In the last post, we talked about how pH levels affect the vagina. The second part of good vaginal health has to do with moisture. As we say at MiddlesexMD, moist tissues are strong tissues.
Normally, your vagina moisturizes and cleanses itself by secreting a clear fluid that seeps from blood vessels in the vaginal wall. When you become sexually aroused, blood flow increases, and so does the lubrication. Unfortunately, this process is regulated by estrogen, and we all know what’s been happening to that hormone lately.
With decreasing estrogen levels and circulation, vaginal tissue becomes thin and dry. Maybe you’ve noticed that you don’t lubricate as easily during sex so that penetration is difficult or painful, or maybe you’ve experienced vaginal dryness and discomfort at other times as well.
The good news is that this condition is easy to fix. You moisturize your skin regularly; you should do the same with the vagina. First, a little refresher on the difference between vaginal moisturizers and lubricants. Lubricants may be used in the vagina and on the penis or toys during intercourse to help with penetration and to make sex more pleasurable. Lubricants come in water- or silicone-based varieties or a hybrid of the two, and in various viscosities (thick to thin). Choice of lubricant is a highly personal preference and may depend on the activity you have in mind. Because it’s helpful to try different kinds, we’ve compiled a sampler kit of our favorites.
Lubricants last several hours, and the only rule of thumb related to vaginal health is that no oil-based product, including petroleum jelly, should be used in the vagina. They’re hard for the vagina to flush out; they tend to disrupt pH balance; and they also tend to deteriorate condoms. Lubricants can be used in addition to a moisturizer.
The sole purpose of vaginal moisturizers, on the other hand, is to keep vaginal tissue moist and healthy. Moisturizers last two or three days and should be used regularly, just like facial products. And just like anything you use on your body, you want your vaginal moisturizer to contain natural, high-quality ingredients. A few common ingredients in vaginal moisturizers (that are also present in lubricants) bear some examination:
- Glycerin. Widely used in moisturizers and lubricants, glycerin is a colorless, sweet-tasting substance that can exacerbate a yeast infection by giving the organisms sugars to feed on. If you’re susceptible to yeast infections, find a glycerin-free moisturizer.
- Parabens. In all their hyphenated mutations (methyl-, ethyl-, butyl, and propyl-) parabens are a widely used preservative and anti-microbial agent. While some contamination-fighting ingredient is a good idea in these personal products, a few recent studies have found very slight health issues that may be linked to parabens. A bigger problem is the potential for an allergic reaction that could be related to parabens or other ingredients in moisturizers.
- Propylene glycol. Used as a fragrance and to control viscosity, propylene glycol has also been linked to skin irritations and allergies.
Dr. Barb DePree, M.D., has been a gynecologist and women’s health provider for almost 30 years and a menopause care specialist for the past ten. Read more about and from her here.