The skin of your vulva is sensitive and vulnerable. It can be irritated and flaky from conditions that affect the skin of other parts of the body, as well as those that are specific to this area.
Knowing what causes this problem can help you understand if it’s normal or a sign of something more serious.
Eczema can affect any area of skin, including the vagina. The vulva contains multiple layers of skin that protect the sexual organs and urinary openings. It is a sensitive area that can be irritated by soaps, hair removal products and tight clothing.
Symptoms of vulvar eczema include itchy skin that is dry, flaky or scaly. It may also have a rash or red patches that look flushed or darker than the surrounding skin. If scratched enough, the rash may break open and ooze fluid.
If you suspect vulvar eczema, talk to your doctor about it. They will take a history of symptoms and your family’s health background. They will also examine your vulva for signs of itchy, dry or flaky skin. They may recommend a medicated soap-replacement product, creams or ointments that treat the rash and moisturize the skin. They may also prescribe antihistamines or a corticosteroid ointment to reduce itching.
Vulvar dermatitis may occur at any age, but it is more common in girls who haven’t completed puberty and postmenopausal women. This is because these groups have lower levels of estrogen, which can make the vulva’s skin dry, thick and more susceptible to irritation. Itching, dry skin and a rash are common symptoms of this condition. It is important to see your doctor as soon as possible, so they can diagnose the cause and give you treatment that will help you feel better.
A long-term autoimmune condition that causes flaky patches of scaly skin, psoriasis is sometimes present in the vulva area. While it can show up on other parts of the body, as many as 63% of people with psoriasis have a psoriatic flare-up in their pubic region. This can lead to itching and dry scaly rash around the vulva that looks very similar to eczema or lichen sclerosis.
Vaginal psoriasis can be triggered by prolonged exposure to heat or wetness. It can also be caused by certain irritants, including perfumed soaps, scented products, wipes, toilet paper, clothing and chemicals. Like eczema, psoriasis can be made worse by contact with harsh chemicals or detergents and by not changing out of wet clothes quickly enough.
The best treatment for psoriasis is topical creams that help to reduce the appearance of the scaly lesions. A dietary change may also help to reduce symptoms, such as eating fermented foods and probiotic supplements to balance the gut flora and keep yeast levels low.
If you’re experiencing itching and dry scaly genital skin, the first thing to do is visit your doctor. They can help to diagnose the cause and recommend a treatment plan. For perimenopausal women, this might include prescription menopausal hormone replacement therapy that helps to balance the falling estrogen and progesterone levels and prevents itching and peeling.
Yeast infections (or candidiasis) are common in women of all ages and can cause itchiness, pain and itching around the vulva. They occur when the normal balance of bacteria and yeast is upset. Candida thrives in warm and moist areas, and can overgrow when there is a disruption of the skin’s barrier function such as after a diaper change or after taking antibiotics. Yeast infections can also be caused by other illnesses that affect the body’s immune system, such as cancer or AIDS.
A yeast infection can be difficult to diagnose based on symptoms alone, so a pelvic exam and vaginal swab are usually performed. A yeast infection can be treated with over-the-counter yeast creams, or prescription medications called metronidazole or tinidazole, depending on the severity of the infection.
Yeast infections can be triggered by a number of things, including antibiotics, vaginal lubricants, wearing tight-fitting clothing, excessive sweating, and using over-the-counter vaginal creams, talcum powder or suppositories. It is also more common in perimenopausal women because of the hormonal changes associated with a lack of estrogen. If you are experiencing itching, pain and peeling in the vulva area, talk to your doctor as soon as possible. He or she will be able to determine the cause of the problem and prescribe an effective treatment. This will relieve your discomfort and help you return to normal life activities.
Lichen planus is a condition that causes patches of itchy skin, and in some cases, blisters or open sores. It is thought to be an auto-immune disorder, which means that your immune system mistakenly attacks cells in your skin or mucous membranes instead of protecting them. It isn’t contagious and can happen to anyone. It’s most common in postmenopausal women but can affect men and girls as well. It most often occurs around the vulva and anal area but can also occur in other areas of the body such as the mouth, scalp or nails.
Classic lichen planus looks like red to slightly violet flat-topped bumps with little white stripes over regular skin. In the mouth and genitals, the symptoms include itching and raw areas of skin that can be very painful and lead to ulcers. In the nail, symptoms may include thinning, ridges and longitudinal ridging or complete nail loss.
There are a number of treatment options for lichen planus, including oral anti-fungals and topical corticosteroid ointments, and systemic medications called calcineurin inhibitors. These are similar to drugs given after an organ transplant to prevent the patient’s body from rejecting the new organ but are FDA-approved for use in the treatment of lichen planus. The most important thing to remember is to see your doctor if you have any of the symptoms of lichen planus, even if they are mild. Early treatment can help prevent the disease from progressing to more serious symptoms, such as permanent scarring or a change in the structure of your vulva.