Your nether region is not the most convenient place for a nasty itch.
Not only can an itch down under be downright embarrassing, but an itchy vulva can also be excruciatingly uncomfortable.
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"The truth is, anywhere on our bodies where there is skin, nerve fibers, hair or hair follicles and sweat glands, there is a potential for itching," says ob-gyn Sheryl A. Ross, MD, author of She-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women's Intimate Health. Period and She-ology The She-quel: Let's Continue the Conversation.
"The vulva [i.e., the outer part of the genitals] can be delicate and temperamental," Dr. Ross adds.
And anything that disrupts the pH balance of this sensitive area can instigate itching and make the vulva (and vagina) a not-so-happy place, she says.
Read on to learn about the most common culprits behind an itchy vulva with no vaginal discharge.
If you experience itching, burning, redness and/or swelling in your vulvar area that lasts longer than a few days or doesn’t respond to over-the-counter remedies, see your doctor, who can properly assess, diagnose and treat you.
1. You Have Vulvar Dermatitis
Your itchy private parts might be a product of vulvar dermatitis, a term used to describe dry, painful or irritated skin in the vulval region, Dr. Ross says.
There's a lengthy laundry list of things that can bring on this uncomfortable condition. Dr. Ross names the most common vulvar irritants here:
- Fragrant soaps, bubble bath liquids, bath salts and talcum powder
- Detergents, fabric softeners and dryer sheets
- Warming gels and scented lubricants
- Nylon underwear or bathing suits
- Latex or rubber-based products, such as diaphragms and condoms
- Saliva or semen
- Spermicides such as foams, creams and jellies
- Feminine hygiene sprays, tampons, deodorant pads and sanitary wipes
- Certain creams or ointments
Fix it: “Treating vulvar dermatitis begins by identifying and removing the cause,” Dr. Ross says. Once you stop using the irritating product, you should feel better.
In the meantime, you can get some relief by using an anti-itch medication, steroid cream or a gentle, fragrance-free moisturizer on the outside of the vulva (don’t place anything inside the vagina), Dr. Ross says.
2. It’s Razor Burn
The root of your itch could be razor burn.
Razor burn — which may include itching, a rash and red bumps — is a byproduct of shaving the skin of the vulva, Dr. Ross says. "It occurs when the razor blade interacts with the skin and hair of this delicate area," she explains.
And often, old blades are to blame for the burn.
"Old razor blades carry unwanted bacteria that can cause razor burns, bumps, acne and other irritations to the skin and hair follicles of the vulva," Dr. Ross says.
Fix it: Follow Dr. Ross’s recommendations to reduce your risk of razor burn:
- Prep your skin: Clean the area before (and after) shaving. And post-shave, apply a gentle, fragrance-free moisturizer to keep the skin hydrated, Dr. Ross says. Lightly exfoliating the skin with a loofah after any kind of hair removal can also help prevent acne and ingrown hairs during the regrowth process, she adds.
- Use antibacterial soaps and lotions: “These are also helpful in protecting this sensitive area against acne and rashes,” Dr. Ross says.
- Clean or replace your razors regularly: “The bathroom can be a reservoir for bacteria, so it is absolutely necessary to clean or replace bathroom items weekly, [especially if you’re using them near your vulva],” Dr. Ross says.
- Avoid alcohol-containing products. These can be drying and irritating to the delicate skin down there.
- Take your time: “Never rush when you have to shave the pubic hair area,” Dr. Ross says. Slow, steady strokes can reduce razor burn.
Excessive sweating could be the source of your scratching below the belt.
"Hot days, exercise and poor undergarment choices all cause the skin and glands of the vulva to sweat," Dr. Ross says.
And a warm, moist environment can be a breeding ground for an itch-inducing infection.
For example, bacteria can build up and lead to irritation, itching, acne, rashes and sores, Dr. Ross says.
Making matters worse, certain kinds of underwear — like those made of cotton — tend to trap sweat on the skin.
Fix it: Keeping the vulva clean and the skin cool and dry will help, Dr. Ross says.
In other words, when your private parts are perspiring profusely, jump in the shower, stat. This will keep things like bad bacteria at bay.
Additionally, opt for breathable, moisture-wicking materials (think: microfiber fabrics, bamboo and spandex) that encourage sweat to evaporate away from the sensitive skin of the vulva.
And “at night, give your vulva a chance to breathe and get rid of the panties altogether,” Dr. Ross says.
4. You Have Vulval Eczema
Wherever there's skin on your body, there's a risk of developing eczema. And the sensitive skin of the vulva is no different.
"Eczema causes an inflammatory change leading to red, sore areas on the skin, including the vulva," Dr. Ross says. And this inflammation can instigate itchiness.
Fix it: “Using an oral anti-histamine, topical anti-itch cream, moisturizer, cool compresses and taking a warm bath are all helpful” to relieve an eczema-related rash, Dr. Ross says.
Also, try not to scratch (easier said than done, we know). While scratching may supply immediate satisfaction, it just further irritates the area, which can become inflamed or even infected if you break the skin.
When the itching is excessive or unbearable, consider going commando, Dr. Ross says. Keeping the vulva cool and unrestricted by clothes (which can rub and exacerbate your rash) will help soothe your symptoms, she explains.
5. You Have Psoriasis
Like eczema, psoriasis is another common inflammatory skin condition that can affect the vulva.
"Regardless of where psoriasis is located on the body, persistent, itchy skin is one of the most common disruptive symptoms," Dr. Ross says.
You may also notice a rash with scaly patches.
Fix it: Once again, “keeping the skin moisturized and well ventilated is important,” Dr. Ross says. “Anti-itch creams, avoiding stress and not scratching are also useful strategies to prevent itching,” she adds.
6. It's Lichen Sclerosus
While it's less common, there's a chance your itchy labia could be linked to lichen sclerosus, a chronic skin condition that causes the skin of the vulva to become thin and dry, Dr. Ross says.
Though anyone can get lichen sclerosus, postmenopausal people are more prone, according to the Mayo Clinic. This increased risk may be due in part to an imbalance of hormones, which might contribute to the development of this disorder.
In addition to itchiness, other possible symptoms of lichen sclerosus include, per the Mayo Clinic:
- Discomfort or pain
- Smooth white patches on your skin
- Blotchy, wrinkled patches
- Tearing or bleeding
- In severe cases, bleeding, blistering or ulcerated sores
- Painful sex
Fix it: “Hydrating the skin with a moisturizer made especially for the vulva [that’s recommended by your ob-gyn] or bathing in extra-virgin coconut oil is helpful,” Dr. Ross says. In addition, “using a gentle steroid cream daily will help reduce inflammation and curb the itch,” she says.
7. You Have Pubic Lice
Though it might give you the heebie-jeebies, creepy crawlies could be the cause of your vulvar itch.
Easily transferred by close physical contact like sex, "lice, or crabs, can live in any area of the body with hair, including pubic hair," Dr. Ross says.
"Intense itching of the skin of the vulva occurs as a result of an allergic reaction from the saliva of the lice," she adds.
Fix it: See your doctor, who can prescribe a medicated shampoo or cream to kill the lice, Dr. Ross says.
8. It's Genital Herpes
Like pubic lice, genital herpes — which is primarily transmitted through sexual contact — can also induce an insistent itch in your vulva.
Caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV), genital herpes is characterized by itching, pain, small red or white blisters, ulcers and scabs on the skin, Dr. Ross says.
Fix it: While there’s no cure for herpes, the infection is treatable with anti-viral medications along with steroid cream to combat the itching, Dr. Ross says.
9. You Have a Yeast Infection
When you hear yeast infection, the first thing that likely comes to mind is a cottage cheese-like discharge. But these itch-inducing infections can also occur in the absence of abnormal discharge.
Indeed, "yeast infections are the most common cause of an itchy vulva, also known as vaginitis," Dr. Ross says.
Another telltale sign is swelling.
Fix it: “Seeing your health care provider to get a vaginal culture is always the first step in knowing how to treat the symptoms quickly and efficiently,” Dr. Ross says. “If the vaginal culture is positive for yeast, appropriate oral or vaginal medication can be given along with antifungal and anti-itch vulva cream to give symptomatic relief."
10. Your Skin Is Irritated From Sanitary Pads
"The worst thing you can do for the skin of the vulva is wear a sanitary pad or panty liner every day to collect accidental loss of urine or normal vaginal discharge," Dr. Ross says.
When worn daily, sanitary pads and panty liners can disrupt and irritate the skin of the vulva, triggering a damaging "scratch-itch" cycle, Dr. Ross says.
That's because "many [pads] are scented with fragrances or contain synthetic materials with chemicals that cause skin dryness and irritation," which can lead to chronic itching of this delicate area, Dr. Ross explains.
OK, but what about fragrance-free products that are made from natural materials? "Even the most organic and natural panty liners can disrupt the delicate skin of the vulva," she says.
Fix it: Forego frequent use of feminine napkins, wearing them only to collect period blood as needed, Dr. Ross says. And if you prefer pads during your monthly menses, soaking in a warm-water bath with extra-virgin coconut oil can help soothe and moisturize the skin of the vulva (and prevent possible itching), she adds.
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.