Tips for How to Care for the Skin Around Your Bikini Area
That skin around your underwear and bikini lines is sensitive and should be handled with care—a specific skin-care regime, that is.
The V-zone is the new T-zone, with a raft of innovative brands offering everything from moisturizers to mists to-ready or not-highlighters, each promising to clean, hydrate and beautify down below.
While a multistep Korean-beauty-level regimen may be taking things too far, experts do say that we can all benefit from a little more love in the region. Here, simple maintenance for staying in good shape and holding undesirables such as ingrown hairs at bay.
A Case for Care
Most of the new products for the vaginal area are geared toward keeping the skin smooth and healthy overall. There's New York–based Fur (a chic line that softens pubic hair and is beloved by Emma Watson), Sweden's DeoDoc, and the Perfect V, to name a few. This last one, a luxe paraben-, sulfate-, and fragrance-free skin-care line, was created by former L'Oréal Paris marketing executive Avonda Urben, who was inspired by the desire to elevate pampering of this delicate, deserving area.
"Feminine care has been stuck in the 1950s, and it's all negative," says Urben. "You're bleeding, you're itching, you smell. It's all grouped in the back of the store as if it's shameful. I didn't understand why we couldn't have a modern way to take care of ourselves." (BTW, here are 6 reasons your vagina smells and when you should see a doc.)
All the bikini-specific brands popping up are dermatologist- and gynecologist-tested to ensure efficacy and safety. This is the best argument for bikini-zone beautifiers, according to dermatologist Doris Day, M.D. "For those with sensitive skin in this area, it is helpful to know that the products have been tested," says Dr. Day. "They're much less likely to cause a problem." Put simply, "Skin is skin. You really shouldn't neglect any of it," says dermatologist and Shape Brain Trust member Mona Gohara, M.D. (Here are Khloé Kardashian's favorite V-care products.)
Your Basic Routine
The key thing to understand is that the skin down there is different from the skin on your face because it has fewer sebaceous glands (those that produce oil). Still, it can benefit from a wash-exfoliate-moisturize regimen.
Pick a Clean Cleanser
Regular soap, though, should be a no-go in your vagina, since pH maintenance is paramount. Plus, vulval skin is absorbent, which makes it more likely to react to ingredients in soap, moisturizer, and even fabric softener. Try an all-natural alternative, like the V bar from Queen V (Buy It, $4, walmart.com), which is formulated to support the vagina's slightly acidic natural pH range of 3.8 to 4.5.
Also, avoid well-known irritants like synthetic fragrance and parabens, and skip products that contain essential oils—some, like tea tree oil, can burn sensitive skin, says Stephanie McClellan, M.D., an ob-gyn and the chief medical officer at Tia Clinic, a gynecology and wellness practice in New York City. She advises using water instead of soap and looking for moisturizers with few ingredients, like BeeFriendly Organic Vaginal Moisturizer & Personal Lubricant (Buy It, $35, amazon.com).
"Whenever a patient says she is itchy, red, or irritated in that area, the first thing I'll ask is, ‘What kind of cleanser are you using?'" says Dr. Gohara. "Nine times out of 10 the problem is a sensitivity to perfumed cleansers." (Related: Stop Telling Me I Need to Buy Things for My Vagina)
If you're planning to shave your bikini area, you'll exfoliate next. Getting rid of dead skin cells will help reduce the bumps and hyperpigmentation that shaving can cause, she says.
The Perfect V Gentle Exfoliator (Buy It, $34; neimanmarcus.com) uses an alpha hydroxy acid buffered with jojoba oil. Then follow with a hydrating formula: DeoDoc Intimate Calming Oil (Buy It, $23; deodoc.com) soothes skin with chamomile, almond, and shea butter oil. For the more aesthetically inclined, there's also the Perfect V Very V Luminizer (By It, $43; neimanmarcus.com), a moisturizer with a radiance-boosting tint. (What's next, contouring? Butt contouring is already a thing.)
"Make sure any oils and lotions you apply are absorbed before getting dressed, and avoid putting them on before a workout," says Dr. Gohara, who also cautions that your favorite spandex leggings might exacerbate irritation, especially with excess moisture. "Rubbing from tight clothes can leave inflamed follicles in the groin," she says. "When that happens, I recommend an over-the-counter benzoyl peroxide wash-used only externally-to settle things down."
Hyperpigmentation and ingrown hairs, the two biggest bikini-line banes, are typically a result of hair removal.
"Hair wasn't meant to be removed, so it causes some trauma when we do it," says Dr. Gohara. "The skin reacts to shaving or waxing by inflating-each follicle creates a bubble to try to protect the hair."
If you're prone to these issues and you shave, use "a simple one- or two-blade razor to minimize the risk of irritating the skin. Go with the grain of the hair, and use a shaving cream or an oil, not a bar soap, to help ease the hair out of the follicle," she says. (More: 6 Tricks for How to Shave Your Bikini Area)
If you wax, "try using a benzoyl peroxide wash for a few days beforehand to decrease inflammation-causing bacteria in the area and a little over-the-counter cortisone right afterward to decrease redness and irritation," says Dr. Day.
But if ingrown hairs are a major problem for you, know that waxing is probably the worst option. "It removes the hair from the follicle, and when it grows back, it can come in at an angle, leading to an ingrown," she says. Opt for laser hair removal; at a doctor's office, you'll need about six treatments at $300 each. Or try an at-home laser, like Tria Hair Removal Laser 4X (Buy It, $449; amazon.com).
The Non-Skincare Steps
All the things that can make your face break out can affect you down south too: poor sleep, dehydration, and stress, says Dr. McClellan. These factors increase inflammation, which makes skin prone to irritation. A sure sign of suffering? Increased itchiness in the evening.
“Anything that’s inflammation related tends to get worse at night,” says Dr. McClellan. Aim to get seven hours of sleep every night and drink at least 64 ounces of water a day. If you’re falling short, take extra care to prevent chafing. Stick to looser-fitting clothes and 100- percent-cotton underwear.
If You're Having an Issue
Your risk of bacterial vaginosis and urinary tract and yeast infections is higher in the summer because bacteria and yeast love heat and humidity. The resulting discharge can make the vulva red, rash-like, and irritated. While you’re treating the infection, says Dr. McClellan, use an OTC hydrocortisone cream to calm angry skin.
If that doesn’t help after a day or two, head to your ob-gyn, she adds. “The irritation might be contact dermatitis or eczema, or it could be a misdiagnosed problem—many women think they have yeast when another issue is to blame,” she says.