Taking care of ‘down there’

The vulva: every woman has one, but no two are the same.

The vulva: every woman has one, but no two are the same.

The vulva: every woman has one, but no two are the same. So what’s normal for you may not be so for others. Today, Jean Hailes explains how you can start taking care of ‘down there’.

The vulva – what’s normal?
Vulva is the general name given to all the external parts of the female genitals. Each woman’s vulva is unique in size and appearance, with no two looking the same. It is normal for there to be noticeable differences between the left and right side of the vulva, especially the labia minora (the inner lips). Images seen online are often heavily edited, making the vulva look symmetrical and uniformly shaped.

Because it is difficult for women to see their own vulva, many women do not know what it looks like. If you don’t know what your vulva looks like, use a mirror to have a look. Once you are familiar with what your vulva looks like, it will be easier to detect any changes in the skin, such as colour or texture.

What is vulval irritation?
Any itching, burning or discomfort of the vulva can be described as vulval irritation. The skin of the vulva is extremely delicate, making it susceptible to a wide range of conditions.

Vulval irritation is relatively common in women of all ages, with skin conditions and infections often being the cause. A small part of the vulva or sometimes the entire vulva can be affected.

Signs and symptoms include:

  • redness and/or swelling
  • burning and/or itching
  • skin cracking or splitting (also known as fissuring)
  • whitening of skin
  • associated vaginal inflammation and/or discharge.

What to do if you have vulval irritation
If you are experiencing vulval irritation, it is important to see your doctor so they can work out what is causing your symptoms. Don’t attempt to diagnose or treat the problem yourself. There are many causes of vulval irritation, so finding an effective treatment depends on knowing the cause.

If your symptoms don’t clear up with treatment, or if they keep coming back, make sure you go back to your doctor. During your appointment, your doctor should examine your vulva; it can be hard to diagnose vulval conditions without actually seeing what’s going on. If your doctor does not check your vulva, it is appropriate to ask for an examination.

Most cases of vulval irritation improve with treatment, but there are a few rare conditions that can become serious if left untreated. So if you are experiencing vulval symptoms, visit your doctor to find out what’s really going on, and start taking care of ‘down there’.

This article is a short excerpt of a newly released booklet from Jean Hailes for Women's Health – The vulva: irritation, diagnosis & treatment. The booklet is free to download from the Jean Hailes website and contains important information on the many causes of vulval irritation, as well as treatment options and tips on keeping your vulva healthy.

Published with the permission of Jean Hailes for Women's Health



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    5th Apr 2017
    Had some problems "down there" some years ago, and went to a very understanding lady pharmacist, explaining that I was clean, showered twice a day, etc. Then she said the magic words "You're not using soap "down there" are you?" Well, I was, and that was the cause of the problems. I now use Cetaphil gentle skin cleanser "down there" and sorbolene and glycerine cleansing bar for the rest of me. Result? a happy "down there". The pharmacist explained that no woman over the age of 40 should use soap "down there" as the chemicals are too harsh.
    5th Apr 2017
    One thing I have realised over the past 7yrs or so, is that myself, my mother and a friend ALL had thyroid issues and ALL have or had a small area of itchy patch of skin in the vulva area directly above the clitoris area. Mine is miniscule but nevertheless irritating. I have mentioned this to my doctor and it never really goes away, but I can relieve the itchiness for a few days or so with a prescription of fatty ointment, would be interested to know if anyone else out there has the same issues related to thyroid disease. Would also imagine that coming into contact with urine that has ammonia probably doesn't help as well.
    6th Apr 2017
    lindylou, just a rhetorical question from left field. Some thyroid conditions are related to lack of iodine in the diet. If you cook with salt, is it iodised?
    6th Apr 2017
    Or you can add seaweed flakes to your cooking.
    5th Apr 2017
    It is important to wear cotton only underwear and get your diet more alkaline. PH levels in your body can cause all sorts of health problems from being too acidic. Eat more fresh plants and make sure you are hydrated with water not acidic drinks like lolly waters, coffee or black tea.