Why the skin surrounding your vagina feel like the Sahara, and what to do about it, according to gynecologists.

Julia Naftulin
October 31, 2017

As the temperatures drop, your skin gets dry, thanks in part to the lack of humidity in indoor and outdoor air. When it comes your arms, legs, and face, you can easily rehydrate with your favorite moisturizer. 

But what about the skin surrounding your vagina—if it feels dry, flaky, and itchy, and you're sure it's not caused by an STD or other skin condition, is it safe to use a moisturizer there as well?

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It's not a good idea, at least not the store-bought kind. The skin of your vulva is ultra sensitive, and it's easily irritated by products with artificial additives (like fragrant soaps, body washes, and yep, moisturizers). "Using a gentle, scent-free soap is an ideal way to wash and moisturize this delicate area," says Sherry Ross, MD, a gynecologist and author of She-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women’s Intimate Health. Period.

So put that bottle of lotion down—patting your lady bits dry with a towel and letting then air-dry is the right TLC they need.

Here's the thing, though: If the skin on your vulva tends to get dry no matter what time of the year it is, it likely has to do with what's going on inside your body, not the fact that it's coming into contact with dry air from the outside, says Dr. Ross. Your body is dehydrated, probably because you're not drinking enough water and consuming fruits and vegetables, which have a high water content. 

"When your body is properly hydrated, the outside skin of the vagina, including your inner and outer labia, are less prone to dryness, and the inside of the vagina will be moist and well lubricated too," Dr. Ross tells Health in an email.

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Drinking plenty of water (use your thirst as a guide) should help hydrate your system and keep the skin surrounding your vagina moist. But if the area still feels like it should be a little smoother and more supple, Dr. Ross recommends drawing a warm bath, adding a handful of extra virgin coconut oil to the water, and soaking in it for 20 minutes 3 to 4 times a week.

If it's the inside of your vagina that feels dry or itchy, there's probably something else going on you can't blame the cold air for. Vaginal dryness typically is caused by hormone fluctuations, say when a woman is breastfeeeding or going into menopause or even perimenopause, says Donnica Moore, MD, a Chester, New Jersey–based gynecologist and president of Sapphire Women's Health Group. Vaginal dryness can also be caused by endometriosis or polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).

If this is the kind of dryness you're dealing with, check in with your doctor to find out why, and in the meantime, moisturize by using a lubricant. "The biggest consequence to vaginal dryness is not feeling well lubricated during sex," says Dr. Moore, and you'll want a lubricant rather than a moisturizer meant for the skin outside your body.