Originally published December 11 2019 in Refinery29
You may have seen some mysterious packages in the vag aisle of your local drugstore. Near the Diva cups and tampons and just down the way from the mega pads, there are these things called “vaginal moisturizers” with names like Replens, RepaGyn, and Gynatrof. What are they even?! Do you want them? Do you need them? We asked Canada’s Dr. Jen Gunter, Twitter’s favourite gynecologist and the author of The Vagina Bible, and Jennah Miller, a Toronto-based naturopath who focuses on women’s health, to break it down for us.
What Is Vaginal Moisturizer?
First of all, let’s start with what they’re not — vaginal moisturizers aren’t lube, and they’re not hormone treatments. Lube is meant to make things a little wetter on a short-term basis during sex or masturbation. Hormone treatments, which can come in gel or cream forms, are for women who have low levels of estrogen, either due to menopause or medical conditions. Over-the-counter vaginal moisturizers are made to stickto the inside of your vagina for up to three days to help keep the puss comfortable all the time.“They’re formulated for the vaginal tissues to maintain more moisture and to enhance the health of the vaginal mucosa [the lining of your vaginal canal],” Miller explains. Vag moisturizers can be water-, oil-, silicone- or hyaluronic acid-based, or some combination thereof. (Don’t freak out: hyaluronic acid isn’t actually an acid. It’s a molecule that can hold up to 1,000 times its weight in water and is a popular skincare ingredient. Silicone is a common ingredient in lubricants and is safe to use below the belt.)
What Causes Vaginal Dryness?
Vaginal moisturizers are generally marketed at women who are closer to menopause, which happens around 51. That’s when your periods stop and your estrogen levels drop: you produce less moisture and your tissues get thinner, which often results in a drier crotch that can feel itchy and tight. But there are definitely things — like being postpartum, breastfeeding, yeast infections, estrogen-free birth control like Depo Provera injections, hormonal IUDS, libido-crushing anti-depressants and even antihistamines — that can make your box feel thirsty no matter how old you are.
While vaginal moisturizers are considered pretty safe, Gunter says younger women should definitely not be using them without talking to their doctor first. “There are other causes of vaginal dryness and you want to make sure there’s nothing atypical going on. People use over-the-counter products for the wrong reasons all the time and you may just be masking the problem.”Some of the things Gunter says younger women who have vaginal dryness should be screened for, include thyroid issues, premature ovarian failure or even autoimmune diseases like Sjogren’s syndrome. And, of course, there’s always the possibility that sex is uncomfortable because your partner just isn’t that good at getting you wet before they dive in. “We definitely have to dig a little bit deeper into the underlying cause,” says Miller. “Vaginal lubrication can be a complex subject — we have to talk about foreplay and libido and things like that.”
What Can I Do About Vaginal Dryness?
If you do feel like you’re dry all the time, and your doctor has ruled out an underlying medical condition and given you the go-ahead to use a moisturizer (don’t forget that anything oil-based can damage latex condoms, making them more prone to breaking), there are still other things you can do to help keep the juices flowing.“I always hope that people aren’t still using these, but avoiding vaginal irritants like douches is a big one,” says Miller, who suggests looking at all the other toiletries that you’re using in the area, too, including bubble baths or anything scented.“The first thing is to stop washing your vulva with soap, which is drying,” adds Gunter. (The vulva is the outside of your lady parts, including your vaginal lips and clitoris.) She recommends using an unscented gentle facial cleanser like Cerave or Cetaphil instead. “And stop using those horrible wipes! They’re a common source of irritation.”Miller sometimes recommends taking sea buckthorn supplements, which are high in essential fatty acids and can help trigger your membranes to stop drying out. And if you smoke, try to stop. Smoking can mess up your estrogen levels, no matter how old you are.