3 Skin Conditions That Can Affect Your Vulva

Jul 20, 2017 at 3:00 p.m. ET
Image: Getty Images

Turns out, dermatologic issues that creep up on your arm can also spring up below the belt.

Several skin conditions may be responsible for the unusual spots or rashes appearing in your vaginal region, making you uncomfortable. Here's what to look for and how to handle it if you find something unusual.

More: 6 skin conditions that look like acne but aren't


Vitiligo is an autoimmune disease that occurs when the body is triggered to view melanocytes, the specialized cells that provide color to skin, as abnormal. The body then seeks to destroy these pigment-producing skin cells. As a result, white patches appear on the skin, typically in areas over joints like wrists, elbows, knees and ankles.

“We are trying to figure out the trigger that starts the autoimmunity,” says Amit Pandya, a professor of dermatology at UT Southwestern. “Once it starts, it sets into motion a cascade of events, which causes cells to migrate into the skin that attack and kill the melanocytes.”

Many doctors believe that the skin disorder may be hereditary and that people who have vitiligo are predisposed to having it due to certain genes that promote the autoimmunity.

Vitiligo on other parts of the body can be treated with an ultraviolet light to produce some re-pigmentation. But when it affects the genital area, the disorder is generally left untreated.

Lichen sclerosus

This chronic skin condition is characterized by white crinkled or thickened patches of skin that have a tendency to scar. While this condition can affect skin anywhere on the body, it most often affects the non-hair-bearing, inner areas of the vulva. Due to the tightening of sensitive skin, lichen sclerosus can cause severe irritation and soreness, sometimes leading to bruises or ulcers from scratching or minimal friction.

This condition is most common in post-menopausal women, which has led many doctors to believe that it may be caused by a disruption of hormones. Nearly 4 percent of women who experience lichen sclerosus develop vulvar cancer, so patients are often advised to get a biopsy.

“Lichen sclerosus does not cause squamous cell carcinoma, but it’s more common to find this cancer arising from tissues affected by lichen sclerosus,” says Amy Gouley, a physician assistant at Rosario Skin Clinic and founder of Project Happy Face, a nonprofit corporation dedicated to treating disadvantaged teenagers with acne.

Symptomatic patients are often prescribed high-potency topical steroids that can help to soften skin and return skin to its normal appearance.

Contact dermatitis

There are two main types of contact dermatitis: allergic contact dermatitis and irritant contact dermatitis. Allergic contact dermatitis occurs when the skin experiences an allergic reaction after being exposed to a foreign substance, such as perfumes or chemicals in skin care products. Irritant contact dermatitis occurs when skin comes into contact with a toxic substance, such as bleach or kerosene. When it comes to the genital region, contact dermatitis is often sparked by new lube or the use of body wash in or around the vagina. As a result, skin may become dry, red and flaky, with the potential formation of small and painful blisters.

“First, you need to avoid scratching the area so that irritation can heal,” says Dr. Joyce Imahiyerobo-Ip of Vibrant Dermatology.  “A mild topical steroid can be used to help to relieve itching.”

More: Here's How 9 Real Women With Skin Conditions Stay Confident While Baring Skin

In most cases, after the rash is left alone without irritants, skin will clear up on its own.

By Shaye DiPasquale

Originally published on HelloFlo.