Kids Health Info

Vulval skin care for children

  • While your child is young, the skin around the vulva (external female genital area) can be quite thin, and this can lead to it being easily irritated. Occasional itching around the vulval area is common.

    Sometimes, irritation to the skin can cause pain (see our fact sheet Vulvovaginitis). The symptoms are usually not serious and get better with simple steps you can do at home.

    Thrush is very uncommon before puberty, so if your child has itching or irritation around the vulva, it is not likely to be thrush. Threadworms can also cause itching and redness around the vaginal area (see our fact sheet Worms).

    Care at home

    There are many simple ways to reduce your child's symptoms if they have itch or irritation around the vulva. These suggestions will also help prevent symptoms from returning.

    Clothing and laundry

    • Wear cotton underwear.
    • Wear loose-fitting pants or skirts, and avoid tights and leggings.
    • Ensure that laundry detergent is rinsed well from underwear, and do not use fabric softener on undergarments.

    Hygiene

    • Do not over-wash the area. Treat the skin of the vulval area very gently.
    • Avoid hot baths.
    • Do not use soap for washing while symptoms are present. Alternatives include Cetaphil cleanser, Dermaveen, Hamilton wash, QV or sorbolene.
    • When the symptoms have improved, washing with plain water may be enough for good genital hygiene.
    • Do not use bubble bath or perfumed soaps or creams, and avoid getting shampoo on the vulval area.
    • Try vinegar baths to prevent mild infections in the vulval area and to help relieve itchiness. Add half a cup of white vinegar to a shallow bath and soak for 10 to 15 minutes. Your child can have vinegar baths from once a week to twice a day, depending on how uncomfortable the symptoms are.
    • Encourage your child to urinate (wee) when they first feel they need to go to the toilet and avoid 'hanging on'.
    • Use soft, uncoloured, unscented toilet paper.

    Physical activities

    • Avoid activities that put direct pressure on the vulva (e.g. bicycle riding or horse riding).
    • Remove sports clothing soon after exercise.
    • Place a frozen gel pack wrapped in a towel against the itchy area to relieve symptoms after exercise.
    • Have a break from swimming in chlorinated pools and avoid hot tubs.
    • Remove wet bathing suits soon after swimming.
    • Avoid long periods of sitting – encourage regular breaks of standing or walking.

    Relieving itch

    • Encourage your child to not scratch the area.
    • Soak a clean, soft cloth (e.g. an unused Chux) in a bowl with cool water and your soap substitute, and apply to the vulval area to help relieve the itch.
    • Never use medication on the genital area that has not been prescribed for this area, because the skin is more sensitive than other skin.

    When to see a doctor

    If your child's itch and irritation remain after trying the suggestions above, see your GP. Also see the GP if your child has:

    • pain or burning when urinating
    • bleeding or discharge from the vaginal area
    • fever or abdominal pain.

    Key points to remember

    • Vulval skin is very delicate and needs to be treated gently. 
    • Occasional itching around the vulval area is common.
    • Thrush is uncommon before puberty.
    • Vinegar baths and a cool compress may help relieve itch.
    • Avoid bubble baths or perfumed soaps and creams.

    For more information

    Common questions our doctors are asked

    How can I get my child to stop scratching?

    It's hard to get a child who is feeling itchy to not scratch, but it is important to discourage scratching so they don't irritate the skin further. Try placing a cold, damp, cloth against the itchy area to relieve the itch, or give your child a vinegar bath. See your GP if nothing seems to help.

    How do I know if my child has thrush?

    It is very rare for children to get thrush before they start menstruating, so vaginal or vulval itching is not likely to be thrush. Vulvovaginitis is more likely. If your child has a thick, white discharge from their vagina (with a ‘cottage cheese’ appearance and yeasty smell) then it may be thrush. If there is a discharge, see your GP.


    Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital Dermatology department. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.

    Reviewed March 2018.

    Kids Health Info is supported by The Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation. To donate, visit www.rchfoundation.org.au.

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Disclaimer
This information is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your doctor or healthcare professionals. The authors of these consumer health information handouts have made a considerable effort to ensure the information is accurate, up to date and easy to understand. The Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne accepts no responsibility for any inaccuracies, information perceived as misleading, or the success of any treatment regimen detailed in these handouts. Information contained in the handouts is updated regularly and therefore you should always check you are referring to the most recent version of the handout. The onus is on you, the user, to ensure that you have downloaded the most up-to-date version of a consumer health information handout.