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Caring for your vulva

Women discussing vulval cancer

This page tells you how to take care of sensitive vulval skin. You can find information on

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Caring for your vulva

The skin of the vulva is very sensitive. After vulval surgery, the area will be even more sensitive. Try and avoid contact with soap, perfumes, moisturisers, personal wipes, shampoo (from washing your hair in the shower), feminine hygiene sprays or deodorants, or biological washing powder.

How to clean the vulva

To keep the area clean, use either aqueous cream or emulsifying ointment. Both are available cheaply in large tubs from any chemist’s shop. You apply a small amount of the cream with warm water to your vulva. Then rinse off with clean water. You can use tissue, a clean hand or soft gauze swabs to put the cream on and wipe off.

If you’ve had treatment for VIN in the skin near the anus, you can use either of these creams on a bit of toilet paper to clean after you’ve been to the loo. It cleans well and stops the toilet paper being scratchy.

Towels can be scratchy too. You can dab very gently to dry, using the softest towel or other material you can find. Some women prefer to use a hairdryer set on cool.

Underwear and clothes

It is best to wear only loose fitting cotton underwear. If the seam on your knicker gusset rubs, wear them inside out. Some women prefer not to wear any pants at all. Stockings are healthier than tights because they allow air to circulate. Or you can buy tights without a gusset, or cut it out yourself. You’ll probably be more comfortable in skirts rather than trousers.

 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the Living with vulval cancer section.

 

 

Products to avoid

The skin of the vulva is very sensitive. It can react to soaps, moisturisers, washing powder and many other chemicals. After vulval 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 below
  • 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
 

How to clean and dry your vulva

You do have 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. You apply a small amount of the cream, with warm water to your vulva. Then rinse off with clean water. You can use tissue, a clean hand or soft gauze swabs to put the cream on and wipe off. Ordinary flannels can be very scratchy.

If you’ve had treatment for VIN in the skin near the anus, you can use either of these creams on a bit of toilet paper to clean after you’ve been to the loo. It cleans well and stops the toilet paper being scratchy.

Towels can be scratchy too. You can dab very gently to dry, 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. If you do, check the temperature of your hairdryer’s cool setting before trying this – some are hotter than others. And keep the hairdryer well away from the area so you don’t get a blast of air.

 

Underwear and clothes

If you have any vulval skin problem, 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, wear them inside out.

Some women prefer not to wear any pants at all, particularly when recovering from surgery. Under a longish skirt, no one will know!

Stockings are healthier than tights because they allow air to circulate. But if you must wear tights, you can cut the gusset out of well made brands without them falling to bits. Or you can buy tights that have no gusset – they are a bit like stockings but don’t need a suspender belt.

There is no evidence for this, but it would seem sensible to us to avoid hold up type stockings if you’ve had either surgery or radiotherapy to the lymph nodes in your groin. These products stay up with quite strong elastic around your upper thigh. It doesn’t seem sensible to wear 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.

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. And avoid tight clothing such as cycling shorts or leggings.

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Updated: 26 February 2016