There’s no more annoying feeling than an itch you can’t scratch. (“Honey, can you scratch this place on my back? No, over to the left. No, up. More up. Argh, where’s my back scratcher??”) That’s what makes an itchy crotch so maddening, not to mention mortifying. If it feels like you’ve got a wool sweater stuffed down your pants, you’re not alone, says Sherry Ross, M.D., an ob-gyn and author of She-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women’s Intimate Health. Period.
“If you think about the vagina in general, itching is so common in any place in your body where there’s hair and follicles and glands,” says Ross. The problem can become exacerbated during midlife, when your skin starts to get thinner and drier. Here, Ross shares some advice for conquering below-the-belt itchiness.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Lower estrogen levels mean dryness, and perimenopause is often when your crotch goes from “steamy rainforest” to Death Valley. “As we age, we really don’t take care of the vagina like we should,” says Ross. “We should treat it like we treat our faces.”
In addition to drinking plenty of water and dialing down your caffeine and alcohol consumption, Ross advises keeping your vagina moisturized. “This should be part of your daily beauty ritual,” she says. If you like baths, try adding a scoop of (unscented) extra-virgin coconut oil to the water. “It’s great for all your skin, and it’s got a little more viscosity than other types of oils.”
Reevaluate your soap, your lotion, even your underwear. Take a look at what’s already coming into contact with your vagina — if you’ve got an itchy rash it could be contact dermatitis. “Certain bath products can also make dry skin even drier,” says Ross. “You don’t want to use the same soap under your arms that you use on your vagina.” She suggests looking for fragrance-free products or those made specifically for the vaginal area, like Summer’s Eve Cleansing Wash. Other washes you might consider include the Organic Glide Probiotic Natural Feminine Intimate Body Wash and the Luvena Therapeutic Feminine Wash.
Check your medicine cabinet. Certain prescription and over-the-counter medications can have the side effect of drying out your skin, says Ross. The acne medication isotretinoin is a big culprit, she says, because it shuts down and shrinks the skin’s oil glands. Other common moisture-sapping meds include antidepressants, antihistamines and even some cold medications.
Consider vaginal estrogen. Depending on your hormone levels, you could benefit from a topical estrogen cream, says Ross. “This can be really helpful to deal with persistent itching, as well as painful sex due to dryness,” she says. These are generally safe with low doses of hormones, but do require a prescription, so bring it up with your doctor.
When in doubt, get checked out. Of course, there are plenty of infections and other medical issues that could be causing your itchiness, particularly if you also have raised bumps, sores or vaginal discharge. Yeast infections are an obvious one, as is bacterial vaginosis (BV), a common infection caused by an overgrowth of bacteria normally found in the vagina.
STDs are also a big concern, especially for women in middle age, says Ross. “Women over 45 are the fastest-growing recipients of sexually transmitted infections,” she says. “People in this age group assume they’re too old to get pregnant, so they often don’t even think about using condoms.” Even if you don’t think it’s an infection, it’s better to err on the side of caution and just get checked.
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