Take it from New York City-based neuropsychologist Sanam Hafeez, who tells me: “If issues like dermatitis, eczema, and irritation or redness affect the vulvar skin, it is likely to heighten self-consciousness about its appearance, as well as the touch, feel, and smell, which can lead to feelings of reduced attractiveness and inability to enjoy sexual pleasures.”
Adam Friedman, a board-certified dermatologist and department chair of dermatology at GW School of Medicine & Health Sciences, based in Washington, D.C., mirrors Hafeez’s sentiments almost exactly. “Skin disorders that affect the vulva can have a huge impact on a person’s confidence and ability to enjoy sex and intimacy due to the stigma and embarrassment,” he says. “It’s no question that these conditions can influence mental status and put a person at risk for depression, anxiety, and negative self-image.”
Now, for some comforting news. If you’re struggling with a vulvar skin condition, you’re not alone. On top of that, the majority of these conditions are completely treatable and non-contagious, which should hopefully provide you with some peace of mind.
For more insight, I tapped several experts for their advice on how to navigate everything that comes with having a skin condition that manifests on the vulva — including how to talk to your partner about it, what to do when a doctor gives you bad advice, ways to boost confidence, and more.
How do I know I have a vulvar skin condition and what can I do about it?
Get a diagnosis from a board-certified dermatologist.
When it comes down to it, you should see your dermatologist if you’re experiencing any type of skin irritation in the vulva area, whether it be bumps, increased redness, itching, flaking — you name it. This is the only way to get a fully accurate diagnosis, and in turn, a proper treatment plan. Friedman insists that you should never try to diagnosis yourself, as it can be near-impossible for someone who’s not a dermatologist to distinguish between the countless conditions and sexually transmitted infections that affect the skin of the genitals. “Do not succumb to Dr. Google,” he warns. “It won’t do you any good.”
On top of that, Friedman notes that certain conditions, such as psoriasis, may present differently from the standard plaques that we see on the rest of the body. “[That’s why] it’s incredibly important to get a diagnosis from an expert who’s trained to look for these things,” he says.
Explore your treatment options.
Once you receive a diagnosis from your dermatologist, they’ll set you up with a treatment plan based on the status of your vulvar condition. “For inflammatory disorders like eczema, we typically use mild topical steroid moisturizers, and for psoriasis, we sometimes prescribe biologic drugs, depending on the severity,” says Friedman. He also points out the importance of practicing good hygiene and being ultra-gentle with the sensitive skin in this area. “Stay far away from harsh or fragranced soaps as they can alter the acidity of the skin and disrupt the pH balance, which in itself can cause vulva irritation,” he says.