There are 3 key facts for genital skin care:
- Avoid IRRITANTS
- KEEP DRY, and
- Don’t SCRATCH or RUB
Your genital skin is very sensitive. Avoid cleansing the area more than once a day. You should try to avoid the following substances which can be irritants and may make your discomfort worse:
- tea tree oil
- tar based skin preparations
- bubble bath and some bath salts
- perfumed products
- medicated creams (ointments are preferred) 'feminine' products
- artificial lubricants
- scented oils
- some brands of toilet paper
- some sanitary napkins
- panty liners
- some laundry detergents
- dyes in underwear
- deodorized pads/tampons
Some products labelled ‘mild’ or ‘hypoallergenic’ can still be irritating to your skin. Even water alone can overdry the skin if washing is frequent. Check with your doctor or nurse.
We suggest that:
you avoid over the counter creams or products unless prescribed by your doctor
- you try undyed, unscented toilet paper
- you try a laundry powder free of dyes, enzymes and perfumes and avoid fabric softener
Excess moisture encourages infection.
take off swimming clothes and wet gym gear as soon as possible
- wear underwear that absorbs/draws off moisture when possible (some microfibers work well, fine merino eg 'icebreaker' is excellent)
- carry extra underwear with you to change into if you become damp
Decrease Friction or Rubbing
Skin damaged by friction and rubbing is more easily infected. Scratching can also lead to thickening of the skin and nerve fibres, which increases itching (itch-scratch cycle).
avoid rubbing the genital skin with a washcloth or paper
- pat dry rather than rubbing with a towel (some people use a hairdryer on a cool setting)
- avoid shaving and waxing the genital area
- avoid tight clothing
Consider protective ointments before exercise and using a sexual lubricant – see overleaf.
If you are scratching at night, cut your nails and wear loose underwear to bed. If you wake scratching, get out of bed and cool the skin.
keep cool – avoid electric blankets and hot showers/baths
- use a covered ice pack or cold wet cloth
- if using creams, apply cold from the fridge
- use distraction or relaxation techniques when you get the urge to scratch
- you may find anti-histamines helpful. Try a once a day non-sedating antihistamine initially, but discuss a night time sedating one with your doctor.
Some Helpful Advice
Cleansing the Genital Skin:
Anything that lathers will remove healthy oils from skin.
use unperfumed sorbolene cream or aqueous cream for cleansing – a light film should remain on the skin after rinsing. It should not feel 'squeaky clean'
- wash once a day
- use cool water
Consider eczema products if the skin is very dry or scaly.
QV gentle wash
- Dermeze wash
- Hamilton’s wash
- Alpha keri products
- Emulsifying ointment – greasy but very good. Add enough water to be able to spread easily. This can be used as a barrier ointment also.
Consider a protective ointment if the skin is very dry or fragile and will be exposed to friction and sweat (gym, cycling) or excess moisture in hot weather or at the time of your period. Avoid hairy areas as thick ointments can result in pimples. If urine or bowel incontinence/leakage is a problem, reduce use of pads and panty liners where possible and consider a protective ointment. Speak with your doctor or pelvic floor physiotherapist.
Useful protective products are:
Vaseline – for small areas, especially around the anus.
- Dermeze – like runny Vaseline, easier to use on a larger area
- Zinc cream (sudocream – available in supermarkets – a dryish cream)
- Zinc and castor oil cream – smoother but a bit messy
- Emulsifying ointment – can be messy/too moist
- Sorbolene cream – will need reapplication through the day
- Aqueous cream with or without olive oil – occasionally has an initial sting
Water based lubricants are recommended with condom use. These can dry to an irritating powder, so rinse off with water after use and moisturize as above.
Experiment with various types eg Sylk, Pjur, KY
If condoms are not needed, vegetable oils will be less irritant and may lubricate for longer.
- Crisco veg oil
- Olive oil
OILS CAN WEAKEN CONDOMS
so should not be used together.
KEEP INTERCOUSE BRIEF
If using condoms and various water based lubricants irritate, and dryness is a problem, discuss this with your partner. If you are relaxed and well aroused the need for a lubricant may be less.
If you still have to use a lubricant, consider a vegetable oil or almond oil. Shorten intercourse to less than 3-5 minutes.
If a condom breaks – emergency contraception is effective if used within 72 hours. Consider the risk of an STI.
Genital First Aid
a fistful of salt in a bath (or 1 level teaspoon salt per litre of cool water as a soak on a cloth) can soothe irritated, itchy or inflamed skin. Limit it to 10 minutes 3-5 days
- 1/8000 potassium permanganate solution can be uses as a soak (cotton balls or fine cloth) on moist inflamed skin. Eg severe thrush or groin tinea
Apply for 5-10 minutes, pat dry or use a cool hairdryer, then apply medication as prescribed.
Limit use to 3-5 days to avoid overdrying.
If urine touches broken skin it might hurt. Hold away genital skin and for women, adjust your body position (e.g. lean forward) when urinating so as to avoid urine dripping on inflamed skin. You can also try urinating into a wet face washer or in a bath tub of water eg if you have extensive ulcers (topical lignocaine anaesthetic gel will help). Drink plenty of water.
If it continues to hurt when you pass urine, see a doctor.
Acknowledgement -This leaflet acknowledges the content from the Sexual Health Service Tasmania website.
This fact sheet is designed to provide you with information on Genital Skin Care. It is not intended to replace the need for a consultation with your doctor. All clients are strongly advised to check with their doctor about any specific questions or concerns they may have. Every effort has been taken to ensure that the information in this pamphlet is correct at the time of printing.Last Updated February 2013