Caring for your vulva

How to take care of your vulva skin, which will be more sensitive after your surgery.

How to clean and dry your vulva

It can take a few weeks for your vulval area to completely heal, this depends on the type of treatment you’ve had. Even after it has healed it may feel different, for example it may feel sensitive when you touch it.

It is important to keep this area clean, but soap and water is not the best way. Use either aqueous cream or emulsifying ointment. Both of these are available cheaply in large tubs from any chemist’s shop.

Apply a small amount of the cream with warm water to your vulva and rinse with clean water. Use tissue, a clean hand or soft gauze swabs to put the cream on and wipe off. Ordinary flannels might feel scratchy.

If you’ve had treatment for VIN (vulval intraepithelial neoplasia) in the skin near the back passage (anus), you can use either of these creams on a bit of toilet paper to clean after you’ve had a poo. It cleans well and stops the toilet paper feeling scratchy.

Towels can be scratchy too. You can dab very gently to dry it, using the softest towel or other material you can find. Old torn up sheets are useful for this. Used cotton is often very soft. Some women prefer to use a hairdryer set on cool to dry sensitive skin. Keep the hairdryer well away from the area so you don’t get a blast of air.

Products to avoid

Vulva skin is very sensitive and can react to soaps, moisturisers, washing powder and other chemicals. After surgery, the area will be even more sensitive.

If you’ve had VIN or are prone to vulval skin conditions, or if you’ve had surgery, it is best to avoid anything that will cause irritation.

You should try to avoid letting your vulval skin come into contact with:

  • soap – this is very drying to delicate skin
  • perfumes
  • moisturisers – other than those mentioned above
  • personal wipes (baby wipes or those for cleaning between your legs)
  • shampoo – this can happen if you wash your hair in the shower
  • feminine hygiene sprays or deodorants
  • biological washing powder

If you have had radiotherapy your team may give you specific advice about how to care for your skin during and after treatment.

Underwear and clothes

It is best to wear only loose fitting cotton underwear. Synthetic fibres can cause irritation and don’t let the skin breathe. If the seam on your knicker gusset is in an awkward place and rubs, it may help to wear them inside out.

Some women prefer not to wear any pants at all, particularly when recovering from surgery, or if the area is sore during and after radiotherapy. 

Stockings are healthier than tights because they allow air to circulate. But if you do wear tights, you can cut the gusset out. There are tights available to buy that have no gusset – they are a bit like stockings but don’t need a suspender belt.

It would seem sensible to avoid hold-up type stockings if you’ve had surgery or radiotherapy to the lymph nodes in your groin. These products stay up with quite strong elastic around your upper thigh. You should avoid wearing something that is going to squash all the delicate lymphatic vessels so close to where you’ve had treatment.

Wash your underclothes and tights separately from your main wash in soap flakes or non-bio washing powder. Rinse very thoroughly, this might lower the chance of causing an irritation to the vulval area.

You’ll probably find that you are more comfortable in skirts, rather than trousers. If you do wear trousers, make sure they aren’t too tight. Avoiding tight clothing such as cycling shorts or leggings may also help.

Last reviewed: 
21 May 2019
  • Principles and practice of oncology (10th edition)
    De Vita, VT, Hellman S and Rosenberg SA
    Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2015

  • Guidelines for the Diagnosis and management of Vulval Carcinoma
    British Gynaecological Cancer Society and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, May 2014

  • 2014 UK National Guideline on the Management of Vulval Conditions
    British Association for Sexual Health and HIV, February 2014

  • Cancer of the Vulva

    FIGO cancer report 2018

    L Rogers and M Cuello

    International Journal of Gynaecology and Obstetrics, 2018. Vol 143, Issue S2, Pages 4-13

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