What to use when the skin surrounding your vaginal feels like the Sahara, according to gynecologists.

By Julia Naftulin
October 31, 2017

When your skin feels dry on 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 STI or other vaginal infection, 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, according to gynecologists. The skin of your vulva is ultra sensitive, and it's easily irritated by products with artificial additives (as so many fragrant soaps, body washes, and moisturizers contain). "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 vulva dry with a towel and letting it air-dry is the right TLC your vaginal area needs.

Here's the thing, though: If the skin on your vulva tends to feel chronically dry, it likely has to do with what's going on inside your body, not a temporary environmental issue, like dry heat in your home or pants and leggings that don't let the area breathe, says Dr. Ross. Your entire 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.

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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 on dehydration. Vaginal dryness typically is caused by hormone fluctuations, say when a woman is breastfeeeding or going into menopause or perimenopause, Donnica Moore, MD, a Chester, New Jersey–based gynecologist and president of Sapphire Women's Health Group, tells Health

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.

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