I am so grateful that you asked this. I’ve had other questions that speak to this issue. It takes some courage to bring this up!
Genital skin IS a little different than say….skin on the face or skin on the back. It’s thinner, more prone to irritation, and it’s very stretchy. This makes sense if we think about how it functions and the fact that it expands and contracts a lot with arousal, sex, pregnancy, even just regular monthly hormone changes.
What does normal genital skin look like?
- Genital skin color: So yes …from the preteens on, in almost everyone, this skin is a slightly darker color. This is normal! This is true around the anus too. I get concerned when I hear about bleaching of the area. In many people this is, in the long run, irritating. Irritation gradually makes the pigment even darker. And, let’s think about this! Why are we trying to make our genital areas look like a preteen child?
- Genital skin texture: Somewhat wrinkly is also normal. That’s because the skin needs to be able to expand and contract. It’s smoother when there’s more blood flow (arousal) and more wrinkly at rest.
- Labia color: The color of the labia varies with skin type. Whether your beautiful skin is darker or lighter, than the OUTER labia will be darker. The inner labia (mucosa) is more smooth and pinker. Same for the penis. It’s just that the mucosa is harder to see.
What irritates the labia and can cause genital itching and discomfort?
- STDs – OK…..I’ve got to say this. If you are having sex and have new itching, discharge, discomfort or pain, then you may have a sexually transmitted disease (STD) and you must see a doctor! Planned Parenthood or county hospitals offer these services discreetly. And, if any of you can, PLEASE donate to them and help many women who have limited resources. No matter what your politics, I think all of us can agree we don’t want any woman or man harmed by lack of medical care.
- Eczema – This is fairly common on the labia and on the penis, and especially in those prone to it. Possible helpful measures include avoiding all scented products, washing all underwear in chemical free laundry soap, absolutely NO dryer sheets (not even the ‘natural’ ones), avoiding rubbing and friction, and using a bland protective layer. Many people use a little vaseline but something more organic like avocado oil or even olive oil is better.
- Yeast infections – These often need a doctor to diagnose and treat, but there are drugstore products available. Ask your pharmacist. A yeast infection is NOT AN STD. It’s an overgrowth of your own normal yeast. Probiotics also help many.
- Personal lubricants or other products – Many of these contain chemicals like propylene glycol which over time can cause allergies. Look for products that are as natural as possible and don’t contain PG for use in the genital area.
Hope this helps,
Dr. Brandith Irwin
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