How often do you think about your vagina? Probably not often, until something changes—it smells different, it’s itchy, or it’s drier than usual—or you want or need help in the intimacy department.
Widespread and valid concerns about harsh cleansers and douches have led to blanket skepticism about intimate products and uncertainty about what’s safe for one’s vagina and vulva. The good news is that there are helpful, doctor-approved products that can help you start to feel better, especially when experiencing dryness or sexual discomfort during certain phases of your menstrual cycle or menopausal transition.
“There’s all this stuff that makes you think you’re dirty, that you need to feel ‘fresh,’ and that you need to smell a certain way—the shame-and-should category—and those are products you should avoid,” says Kelly Casperson, MD, a urologist in Bellingham, WA. “But there are other formulas that can really benefit your vagina and your life overall.”
Consider this: There are new and advanced products and formulations made specifically with vaginal and sexual health in mind. “We know women are interested in daily products that feel safe,” says Jessica Kizovski, chemist and product development manager for vaginal wellness and skin care brand Stripes.
Knowing a bit about what’s available could help you find the down-there self-care you desire. Dr. Casperson is here to help decipher what to seek and what to avoid when shopping the feminine wellness aisle.
Check Out A Vaginal Moisturizer.
Fact: Lubricating products aren’t just for sex. Just like any skincare routine, a daily vaginal moisturizer can provide comfort and protection to your most sensitive parts.
“Vaginal dryness and itching on the vulva can happen around perimenopause and menopause or during certain times of your cycle,” says Dr. Casperson. “It can also be the nature of your unique vagina.” One way to find relief is to use a vaginal moisturizer, such as Stripes Vag of Honor, daily.
Of course, if dryness and irritation are persistent, it’s a good idea to make an appointment with your gynecologist to make sure you aren’t struggling with a yeast infection, bacterial vaginosis, or other vaginal issues. But even if those have been ruled out, dryness alone itself should be taken seriously. A lack of moisture and lubrication can lead to irritation, inflammation, increased risk of UTIs, and painful sex.
Silicone- And Oil-Based Formulas Are Your Friends.
These are especially beneficial to combat vaginal dryness. “I really like oil-based or silicone-based topicals if you have drier skin or are in perimenopause or menopause, because the lubrication is longer-lasting than water-based lubricants,” says Dr. Casperson. “And I think these textures just feel better and more luxurious.” She suggests Stripes Oh My Glide, which is made with coconut and olive oils and squalane—an emollient that works like the skin’s own natural oils and helps prevent moisture loss.
Note: If you’re using condoms during sex, latex and oil don’t play well. Oil can damage (and even break) condoms. In those situations, stick to silicone- or water-based lubricants.
Fragrance Can Be A Red Flag.
Not only can fragrance ingredients irritate the delicate skin of the vulva; they’re wholly unnecessary. “Don’t use soaps or products that smell like the pine forest or something,” says Dr. Casperson. “We live in such a clean-obsessed culture and have been brainwashed to think that vaginas shouldn’t smell.” Vaginas have a natural odor and discharge that’s healthy and normal. But if something smells off or you’re feeling pain, it’s time to make a beeline to your doctor.
Understand Your Rx Options.
If your vagina feels drier than the Sahara, it could be due to the natural dip in estrogen that occurs during perimenopause and menopause.
“As estrogen goes down, it’s common for the vagina to change,” says Dr. Casperson. “I always want to get my patients on a vaginal estrogen, as it’s the most science-proven method to restore function.” While hormone-based treatment for menopause symptoms may not be appropriate for everyone, it may be an option worth exploring with your doctor.
In short, there’s no reason to suffer the pain or irritation that comes from vaginal dryness. There are science-based products and solutions that can ease discomfort and provide much-needed moisture and relief to help you feel more like your old self again.
Find the right vaginal wellness routine for you. To learn more about vaginal health and wellness products, visit Stripes and consider joining The Hot Spot community created for those experiencing perimenopause and menopause.