore Beauty

Intimina Feminine Moisturiser, $12.95, at Adore Beauty

Our expert: Dr Amy Goh [BA, MBBS (Hons), MPhil (Medicine), FRANZCOG] is a specialist Obstetrician and Gynaecologist at Westmead Hospital, and an Advanced Gynaecological Surgeon as endorsed by the Australasian Gynaecological Endoscopy Surgery Society (AGES). Dr Goh is also an advisor to Synk Organic.

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