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Vulvar Dermatitis

Amanda Olson - DPT
Medically Reviewed By Dr. Amanda Olson, DPT, PRPC

When itching, irritation, inflammation, or redness occurs on the soft skin folds around the opening of the vagina, it could be a case of vulvar dermatitis or vulvitis.

The sensitive skin of the vulva can become irritated for a few reasons, but the good news is, it can be easily treated. Read on for more info on vulvar dermatitis, the symptoms, and proper care suggestions.  

Vulvar Dermatitis – What Is It?

Dermatitis is a common skin condition that can occur anywhere on the body and results in itchy, dry inflamed skin. It is usually caused by damp clothing, humidity, or a reaction to irritants like bacteria, yeast, fragranced hygiene products, or fabrics.

Because the skin folds of the vagina maintain a moist and warm environment, this area can be prone to irritation or infection, often leading to what is referred to as vulvar dermatitis or vulvitis.

Vulvar dermatitis happens to women of all ages; however, research has shown that pre-menstrual teenagers and post-menopausal women are most likely to suffer from it. 

What Causes Vulvar Dermatitis?

As well as resulting from an allergic reaction to irritants like scented soaps, washing detergent, clothing fabrics, spermicides, condoms, and hygiene products, vulvar dermatitis can also be caused by other skin conditions, bacterial infections, sexually transmitted infections, as well as hormonal medications.  

Women with eczema or psoriasis, for example, can be more susceptible to vulvar dermatitis, to the point that they may have eczema or psoriasis on one part of the body and dermatitis around the vulva. A Yeast infection, bacterial vaginosis (BV), and a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that alters the vaginal pH can also lead to vulvar dermatitis.

Hormonal medications like birth control pills, which can sometimes cause yeast infections can also be a culprit. Lastly, a rare form of cancer called vulvar cancer can be behind the persistent itching associated with vulvar dermatitis. 

Vulvar Dermatitis Symptoms

The most common symptoms of vulvar dermatitis include persistent itching, swelling, redness, and a burning sensation in the skin folds around the opening of the vagina, in addition to general discomfort and pain during sex. 

However, depending on what caused your case of vulvar dermatitis, you may also experience additional symptoms that are specific to certain conditions. 

If vulvar dermatitis is caused by a yeast infection, for instance, then symptoms will generally include a white lumpy cottage cheese-like vaginal discharge along with the itchy, red, inflamed skin of the vulva.

When vulvar dermatitis is a result of a sexually transmitted infection (STI) such as trichomoniasis, chlamydia, herpes, or gonorrhea then symptoms may include a high fever. Bumps and painful blisters on the vulva can also occur when vulvar dermatitis is caused by STIs, bacterial infections, and yeast infections.  

Does Vulvar Dermatitis Go Away on Its Own?

It depends on what caused your case of vulvar dermatitis. For instance, if it stemmed from an allergic reaction to a product or fabric, symptoms will gradually ease once you cease using the irritant and eventually disappear. However, when vulvar dermatitis is caused by an infection, it is usually necessary to schedule an appointment with a doctor for medication. 

Home Remedies for Vulvar Dermatitis 

The good news is, most cases of vulvar dermatitis can be treated at home. Allergic reactions to hygiene products, detergents, spermicides, condoms, or clothing fabrics, for example, will begin to ease once you stop using the product and any irritation or vulvar itching normally disappears within two weeks.   

A cold compress or an ice pack wrapped in a cotton towel, placed on the vulva will relieve irritation and reduce swelling while you heal. Additionally, over-the-counter antihistamines can help ease persistent itching.  

Other home treatments include gently washing the vagina once or twice per day with unscented soap and warm water. Pat the sensitive area dry rather than rubbing it, and apply an unscented, organically made moisturizer to soothe the skin.

This Enchanted Rose Natural Vaginal Moisturizer, specifically created by Intimate Rose, is perfect to treat irritated skin from vulvar dermatitis.  

When to See Your Doctor

Over-the-counter ointments and anti-fungal creams can help to clear vulvar dermatitis associated with a yeast infection, however, if symptoms do not pass completely within two weeks it is best to seek treatment from your doctor. 

Vulvar dermatitis caused by BV, an STI, or another skin condition always requires medication prescribed by your health care provider to treat the infection and relieve symptoms.   

As a general rule, should you experience fever, chills, foul-smelling vaginal discharge, or a burning sensation when urinating, it is time to see your doctor. 

Preventing Vulvar Dermatitis

While vulvar dermatitis can’t always be prevented, there are precautions you can take to reduce the risk of it developing. 

  • Using unscented soaps and detergents helps prevent irritation from allergic reactions, as does using naturally-made hygiene products. 
  • Practicing safe sex decreases the risk of developing vulvar dermatitis from a sexually transmitted infection, however, do try to avoid condoms or spermicides that contain harsh lubricants. 
  • Ditch the tight-fitting clothes that could cause overheating or a build-up of humid moisture around the vaginal area and wear loose pants made from breathable cotton instead.  
  • Wash the vagina and surrounding area with unscented soap and warm water at least once a day. 
  • Use a natural vaginal moisturizing cream like Enchanted Rose Natural Vaginal Moisturizer, by Intimate Rose at the first sign of irritation or itching.
  • Always remove bathing suits immediately after swimming or damp clothing after a workout to avoid a build-up of moisture or humidity.

Conclusion

Vulvar dermatitis is a common condition that is usually caused by an allergic reaction to irritating products, other existing skin conditions, or vaginal infections.

It generally results in red, itchy, inflamed skin on the vulva, and while not all cases can be treated at home, most cases will ease with proper care, a few lifestyle changes, and soothing vaginal cream.  

Should symptoms persist for more than two weeks, schedule an appointment with your doctor for a diagnosis and the correct medical treatment. 

References

Web MD – Vulvar Dermatitis - https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/eczema/eczema-vagina

National Center for Biotechnology Information – Atopic & Contact Dermatitis of the Vulva https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28778637/

Centers for Disease Control & Prevention – Vaginal Candidiasis - https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/candidiasis/genital/index.html