A dry vulva or vagina can feel a bit different to everyone: Vulvar itching or burning, a feeling like you’re never lubricated even when you’re turned on, or even a dry sandpaper-like feeling between your labia. These frustrating sensations send you diving into your medicine cabinet in search of anything — skin lotions, petroleum jelly, personal lubricant — that might help you feel better.
However it feels to you, vulvar and vaginal dryness can contribute to a lot more than irritation and discomfort — it can lead to painful sex (aka vaginismus), symptoms such as urinary urgency, frequency and painful urination, and even increase your risk of developing a urinary tract infection. In other words, it's not something to ignore.
Keep reading to find out what can make your vagina and vulva chronically dry (even long before menopause) and how to get relief, ASAP.
What causes vulvar and vaginal dryness?
When healthy and moisturized, vulvar and vaginal tissues are thick and flexible, with good blood supply. When aroused, additional lubricant is produced in glands near the vaginal entrance and through the vaginal epithelium. Additional moisture is provided by cervical mucus (aka cervical discharge). But this can all be disrupted when encountering certain medical conditions, or during life stages when hormone levels are impacted.
While it is very common to experience in menopause (up to 78% people in menopause report vaginal dryness that is most often related to a decline in estrogen levels) there are many other reasons why someone would experience vulvar and vaginal dryness. In fact, according to the Cleveland Clinic, up to 17% of those with vaginal anatomy will experience symptoms of dryness before menopause.
The causes of vaginal dryness may include:
- Certain types of cancer and/or cancer treatments
- Surgeries that affect the hormone-producing organs
- Hypothalamic-pituitary insufficiency
- Medications such as birth control pills or certain antidepressants
- Certain autoimmune disorders such as Sjӧgren’s Syndrome or Diabetes
How to treat vulva and vaginal dryness
When these symptoms pop up, it’s always best to check in with your healthcare provider first to help you understand what could be causing your symptoms, and help you rule out any medical conditions that could be to blame. They can also help you find the best treatment options for your symptoms including topical hormones and even pelvic floor physical therapy which can help with the pelvic floor muscle dysfunction that commonly contributes to urinary and sexual symptoms.
Another great option to add to your treatment plan: Vaginal moisturizers. What is great about vaginal moisturizers is that they are typically offered over the counter, are non-hormonal, and are easy to use. Applied directly to soak into your vulvar or vaginal tissues, the main goal of these products is to rehydrate your skin, and to help minimize many of the uncomfortable symptoms related to vaginal dryness.
The best products for a dry vulva or vagina, according to pelvic floor PTs
“I have recommended Revaree thousands of times to my patients. It's a suppository inserted into the vagina that gradually melts at night to rehydrate the vulvar and vaginal tissues. I like that it's less goopy than most liquid moisturizers. In general, I like hyaluronic acid-based moisturizers because they help the tissues retain their natural moisture.” - Liz Miracle, PT, MPT, WCS Origin Head of Clinical Quality and Talent
“I 100% second Revaree for vaginal dryness!” - Anna McMaster, PT, DPT & Jen Carr, PT, DPT, Origin Clinical Directors
“Vag of Honor is an excellent hyaluronic acid-based product with other ingredients to rehydrate and protect dry vulvar tissues. The gel formula can easily be applied to the clitoris, labia, and the vaginal entrance to help moisturize tissues.” - Ashley Rawlins, PT, DPT, Origin Learning and Development Lead
“Replens is a great option for people with more sensitive tissues. Plus, this is an inexpensive option that is available over the counter at most drug stores/grocery stores” - Lauren Steel, PT, DPT, Origin Clinical Director
“Julva is a fantastic product designed by an OB/GYN, and is recommended to be used externally (not inserted into the vagina). It has DHEA in it, so check with your physician to make sure this product is safe for you before trying.” - Natalie Russell, PT, DPT, Origin Clinical Director
“While personal lubricant isn't meant to moisturize your tissues, it is a vaginal moisturizer's best friend and something that I recommend for anyone with vaginal dryness or pain during sex. Slippery Stuff is one of my favorite water-based recommendations because it is super gentle for those with sensitive skin, and easy to find on Amazon." - Leigh Welsh, PT, DPT, OCS, Origin Clinical Director