4 things you didn’t know about your vulva

1) Vagina and Vulva are Not the Same

Many people and even some feminine care companies use vagina incorrectly when they are referring to the vulva.  The two are different body parts and should be used anatomically correct: ‘vagina’ is internal and ‘vulva’ is external.  Sometimes it’s ok to say ‘vulvovaginal’ when referring to both areas (e.g. vulvovaginal health). [1]

2) Vulva Skin is Highly Permeable

Compared to other areas of the body, the vulva skin contains a high concentration of sweat glands, hair follicles, and increased blood flow.  For these reasons, the vulva skin is up to 7 times more permeable than other exposed skin on our bodies (e.g., the forearm skin).  The cells in this area are more loosely arranged which allows for substances to penetrate the skin more easily. In other words, the vulvar skin is very sensitive to any product you put on it.  Make sure to read the ingredient label of your products and if you don’t recognize an ingredient, look it up. [2]  For a list of ingredients contained in products in our online shop, check out the Ingredient Glossary.

3) Products with High pH Can Throw Off Your Natural Balance

The pH of a healthy vagina is 3.5 to 4.5.  The pH of healthy vulva skin is 4.5 – 5.5. You want to maintain these values in order to prevent your vagina or vulva from becoming too alkaline and getting an infection (e.g. Bacterial Vaginosis).  You’ll be able to tell if your pH is off (too high, usually) because you’ll feel irritated, have discharge or have a bad odor.

Most soaps and body washes on the market have either 1) high pH values due to detergents and synthetic ingredients or 2) bring down their pH to a correct value by using harsh acids and synthetic ingredients.

Look for intimate care washes with ingredients you can actually read/recognize and if you can’t find the pH value on the label or company’s website, call them and ask.

Also, just because it says “pH balanced” on the label, does not mean it is the correct range.  For example, we found several ‘feminine washes’ that claimed to be ‘pH balanced’ but when tested by an independent lab, had values that were in the 9.0 range, a value that is much too high for the vulva skin.

4) You Are Irritating Your Vulva

If you experienced itchiness, redness or swelling after using a feminine care product, chances are you’re using a product with vulvar irritants or allergens. Some women may even get a severe rash after using these, commonly referred to as Contact Dermatitis. Here are a few irritants to watch out for:

  • Nickel found in razors
  • Colored dyes
  • Fragrance
  • Sulfates
  • Sex toys that are not made with medical-grade silicone
  • Sex toys not cleaned properly

Consider detoxing your feminine products by keeping everything fragrance-free and shopping for clean products.

[1] Herbenick D., Schick, V. (2001). Read My Lips: A Complete Guide to the Vagina and the Vulva.

[2] Connor CJ. Eppsteiner EE. Vulvar contact dermatitis. Proc Obstet Gynecol. 2014;4(2).

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