Nobody wants to talk about their vulva because society has made it seem taboo. Unfortunately, that kind of thinking has kept many women in the dark about important information about their own bodies.
Thanks to advocacy groups and research, it’s now second nature for most women to perform their own breast exam at least once a month to check for abnormalities. But did you know that performing self-checks of your vulva is just as important?
Our mission at Medicine Mama is to help empower women to talk openly about their bodies, educate themselves on so-called “taboo” health conditions, and provide them with holistic, all-natural, personal care products to help them live their healthiest lives.
The Importance of Vulvar Self Examinations
Performing regular vulvar self-examinations can help you catch vulvar changes early which increases your treatment options for a variety of conditions. Many people use the terms vulva and vagina interchangeably, but they are completely separate parts of your body.
The vulva is the outer part of your genitalia that is made up of your inner and outer labia (the labia majora and labia minora to be technical) and your clitoris. The vagina, on the other hand, is the inner canal of your sex organs.
Your OB-Gyn is the one that makes sure that your vagina is healthy and happy during your yearly check-ups, but you can easily monitor your vulvas health to make sure that nothing is changing abnormally.
Our vulvas change shape, color, and thickness throughout our lives, largely due to hormonal reasons. Most commonly, these changes will take place during puberty, during the menstrual cycle, during pregnancy, and throughout menopause.
Most of the changes are a completely natural part of the aging process, and while you may have to change up some of your self-care routines, they are nothing to worry about!
However, some of these changes may become more visible and noticeable during menopause, and some women may notice that the skin on their vulva has become thinner, itchy, and discolored –most commonly turning white.
This condition is known as Lichen Sclerosus, and it affects around 200,000 people in the US. Keep reading to learn more about this condition and what you can do to treat it, or jump to our Lichen Sclerosus Care Bundle page for more information!
What is Lichen Sclerosus?
Lichen sclerosus is a rare inflammatory skin disorder that affects the genital region including the vulva and anus. While it is most common in women and those assigned female at birth, it can affect all genders.
Additionally, while it is more common in women over the age of 50, it can affect people of any age, including children. There is also no correlation between race and the condition as it seems to affect all races equally.
Unfortunately, lichen sclerosus is a chronic condition that can cause severe discomfort and, currently, there is no known way to prevent it. Luckily, the symptoms can be managed and treated and there are several lifestyle changes that you can make that can help reduce irritation and minimize symptoms.
Since lichen sclerosus is a relatively rare condition, there are many things that we still don’t know about it. For example, doctors aren’t entirely sure what causes the condition but there is some evidence that it may be a type of autoimmune disorder.
This is because many people that develop it also have another autoimmune disorder such as vitiligo or type 1 diabetes. Since that’s not always the case though, it is difficult to link lichen sclerosus definitively as an autoimmune disorder.
What Causes Lichen Sclerosus?
So, what exactly causes lichen sclerosus? The jury is still out on that, although research is currently being done to figure out why. Some of the leading theories are that it has something to do with a person’s genetics, significant hormonal fluctuations in the body, an autoimmune response, or trauma to the area.
So far, current research is showing that:
- Lichen sclerosus seems to be hereditary. If one or both of your parents has the condition, then you are more likely to develop it as well.
- In women, LS may be caused by an autoimmune disorder. Evidence shows that women with LS are more likely to develop other autoimmune disorders such as anemia, vitiligo, thyroid disease, or certain types of alopecia.
- LS isn’t an infection, and it is not contagious. Unlike other conditions that affect the genital region, you can’t catch LS and it’s definitely not an STD.
- Although hormone fluctuations may be influential in developing the disease, hormone replacement therapies don’t seem to have any effect on the condition.
Some of the good news from this is that lichen sclerosus isn’t contagious and it’s not an STI that you can catch. It’s also extremely treatable when caught early which can help prevent scarring, discomfort, and pain. That’s one of the many reasons why vulvar self-examinations are so important!
Who is at Risk?
There seems to be a link between low estrogen levels and developing the condition, so girls that haven’t started their periods yet and postmenopausal women have the highest risk. Other risk factors may include having an existing autoimmune disorder or having a family history of the disease.
The condition can be exacerbated by frequently using scented soaps, detergents, and creams on the affected area, but there is no direct evidence that any of these things cause the condition.
Lichen sclerosus is most common in women over the age of 50. Even after menopause, it is still important to perform vulvar self-examinations and to continue seeing your OB-Gyn for regular checkups.
If you think that you may have lichen sclerosus, or if you have noticed a change in your vulva that isn’t related to your normal menstrual cycle, reach out to your doctor for an examination. The sooner that lichen sclerosus is diagnosed, the more effective treatment options will be.
Complications of Lichen Sclerosus
Not everyone with lichen sclerosus will experience symptoms, and some may never realize that they have the condition except for some discoloration on their vulva. For many other women, however, lichen sclerosus will start off with mild symptoms that will continue to worsen and progress until the condition becomes severe.
The most common complaint that people with lichen sclerosus report is extreme itchiness in the vulva and anus. This itchiness can be so bad that it can keep you from getting restful sleep, and it can make many types of clothes uncomfortable to wear.
If left untreated, lichen sclerosus can not only be extremely uncomfortable but it can also cause significant complications. These may be brought about by frequent itching or scratching of the area or by using topical steroids for too long on the affected skin.
Some of the most common complications of lichen sclerosus include:
- Painful sex
- Vaginal dryness
- Burning sensation during sex
- Scarring of the labia, vulva, and clitoris
- Extremely thin skin that can crack or bleed
- Tightening of the skin that can lead to tearing
- Increased risk of squamous cell carcinoma
- Increased risk of frequent yeast infections
As lichen sclerosus progresses, the skin of the vulva becomes thinner and becomes a tissue-paper consistency. This causes it to be more susceptible to trauma and tearing from scratching or intercourse.
In extreme cases where it has been untreated for a significant amount of time, then lichen sclerosus can cause the lips of the labia to fuse together over the clitoris and narrow the opening to the vagina causing intense pain and discomfort.
Lichen sclerosus can be extremely uncomfortable, but it doesn’t have to be. Our VMagic Vulvar Balm is made with all-natural, hormone-free ingredients for maximum hydration and symptom relief. When used regularly on the vulva, it can reduce itchiness, dryness, and irritation in as little as two weeks.
What Are the Symptoms of Lichen Sclerosus?
Lichen sclerosus shares several symptoms with a number of other vaginal conditions such as yeast infections, so it can be difficult to diagnose at first glance. It is important to visit your doctor for testing if you are experiencing any of these symptoms so that you can start treating the condition properly from the start.
Itching and irritation are often the most noticeable and common symptoms of the condition and are usually the first sign that something is wrong. Unfortunately, because these symptoms mimic the symptoms of a yeast infection, many women will frequently put off treatment until the condition has become more severe.
If you perform regular vulvar self-examinations, then you may notice discoloration as one of the first symptoms. In more advanced cases, you may notice that the vulva or anus areas feel more tender and they may have bruising, cracks, or tears that are caused by little to no force.
The skin of the area may be much thinner than it should be, and wearing tight-fitting clothing may cause your other symptoms to worsen. If you notice any of these symptoms, then you should make an appointment with your doctor for an examination.
What Does Lichen Sclerosus Look Like?
While most common in the genital areas, lichen sclerosus can also appear on your breasts, shoulders, back, and upper arms. Affected areas will have may appear smooth or blotchy and wrinkled, and will be a discolored white. The skin in these areas will also be thinner than the surrounding skin.
In more advanced cases, these discolored areas may also have cracks, tears, or bruising due to the thinness of the skin.
What Should You Do If You Suspect You Have Lichen Sclerosus?
If you have any of the above symptoms of lichen sclerosus, you should reach out to your Ob-Gyn or primary care doctor to schedule an appointment for an examination. Even if your symptoms are mild or if you suspect that you may only have a yeast infection, it is important to get your symptoms checked out.
Early diagnosis and treatment are essential in ensuring that lichen sclerosus doesn’t cause long-term damage or complications. When caught and treated early, LS is an extremely manageable condition.
Is Lichen Sclerosus Reversible?
With proper and consistent treatment, the symptoms of lichen sclerosus can be reduced, or in some cases, disappear entirely. Treatment is more effective in earlier stages of the condition before scarring and other damage can occur.
That said, it is better to seek treatment at all stages of the condition instead of ignoring it and hoping that it will go away on its own because it won’t. LS is a condition that requires treatment and lifestyle changes to be properly managed.
Luckily, these changes are fairly easy to make and maintain. Your doctor will be able to provide you with a full list of recommendations once you are diagnosed.
How to Get Diagnosed With Lichen Sclerosus
When you first go to your doctor, they will ask you about your health history and your symptoms. From here, they will typically perform a visual and physical examination of your vulva, anus, and any additional areas on the body where LS may be suspected.
From here, your doctor may take a biopsy and blood sample to confirm the diagnosis and rule out cancer or other conditions. The results of these tests may be available in as little as two days, or they can take up to two weeks. Your doctor will follow up with you when they have the results and will move forward with your treatment options from there.
What Type of Doctor Can Diagnose and Treat Lichen Sclerosus?
In most cases, while your primary care doctor may be able to diagnose the condition, they will most likely refer you to either a gynecologist or a dermatologist to be sure. Either of these doctors will be able to diagnose your condition and offer treatment options.
How To Cure Lichen Sclerosus
While you may see articles online that talk about “How I Cured my Lichen Sclerosus”, it is important to know that there is no outright cure for the condition. However, there are many lichen sclerosus treatment options available, and they can vary depending on the severity of your condition.
How Do You Treat Lichen Sclerosus?
Most doctors will recommend attempting to treat lichen sclerosus naturally with lifestyle changes before resorting to medication unless you have a severe case. In severe cases, your doctor may prescribe you an initial steroid ointment that must be applied daily for up to three months to reduce itching and inflammation.
After this initial treatment, your doctor may switch you to a maintenance ointment that is less potent until the condition is under control. If these options don’t work, then your doctor may recommend steroid injections into the affected areas.
In extreme cases where severe scarring has occurred or the labia lips have fused together, surgery or vaginal dilators may be necessary to restore normal function to the vulvar area.
How to Treat Lichen Sclerosus Naturally
Certain lifestyle changes can help reduce the symptoms of lichen sclerosus. These include:
- Don’t let your vulva region stay in contact with damp clothes. After swimming or vigorous exercise, take a shower and change your clothes as soon as possible.
- Avoid prolonged contact of the vulva against rough surfaces. Avoid things like horseback riding and extended bicycle rides.
- Avoid tight, restrictive clothing and underwear that doesn’t breathe. Stick to cotton underwear and replace them every 6-12 months.
- Avoid scented soaps, lotions, or creams around your vulva.
- Avoid scented laundry detergent. Instead use a hypoallergenic, dye-free, and scent-free alternative when possible.
- Limit or avoid bubble baths entirely. The suds and soap from the bubbles can irritate the vulva and cause itchiness and discomfort. Plain, warm baths are completely fine and can often soothe the burning sensation that can sometimes accompany LS.
- Spring for the good toilet paper. Soft, multi-ply, unscented toilet paper can help you avoid discomfort when you’re going to the bathroom.
In addition to these lifestyle changes, we sell all-natural, hormone-free alternatives to the lotions, creams, feminine washes, and balms that you may be currently using that have been proven to reduce the severity of symptoms in women with lichen sclerosus.
VMagic Vulvar Balm
Our VMagic Vulvar Balm is made up of all-natural and organic ingredients including organic extra virgin olive oil, organic avocado oil, organic cera alba beeswax, organic sea buckthorn, and a propriety honey and propolis blend.
This phenomenal balm has been clinically proven to help significantly reduce irritation, dryness, and itchiness when used consistently in as little as two weeks.
VMagic Feminine Wash
Our VMagic Feminine Wash was carefully designed with the vulva’s natural pH balance in mind. This gentle, non-foaming cleanser is purposefully made to be fragrance-free to ensure an irritation-free cleaning experience that can be used daily.
This feminine wash is made with camellia, vitamin E, chamomile, and water-soluble collagen to nourish your skin and prevent dryness and irritation.
VMagic Vulvar Skin Care Pump
Our powerful VMagic Vulvar Skincare Balm also comes in a convenient and easy-to-use pump bottle that is easy to take with you on vacations and trips. It can be used daily on your vulva to help increase hydration or whenever you need extra relief from discomfort.
Lichen Sclerosus Care Bundle
We are happy to offer all of the above best-selling products in one affordable bundle! Our lichen sclerosus care bundle is the perfect option for anyone who has been diagnosed with this condition, and it is clinically proven to provide relief from and reduction of the symptoms associated with lichen sclerosus.
You don’t have to live with the itching, irritation, and dryness that lichen sclerosus causes. Reach out to our customer service team today to learn more about our products!