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Let’s Talk About Vaginal Dryness
Jun. 03, 2022
Like every other body part, aging can cause your vagina to change. Yes, dear friend, nothing is safe. But fear not. Here, we give you climate control.
It may present itself as pain during intercourse, a feeling of dryness or itchiness, or even the sensation of tiny painful cuts inside the vagina and on the vulva. And while some women experience it constantly, for others, the feeling comes and goes. Vaginal dryness is yet another symptom of aging, and one that—like so many of these physical and emotional changes—can be blamed on hormonal fluctuations. In particular, estrogen, which helps control collagen production and keeps the vaginal lining healthy and well-lubricated.
Vaginal Dryness During Perimenopause
“As estrogen levels go down, the vaginal lining—or vaginal epithelium—gets thinner and that’s when dryness occurs,” says Elizabeth Poynor, MD, a New York City gynecologist and Clinical Professor at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at NYU Grossman School of Medicine. Vaginal dryness becomes more prevalent when women enter peri-menopause, Dr. Poynor explains, as estrogen levels peak and then plummet at more extreme levels, before eventually dropping for good as women enter menopause.
Not only that, says Cynthia Thurlow, a Virginia-based nurse practitioner, but the vaginal microbiome shifts and PH levels become less acidic, creating a more hospitable environment for urinary tract infections, bacterial vaginosis, and yeast infections. “And in women who are metabolically inflexible or prone to insulin resistance, it creates an environment where infections are even more common,” Thurlow explains.
In other worst-case scenario news, this deterioration of the vaginal lining could also lead to vaginal or rectal prolapse. “Estrogen affects deeper tissues, which provide structure and function to the vaginal walls,” says Anna Cabeca, MD, author of the upcoming book MenuPause: Five Unique Eating Plans to Break Through Your Weight Loss Plateau and Improve Mood, Sleep and Hot Flashes. “Anatomically, the bladder is held in this hammock of muscles that is the pelvic floor. So, when we don't have the strong structural support, there are fascial breaks and muscle weaknesses and loss of skin and elasticity.”
How To Help With Vaginal Dryness
There is a bright side: There are things you can do to keep your vagina supple and healthy, whether you’ve already experienced vaginal dryness, or now have a healthy fear of it. “It’s better to stay ahead of the curve and maintain good vaginal health,” Dr. Poynor advises, especially if you’re sexually active or think you’ll be sexually active in the future.
Moisturize from the outside in
Dr. Poynor recommends natural treatments like coconut oil, olive oil, or vitamin E in either topical or suppository form. There are also a number of over-the-counter vaginal moisturizers on the market specifically formulated to soothe the area. Hyaluronic acid, in gel or suppository form, is another non-hormonal treatment that increases moisture, trapping water inside tissue cells.
Steer clear of chemicals and perfumes
While it’s always a good idea to limit the use of perfumes and chemicals (like phthalates and parabens) in and around your vagina, it’s especially important at this stage of life, when the vagina is a bit more vulnerable. The experts agree to skip wipes altogether because they can be drying; washing with water alone is best, though a non-irritating, fragrance-free soap or PH-balanced cleanser should also be fine.
Consider a silicone-based lubricant
Silicone-based lube is PH-neutral and doesn’t dry out like water-based lubricant can. In addition, it’s safe to use with condoms, unlike natural oils and oil-based lube.
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