Vulval skin care for teenagers

  • Occasional itching around the vulval area (external female genital area) can be common in teenagers as they go through puberty. Genital skin is very delicate and needs to be treated gently.

    Sometimes, irritation to the skin in the area can cause pain, which may be a condition called vulvovaginitis. The symptoms are usually not serious and improve naturally. See our fact sheet Vulvovaginitis.

    Often people assume these symptoms are due to a thrush infection; however, there are many other possible reasons for the symptoms.  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 symptoms if you 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.


    • Treat the skin of the vulval area very gently.
    • Avoid hot baths, but have a warm bath daily.
    • 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 warm, 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.
    • Do not use soap for washing while symptoms are present. Alternatives include Cetaphil cleanser, Dermaveen, Hamilton wash or QV wash.
    • 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.
    • Do not use douches (i.e. vaginal washes).
    • Urinate (wee) when you first feel the need to go to the toilet and avoid 'hanging on'.
    • Use soft, uncoloured, unscented toilet paper.
    • Use 100% cotton menstrual pads and tampons. Use tampons if possible, as panty liners or pads may irritate the area.

    Relieving itch

    • Try not to 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.
    • Your doctor may prescribe a steroid ointment.

    Physical activities

    • When symptoms are present, avoid activities that put direct pressure on the vulva (e.g. bicycle riding or horse riding).
    • Remove sports clothing soon after exercise.
    • Place a cool compress against the itchy area to relieve symptoms after exercise.
    • Have a break from swimming in chlorinated pools and avoid spas.
    • Remove wet bathing suits soon after swimming.
    • Avoid long periods of sitting – encourage regular breaks of standing or walking.

    Sexual intercourse

    • Do not have intercourse when you have symptoms or pain in the genitals.
    • Natural lubrication is best, but if there is dryness, make sure the area is well lubricated. Avoid artificial lubricants such as KY jelly or petroleum jelly, as they can lead to a bacterial or yeast infections in the vagina. If you are not using condoms, plain vegetable oil from the supermarket is suitable. If you are using condoms, do not use oil for a lubricant as this may cause holes in the condom. Choose a water-based or silicon lubricant.
    • Apply a cool compress to relieve any burning pain after intercourse.
    • Urinate and rinse the vulva with cool water after sexual intercourse. This will help prevent infection.

    When to see a doctor

    If your itch and irritation remain after trying the suggestions above, see your GP. Your GP may take a swab (small sample from the area) to determine if you have thrush or another infection, and then they can prescribe the right medication. If an inappropriate medication is used – even one designed to treat genital infection – it may irritate the area, which can make the diagnosis of other conditions more difficult.

    Also see the GP if you have:

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

    For more information

    Key points to remember

    • Occasional itching around the vulval area can be common during puberty.
    • Genital skin is very delicate and needs to be treated gently. Avoid bubble bath, feminine hygiene products or perfumed soaps and creams.
    • Try to avoid scratching. If the area is itchy, try cool compresses or vinegar baths.

    Common questions our doctors are asked

    How do I know if I have thrush?

    If you have 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. 

    Could the pain and itching be an STI?

    Pain, itch or discomfort may be signs of many different conditions, including thrush, urinary tract infection, trauma or sexually-transmitted infection. If you have any of these symptoms, see your GP.

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

    Reviewed June 2018.

    This information is awaiting routine review. Please always seek the most recent advice from a registered and practising clinician.

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