How to Care for Vulvar Dermatitis: Symptoms and Treatment Methods

If the soft skin surrounding the opening of the vagina becomes irritated and causes itching or redness, you may have vulvar dermatitis. Fortunately, the condition can be easily treated by a doctor or with home remedies.

Read more about vulvar dermatitis, its causes, symptoms, and treatment methods.

An unseen white person in a white tanktop and light blue shorts with their hands over their genitals. Their hands appear reddened.

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What Is Vulvar Dermatitis?

Vulvar dermatitis is when the folds of skin around the vagina become inflamed and irritated. The area can be painful, itchy, and red. The inflammation is sometimes called vulvitis. The soft skin folds of the vulva are designed to stay moist and warm, making them susceptible to irritation or infection.

Dermatitis can develop anywhere on the body. It is caused by irritants, such as hygiene products, clothing, bacteria, yeast, or viruses, coming into contact with the skin.

Your symptoms could also be caused by another condition or simply be your body's response to exposure to an irritant.

Vulvar dermatitis can affect people of any age. However, young people who have not started their periods yet and people who are postmenopausal are more likely to develop it.

Causes and Symptoms of Vulvar Dermatitis

Vulvar dermatitis can be caused by skin conditions, infections, hygiene, and irritating products. A few possible causes of vulvar dermatitis include:

  • Eczema: An inflammatory skin condition that causes a scaly, itchy rash
  • Psoriasis: A skin condition that causes skin cells to collect and form scaly, silver patches
  • Yeast infections: An infection caused by Candida (a fungus)
  • Bacterial vaginosis: An infection caused by bacteria that often occurs when the microbial flora of the vagina has been disrupted
  • Lichen sclerosis: A rare skin condition that causes small white patches around the vagina
  • Hormonal medications: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), using certain medications like birth control is a risk factor for yeast infections.
  • Allergies and sensitivities: Products and fragrances may cause irritation or impact your pH balance. These can include soaps, laundry detergents, moisturizers, lubes, and other products.
  • Clothing: Apparel can trap sweat or rub the skin, leading to irritation and itching.
  • Sexually transmitted infections (STIs): Many STIs cause vulvar irritation, such as herpes, chlamydia, gonorrhea, genital warts, and trichomoniasis.
  • Vulvar cancer: A rare condition that causes lumps, ulcers, pain in the pelvis, redder or paler skin, stinging, and persistent itching

The symptoms you experience will vary based on what is causing your vulvar dermatitis.

Common symptoms of vulvar dermatitis include:

  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Itching
  • Burning
  • Irritation
  • Pain or discomfort
  • Pain during sex

There are also several symptoms that are specific to conditions.

Ways to Treat Vulvar Dermatitis at Home

Depending on the cause and severity, you might be able to treat a cause of vulvar dermatitis at home. Here are a few examples of conditions you might be able to self-manage.

Allergies to Products

If your symptoms developed after using a new product, you may have an allergy to it. If you stop using the product, your symptoms should get better in a week or two.

Yeast Infections

People who have previously had a yeast infection may recognize the symptoms and take steps to treat them on their own. Over-the-counter (OTC) creams, ointments, suppositories, and anti-fungal medications can be used to treat and reduce the itching from yeast infection.

If your symptoms do not resolve within two weeks of treatment, the yeast infection keeps coming back, or you are concerned about your symptoms, talk to your doctor.

There are also several other home remedies that are not specific to one condition but might help you manage the symptoms of vulvar dermatitis:

  • Use moisturizers or lubrication if your skin is dry.
  • Wash your vaginal area about once a day with cool water and mild, nonirritating soap, and be sure to pat the area dry instead of rubbing.
  • Apply anti-itch creams or ointments.
  • Use a cold compress to ease irritation and inflammation.
  • Take an OTC antihistamine or allergy medication.

When to Call Your Doctor

If your symptoms don’t resolve within one to two weeks, call your doctor. They can help figure out what is causing the irritation of your vulva and recommend the best course of treatment.

Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and medical history. They will also do a pelvic exam to check for redness, blisters, lesions, and abnormal vaginal discharge. They may take a sample of the discharge to test for infection or other abnormalities.

After a diagnosis has been made, your doctor can prescribe the appropriate treatment, which might include antibiotics, antivirals, or prescription-strength antifungals. They might also have other recommendations to help you manage your symptoms until your condition improves.

Red Flag Symptoms

There are some symptoms that could indicate a more serious problem that you will not be able to manage on your own. If you have these signs or symptoms, call your doctor right away:

  • Fever or chills
  • Unusual or smelly vaginal discharge
  • Burning or pain when peeing
  • Increased pain, swelling, warmth around your vaginal area

How to Prevent Vulvar Dermatitis

Vulvar dermatitis cannot always be prevented, but there are some things you can do to decrease your chances of getting it.

  • Avoid irritating products such as harsh laundry detergents, fragranced soaps, scented bath products, bath bombs, scented tampons or pads, douches, fragranced lube, spermicide lube, and condoms with harsh lubricants.
  • Practice safe sex to lower your risk of contracting an STI.
  • Wear loose-fitting, breathable, or moisture-wicking clothing.
  • Avoid washing your vaginal area too frequently; aim for once a day, and use a mild soap (or no soap) and warm (not too hot) water.
  • Remove wet or sweaty clothing and change into dry clothing quickly after swimming or working out.

Summary

Vulvar dermatitis is a very common condition that results in irritated, red, itchy skin around the vagina. It can be caused by irritating products, skin conditions, or infections.

The condition cannot always be prevented, but certain lifestyle changes (like avoiding irritating products) can help in some cases.

A Word From Verywell

If you are experiencing pain, itching, and irritation around the vulvar area, talk to your doctor. They can diagnose the cause of your symptoms and help you find a treatment that will bring relief.

Frequently Asked Questions

How common is vulvar dermatitis?

Inflammation of the vulva is a very common skin condition. It can be caused by many common conditions. For example, almost all people with a vagina will experience a yeast infection at some point in their lives.

How long does it take vulvar dermatitis to heal?

The amount of time it takes vulvar dermatitis to heal will depend on the cause.

For example, if caused by irritation from a product or clothing, the symptoms will likely resolve within one to two weeks after removing the irritant.

If caused by an infection, symptoms should start to get better within one to two weeks of treatment. However, symptoms could remain for a month or longer.

Will vulvar dermatitis go away on its own?

Vulvar dermatitis may go away without medication, depending on the cause. If it’s caused by an allergic reaction or sensitivity, the symptoms will go away on their own after the irritant is removed.

If vulvar dermatitis is caused by an infection or skin condition, medication is usually needed to clear the infection or manage the symptoms.

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3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Vij A, Sood A, Piliang M, Mesinkovska NA. Infection or allergy? The multifaceted nature of vulvar dermatoses. Int J Womens Dermatol. 2015;1(4):170-172. doi:10.1016/j.ijwd.2015.08.005

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Vaginal Candidiasis. Updated November 10, 2020.