It’s important to remember that the skin of your genital area is sensitive, so do not use over-the-counter facial acne products on or near your labia and vagina without a doctor's guidance, and never place any kind of facial acne medication inside the vagina.
Why do women have genital acne?
The skin in the genital area is very sensitive; coupled with sweating and tight clothing, as well as thicker body hair, it’s a climate that encourages rashes and acne blemishes in the genital area.
Hormonal changes in a woman’s body can cause acne on the face, back, and vaginal area. If you’re susceptible to hormonal acne, you might also be susceptible to vaginal acne. During certain points of your menstrual cycle, you may be more prone to “period acne.”
Each woman is different, but tracking your cycle, including the start and finish of your periods and ovulation times, may help your doctor and you to control your genital acne flare-ups hormonally.
Women are more likely than men to have genital acne due to fluctuating hormones, tighter clothing, and the higher incidence of hair removal. These triggers, coupled with the fact that sweating in between the legs is very common, especially during exercise, create a climate that produces acne.
Acne vs. pimples: what’s the difference?
Acne and pimples are used interchangeably to describe small infected or clogged pores of the skin. They occur when the skin produces too much oil and the pores become clogged with a mixture of oil and dead skin cells.
A pimple is a single infected bump, one that may or may not be influenced by changing hormones. Acne refers to a group of pimples, redness, and rash. It’s typically persistent, although certain catalysts can cause acne flare-ups, covering more area of the skin.
Both acne and pimples can occur anywhere on the body but are more common in sensitive areas of the skin and those with a higher level of oil production. The face, neck, back, and inner thigh/genital region are more prone to pimples and acne than other places, such as the legs or forearms.
Vaginal acne treatment options
Treating vaginal acne largely depends on the type and cause. Contact with allergens, hormonal changes, sweat, or viral infections can all lead to the same result: painful, infected bumps.
In most cases, an over-the-counter solution recommended by your dermatologist will help reduce redness and itching. Ceasing the activity or changing the clothing that caused the acne may also reduce the recurrence and allow your treatment to work.
Be careful when treating vaginal acne. Use only doctor-approved products for your particular condition, and avoid picking at any blemishes with your fingers. The vagina is a mucous membrane, and picking skin around it may spread the infection to a vulnerable area.
Contact dermatitis is the skin’s reaction from coming into contact with different perfumes, dyes, or other chemicals your skin is sensitive to. Even scented sanitary pads or tampons can cause contact dermatitis, so opt for the unscented ones.
Diligent hygiene during your period can help reduce acne flare-ups during this time — if you do have an acne flare-up, it’s very important to protect the broken and infected skin from bacteria during your period.
The irritation, combined with tight clothing and elastic panty bands, can further irritate the skin and cause pimples. To treat this skin condition, re-wash anything scented and apply petroleum jelly to the affected areas until it heals.
This is the medical term for infection of one or more hair follicles due to bacteria.
Folliculitis can occur after shaving your pubic hair. In this case, newly grown hair can curl back towards the skin causing irritation or hair can grow back into the skin, a condition known as ingrown hair.
Ingrown hair can be pulled out with tweezers, but make sure they are very clean — wash with isopropyl alcohol first. Your dermatologist can also remove ingrown hairs in a safe, sanitary environment to prevent scarring or infection.
In addition, folliculitis can also appear. When a woman wears tight clothing and sweats a lot — this creates a condition that increases the risk of this infection.
This condition, affectionately known as “chub rub,” is a disease called Hidradenitis suppurativa. It occurs when the delicate skin of the inner thighs rubs together, resulting in rashes and pimples.
This happens to nearly all women, especially in the summer or during vigorous exercises such as running or power walking. Long-term friction eventually causes the skin to break and become infected.
While there is no cure, this condition can be mitigated, and your dermatologist may prescribe creams or ointments to reduce the redness and itching as well as antibiotics to prevent infection.
The virus Molluscum contagiosum, or water warts, has a similar appearance to chafing and causes small bumps that may turn into pimples. It’s transmitted by coming into contact with the skin of an infected person.
This virus can live for a while after being exposed to air, so items like underwear, towels, or anything else that comes into contact with the infected area may transmit the virus.
To be safe, don’t share towels or underwear, and be prudent when engaging in sexual conduct. This infection will go away on its own; creams and dermatological treatment may help reduce any inflammation.
How does one prevent vagina acne?
Wash every piece of clothing that will come into contact with your vaginal area with unscented detergent. If your vaginal acne is caused by contact dermatitis, make sure to use only unscented products for your menstrual cycle and avoid feminine douches.
Preventing ingrown hairs may mean foregoing hair removal or opting for other hair removal treatments, such as waxing or laser hair removal, instead of shaving. If you prefer shaving, use a sharp razor and change it frequently.
Dry face-up to prevent moisture and bacteria growth, and always shave in the direction that the hair grows. Make sure to use gentle exfoliant around the pubic area if you do choose some form of hair removal.
The choice of underwear and other clothing can have a large effect on the recurrence of vaginal acne. Pure cotton or other natural, breathable material may help keep the skin from trapping sweat. Wash frequently, and avoid overly tight clothing for prolonged periods of time.
Some causes of vaginal acne may be contagious, and certain kinds of STIs, such as genital warts and herpes, may mimic the appearance and symptoms of vaginal acne.
It’s essential to have any rash or inflammation around this sensitive area checked by a dermatologist. Any condition treated promptly is important for both your own comfort and your reproductive health.