I was interviewing gynecologist and women’s health expert Dr. Sherry Ross about dilation therapy when the conversation turned to vaginal skincare products. Dr. Ross said that while the vagina could be compared to a self-cleaning oven—completely self-sufficient unto itself—the vulva was more akin to the stovetop. In other words, it needs some regular tending to.
That’s because bacteria, sweat glands, hair, and friction against clothes can all mess with the vulva’s natural pH balance, Dr. Ross explained. “Post-menopausal dryness— a.k.a. vulva-vaginal atrophy, which affects both the vulva and the vagina—also needs to be treated with a product specifically formulated for the vulva, and preferably one that contains hyaluronic acid, which can help skin cells lock moisture in,” she told me, adding that she’d send a few “before” and “after” photos of vaginas with and without vaginal skin care moisturizer.
When I received those images, I was even more intrigued—and wondered if my vagina might benefit from a multi-step vaginal skincare routine like I do for my face on a daily basis. So, I decided to see for myself what a skincare routine for the vulva does, and perhaps more importantly, how it feels.
Before I embarked on my self-care pilgrimage, I called Maria Sophocles, MD, OB/GYN, who reiterated that the vagina was indeed self-cleaning, much like the ear canal. But, she acknowledged, the vulva area can get out of balance. When that occurs, it can be prone to odor and itching.
“There are things that we can do to restore pH or bacterial balance, so that we don’t have odor or itching symptoms,” says Dr. Sophocles. “Especially as women get older, they often lose a lot of the protective qualities of the surface of the vulva, which is why we recommend they use a barrier cream to form a little layer of protection between the surface of the vulva and their underwear. Over the counter products can be a wonderful adjunct to genital health—a soothing cream or gel or oil on the vulva feels surprisingly good.”
Related: What is a Normal Vaginal pH—and When Should You Test Yours?
The bottom line: While you don’t need a vaginal skincare routine, you might want one. I started to think about vulvar care as an expression of self-esteem—a way to honor my anatomy—and got curious about where it might take me.
To establish a baseline, I had to get a good look. Normally I don’t pay attention to the appearance of my vagina, and I found myself regretting this. Was this not skin, albeit chock a block full of nerve endings designed to give pleasure, deserving of cleansing, moisturizing, spritzing, and quaffing? It turned out a luscious moisturizer for my delicate vulvar skin might be less far-fetched of a concept than I initially thought. The jury was still out on whether I needed special cleaning products, but using body cleansers that eschewed abrasive irritants, such as sulfates or phthalates in favor of gentler, more naturally sourced ingredients was a no-brainer. And although Dr. Sherry and Dr. Sophocles differed on what intimate skincare products they liked best, both of them agreed that ultimately, after checking in with my doctor to ensure I wasn’t turning towards vagina skincare products to mask any issues (like vaginal odors that might be a sign of infection, or dryness that was a sign of a hormonal imbalance), it was up to me to decide what made me feel good about my lady parts.
Here are the vaginal skincare products I tried on my one-woman journey through the underworld of my nether regions, and how I learned to love my vagina even more along the way.
Good Clean Love BioNourish® Ultra Moisturizing Vaginal Gel
Designed to combat dryness by mimicking the way the body works, this water-based, pH balanced gel felt immediately cooling—giving me the kind of relief I didn’t even know my vulvar region craved. The hyaluronic acid helps lock in moisture and the gel has a light, clean feeling. This was refreshing without being cloying and felt like a private pick-me-up. This gel became a beauty basic easily integrated into my daily routine. $25, goodcleanlove.com
The Perfect V Very V Luminizer
A luminizer for the vagina just makes the point that everything is—or can be—illuminated. I won’t lie: I was initially skeptical. But this product grew on me. Subtle yet potent, it does imbue the skin with a soft seductive sheen. Even better, it’s free of drying alcohol, hormone-disrupting parabens and irritating sulfates, and it’s packed with herbal powerhouses such as Scandinavian-sourced Lingonberry and Sprout Extract. Don’t get me wrong—it’s fun for the occasional glam close-up sesh—but what I like most about the product is that it can be used anywhere on your body, which means multiple options. $43, theperfectv.com
Related: So, You Want to Explore Your Sexuality. Here’s Where to Start
Lady Suite Glow Refiner Exfoliating Spray
Since having a born-again sex life I’ve taken to getting waxed, despite swearing each time to never again subject myself to such exquisite agony. While I love the silky feeling, there are the occasional occupational hazards—a.k.a ingrown hairs—to be dealt with. The lady suite refiner targets ingrown hairs, razor bumps and dark spots, but does so by relying on natural ingredients such as willow bark and lactic acid. It can also be used on the face for breakouts and pimples. The refiner’s clean ingredient deck is noteworthy, as is its ability to be tough and soothing simultaneously. $32, ladysuitebeauty.com
This anti-inflammatory salve made from coconut and jojoba oils protects the vulvovaginal area from everyday stressors such as sex, exercise, and underwear. The thoughtfully crafted, certified organic formula highlights botanicals rich in berberine, a powerful alkaloid that’s used to treat yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis. It’s one of those products that makes you feel like you are being a good steward to a beloved, endangered region. I’ve come to see this product as a must-have for the sustainability of my vaginal microbiome. $35, momtaroapotheca.com
If you’ve already been a convert to oil-based cleansing for the face, you’ll appreciate the supreme mildness of an oil-based cleanser for your muff. The all natural, fragrance-free formula includes nourishing vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant that combats aging and UV damage. Soap can be incredibly drying anywhere on the body; I love having this oil-based option, which leaves a light, all-day protective layer exactly where I need it most. $30, deodoc.com
Related: How to Craft a New Roadmap to Your Own Sexual Pleasure
Urja Intimates Vibrant V Moisturizing Silky Serum
Formulated by Dr. Sherry herself, this serum goes double down with regenerative ingredients such as CBD, hyaluronic acid, and bakuchiol, a natural alternative to retinol. A clean list of back-up ingredients complements the star players, making this serum a gold standard for vulvar care. Capable of plumping, smoothing and deeply hydrating, even if I didn’t see the results, I definitely felt like good things were going down. $75, urjabeauty.com
Elizabeth Marglin is a Colorado-based journalist, writer, and poet. She is the co-author of The Wild and Sacred Feminine Deck: A 52-Card Oracle and Guidebook (Shambhala Publications 2022), and writes regularly for Yoga Journal, Spirituality & Health, AARP, and more.
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