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Sex & Gynae

Do you really need a skincare routine for your vulva?

October 27th 2021 / Melanie Macleod / 0 comment

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Following a makeover from hush-hush to hot topic, V care can be found pride of place in beauty halls and in its own section on Cult Beauty and Feelunique, but are specialist products really necessary? We asked the experts

Intimate care, from down-there washes to post-wax products, is booming right now. Cult Beauty has a 'Feminine Hygiene' section on-site housing everything from Dr Barbara Sturm's V Drops, £75 (fancy moisturiser for your vulva) to calming oils and deodorant for your private parts. Feelunique's 'Intimate Care' category sells dedicated washes, wipes and refreshing sprays for your nethers.

This abundance of products is all well and good, and it's great to see mass-market brands such as Venus launching a 'Pubic' range that encourages us not to shy away from using grown-up language to talk about our vulvas, but do we actually *need* products especially for our intimate area?

For our vagina (the inside), no. "The vagina is a self-cleaning system and the less you do the better it will be," says Marie Drago, founder of microbiome skincare brand Gallinée. But for our vulva (the part you can see), a specialist washing regime isn't a bad idea.

We don't mean buying all kinds of balms, drops and oils to lavish on your labia, more that it's sensible to buy a low pH wash rather than using your normal and perhaps scented or essential-oil rich body wash. "For the vulva, it makes sense to use very gentle products to care for this very specific area," confirms Marie. "Look for products with a low pH (it will likely say these words on the packaging) and possibly pre- or postbiotics to support the local bacteria."

You can even follow with a V-specific moisturiser if you like a multi-step routine. Moisturisers designed with your vulva in mind will soothe any irritation in the area, but should only be applied to the outside, not internally.

Why do we need special skincare and washes for our vulva?

Our vulva microbiome is a fragile ecosystem, Marie tells us. "It can be disrupted by sex, periods, overwashing and hormonal changes," she says. You know you've caused a disruption when you feel redness, itching irritation, dryness and discharge, explains Dr Tania Adib, consultant gynaecologist at The Medical Chambers Kensington.

Because our vulva is so sensitive, many things that come into contact with it can cause irritation. Even a nice calming bath can cause issues, according to Marie, especially if you're adding essential oils. "A lot of things come in contact with the vulva and the vaginal microbiome when you're in the bath," she cautions, "Irritations from essential oils are possible, as well as from bath bombs and bubble baths."

If you're not prone to sensitivity, then it is fine to use essential oils in the bath to help you relax, says Dr Tania Adib. "If you are someone prone to vaginal infections or irritated skin then you should probably avoid them."

How should you wash your intimate area?

1. Keep it simple

"It’s a good idea to be as minimalist as possible with your intimate care products," Marie says. "I would recommend avoiding strong detergents, perfumed products or anything with a high pH. Your microbiome will be happier, which means less irritation, even if you’re not sensitive," she suggests.

2. Look for' gynaecologist-tested' products

Back in 2019, Mintel told us that in the past year intimate products launching with 'gynaecologist-tested/recommended' claims had grown by nearly 50 per cent compared to 2016, confirming consumers' trust in scientifically and medically backed formulas. "Look at the back of the packaging and check if the product has been tested under gynaecological supervision," says Marie.

3. Be extra careful if you're menopausal or on your period

Even if you're generally fine with essential oils in the bath, periods bring a change of pH in the vulva, so that’s a good time to use low pH washes and avoid soaking in the bath unless it's in plain water, Marie says. She adds that menopause also brings changes to the area "and often translates into a drier, more fragile vulva," so avoiding any irritants is key at this stage too.

The best V-care products to add to your routine

If you do want to treat your V to its own skincare routine, here's the pared-back routine we recommend.

The luxe wash: Dr Barbara Sturm V Wash, £55

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If money were no object, we'd be buying this on repeat. From Dr Sturm's gynaecologically-tested V line, this has pre- and probiotics to support our vulva microbiome and maintain its optimal natural pH level. This has a silky texture and includes moisturisers glycerin and hyaluronic acid to keep dryness at bay. As with all of Sturm's product, it has purslane extract in, a plant active that calms inflammation. Use this if you've had a reaction to other products are feeling as though the area is dry. You won't regret it. We've heard from a cancer survivor that this is the only product that relieves her vaginal dryness.

Buy now

The vaginal microbiome bar: Gallinée Perfume-Free Cleansing Bar, £13

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Keep it simple with this fragrance-free bar designed especially for your most intimate areas. It's been gynecologically tested and is rich in lactic acid which supports your vaginal microbiome. It has an acidic pH of 5.6, the perfect formula for your vulva. Despite looking like and lathering like a soap, it's soap-free and includes prebiotics to feed your skin’s good bacteria and help support the skin’s barrier.

Buy now

The pregnancy one: Nessa Organics Vagina Victory Oil, £24

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Nessa wants you to celebrate your vagina and all that it goes through from pregnancy to childbirth and menopause. This fragrance-free organic collagen boosting oil was designed for intimate skin during pregnancy but has garnered a menopausal following too. Use it from 34 weeks to prepare the vulva for childbirth through perineal massage. Post-baby, it can be used to combat hormonal dryness, loosen scar tissue and build collagen through daily massage.

Buy now

For shaving (if you want): Venus for Pubic Hair, 2-in-1 Cleanser + Shave Gel, £6.67

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Part of Venus' Pubic range (also includes a razor specifically for down there shaving and a serum to prevent ingrown hairs) this can be used during shaving, providing a nourishing layer to allow your razor to glide along and prevent irritation, but also as a daily cleanser. It's a clear gel texture (a bit like lube, but less sticky) so you can see where you've applied it and it's 100 per cent soap-free, easy to apply and gynaecologically tested. It's fragrance-free too. It's given us some of the smoothest shaves ever and is a pleasant v wash as well.

Buy now

The plant-based wash: Fig Femme Refresh Daily Wash, £12.99

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This is pH balanced, plant-based and fragrance-free, but also has one of those trendy line drawings on it that makes it look chic in the bathroom. It's made with botanical extracts designed to calm inflammation and minimise discomfort caused by razor burn, waxing and tight clothes.

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The moisturiser: Megs Menopause Blossom Balm Intimate Skin Moisturiser, £8

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No skincare routine is complete without a moisturiser and this one from Meg Matthews' menopause friendly range fits the bill. Designed specifically for the intimate area it soothes the skin, especially when it's dry and irritated. It has a very subtle rose scent thanks to rose water in the ingredients, so steer clear if you're prone to irritation, but otherwise apply away.

Buy now

The bottom line

"You simply don’t need a lot of products for your vagina and vulva," says Dr Tania Adib. "Your vagina is self-cleaning and has a clever cleaning system going on so best not to disturb it. When you clean your vulva, a non-scented soap or emollient should be used."

MORE GLOSS: How to turbo-charge your pelvic floor

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