Yeast infections, contact dermatitis, sweat… we asked ob-gyns for the causes of vaginal itching—so you don’t have to.

By Mirel Ketchiff
Updated July 02, 2019
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When you’re feeling itchy down south, your main concern is probably how to discreetly scratch without raising eyebrows. But if the itch sticks around, you’ll eventually start to wonder, “What exactly is going on here?” The level of panic in that thought probably depends as much on the longevity and severity of the itchiness as it does on your levels of generalized anxiety.

Before you can figure out why you're itchy, you need to pinpoint what exactly itches. There's a difference between vulvar itching (which is usually around or between your labia) and vaginal itching (which is in the vaginal opening itself).

But truth be told, there are a bunch of reasons you might be feeling a little uncomfortable down south. We asked experts to name some of the top culprits. Here, everything you need to know if you're frantically googling "why does my vagina itch??"

Irritant Contact Dermatitis

The chemicals in products like soaps and laundry detergents can trigger a mild allergic or irritant reaction, says Lauren Streicher, M.D., author of Sex Rx. If this is the cause of your itching, the irritation will be mostly on your vulva (the external part of the genitals) rather than in your vagina. “The first thing to do is eliminate any products you're using," says Dr. Streicher. The itching should be better within a few days of avoiding these products. Check out The Newest Beauty Treatment for Your Vagina.)

Hormone changes

The female sex hormone estrogen plays a role in collagen and elastin production in the skin. But around ages 40 to 58, women’s estrogen levels begin to decline as they enter perimenopause, the time at the end of the reproductive years, as the body starts transitioning into menopause. The hormone drop often causes serious vaginal dryiness, which can lead to itching, says Alyssa Dweck, M.D., an ob/gyn and author of The Complete A to Z for Your V. Long-lasting vaginal lubricants like Replens ($12, target.com) can help, as can salves like the Momotaro Salve ($35, momotaroapotheca.com).

Yeast Infections

If you’ve ever had a yeast infection before, you know that the issue can cause serious vaginal itching. But there’s such a thing as an “external” yeast infection too, which means you don't need to have the tell-tale thick discharge to have a yeast infection. “Yeast can affect the vulva as well,” Dr. Dweck says. Pull out a hand mirror and check yourself out. See redness or visible irritation? “Bright redness accompanied by vulvar itching is often a sign of yeast, says Dr. Streicher. Over-the-counter anti-fungal treatments can treat both problems. “Some Monistat packs even come with external vulvar cream to instant relief,” Dr. Dweck says. (Related: 5 Vaginal Yeast Infection Symptoms Every Woman Should Know About)

Lichen Sclerosus

The giveaways that your itchiness is caused by this condition: It’s confined to one specific spot, and the patch of skin looks white. Doctors don't know what causes it, but since the affected skin can become thin and easily damaged, Dr. Streicher suggests seeing your doctor, who can prescribe a cortisone cream to treat the condition.

Spermicide

Spermicide, a type of contraceptive that kills sperm (you can buy it as a gel or buy condoms coated with it) contains chemicals that can cause vaginal irritation, Dr. Dweck says. Some women also experience actual allergic reactions to them, she adds. If that happens to you, quit using the spermicide and if needed, use cool compresses or Benadryl to bring down the allergic inflammation. (Related: Yes, You Can Be Allergic to Semen)

Lubricants and sex toys, can also cause a reaction, Dr. Streicher says. Anytime you start to feel itchy after using something new, check out the ingredient list (for lubes) or materials (for sex toys) and try to stay away from those substances in the future. (P.S. We rounded up The Best Lubes for Any Sex Scenario).

Douching

“All you need to keep clean below the belt is water,” Dr. Streicher stresses. “Don’t douche. Don’t use soaps. Just water.” Soaps often are too harsh for internal use and can irritate the vaginal wall and throw off its pH, leading to serious itchiness. As Dr. Streicher puts it: “People put stuff in their vagina that shouldn't go in there." Keep it simple—and stuff-free. (And read up on these 10 Things to Never Put Near Your Vagina.)

Shaving Irritation

Who hasn’t had a bad case of razor burn after trying to get a super-close shave? (Not that you have to shave your pubic hair.) To soothe existing inflammation, you can apply a gentle moisturizer containing colloidal oatmeal or aloe vera. Then brush up on how to shave down there to avoid the itch when the hair starts growing back.

Lice

Yes, your pubic hair can get their own brand of lice. This is actually an STI; you may be more familiar with their alias, “crabs”. “Pubic lice are small mobile ‘bugs’ in hair-bearing areas of the genitals that can cause intense itching,” Dr. Dweck says. You’ll know you have them because in addition to the itching, you’ll be able to see the bugs or eggs in your pubic hair. You may also feel feverish, tired, or short-fused. “It’s highly contagious, so it’s important to treat it quickly with a lice shampoo,” says Dr. Dweck. (Related: Everything You Need to Know About Crabs (or Pubic Lice))

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Anonymous
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Whenever I have tried using just water it ends up smelling like an old moldy sewer. Like just using water actually makes the smell worse. So I can't agree with the no soap thing. Baby soaps and 100% organic soap-free cleansers are perfectly fine to use on the outside of your genitals. I always have and I've never had so much as a UTI or yeast infection in my life.