Here at WomanLab we want to give you as many tools as possible to help you start (or perhaps continue) a journey into sexual self-care. There are simple products and practices that every woman can take advantage of in the comfort of her own home to provide herself with sexual self-care. Two products that you can use to address vaginal dryness (which can often make sex painful or uncomfortable i.e. un-enjoyable) are lubricants and moisturizers.
In this blog we will give you the lowdown (see what we did there?) on vaginal moisturizers.
What is a vaginal moisturizer?
Moisturizers come in the form of gels, creams and lotions—they are over-the-counter, non-hormonal products that are intended to provide relief from itching and/or discomfort of the vagina caused by dryness. While lubricants are intended to make it easier for body parts and objects to enter the vagina during sexual activity, moisturizers offer a way to combat dryness continually not just during sex. Here at WomanLab we often say that lubricants are for lovemaking (or any individual or partnered sexual activity) and moisturizers are for maintenance.
Just like using a moisturizer for your face or hands, vaginal moisturizers provide benefit with regular, consistent use. We recommend applying the moisturizer 2-3 times per week—seriously! For long term results, we recommend a moisturizer become a part of your normal regimen. And there is no reason using a moisturizer should mean ditching your favorite lube—it is common and recommended to use both lubricants and moisturizers as part of your sexual self-care routine for maximum slipperiness!
Should I use one?
If you are having dryness and discomfort in the vaginal canal, a moisturizer may help! And in this case, lubricants alone might not do the trick. Dryness can be caused by many factors, including reduced estrogen in the body, which happens for many women during and after cancer treatment, during and after menopause, while breastfeeding, and sometimes as a result of oral contraceptive pills (basically from living as a woman!). If that wasn’t enough, taking antihistamines for allergies can dry out not only your nose but…. everything.
Even for someone not currently interested in sex, but who is experiencing vaginal dryness, moisturizers can be helpful for making visits to the gynecologist and daily life more comfortable.
How do I use a vaginal moisturizer?
Moisturizers are inserted directly into the vaginal canal. Commercial products, like Replens or HyaloGyn, come with an applicator similar to a tampon applicator. Using the applicator, the moisturizer is inserted into the vagina, released, and left to work its magic. We recommend inserting the moisturizer right before bed so that it can be absorbed by the vaginal tissues while you’re lying down (this way, you’re less likely to have to deal with a lot of moisturizer “plopping” out due to gravity!).
How does it work?
Moisturizers work by delivering additional moisture to the epithelium, or skin cells, of the vaginal walls. Popular products also contain plant-based or synthetic polymers, which act a bit like glue, adhering to the cells of the skin and releasing water into them. Others replicate the body’s natural acids that regulate and maintain hydration.
Again, it takes commitment for the moisturizer to really do its best work – even if you’re seeing slow improvement to your vaginal moisture, stick with it! Try it out, practice with your partner/favorite toys/cute, consenting adult you’ve been eyeing at the supermarket/etc. and try again.
What can I expect when using a moisturizer?
Vaginal moisturizers are intended to moisturize the vaginal canal, but you may find when using these products that your vulva, legs, and well, bed sheets end up with a bit of moisture as well. That is, moisturizers can be messy! Some women consider using a pad or a panty liner as a quick fix solution – we strongly urge against this.
Why? Using a pad or panty liner may actually wick moisture away from the vulvovaginal area and can cause irritation (more on this and best practices for vulvovaginal hygiene here).
Our WomanLab pro-tips for minimizing the mess include the following:
- Apply the product right before bed to allow the moisturizer to soak in overnight.
- Play around with the amount that you use. You may be able to see benefit with less than the recommended dosage on the box (if you feel that a lot of the moisturizer is coming out). The recommendations for dosage can be a bit higher than we have found necessary in our practice.
- Carry an additional pair of underwear for the first day or so after application, in case you find yourself in need of a mid-day cleanup. This is a breathable solution to help you tackle any increased discharge!
Which type of moisturizer should I use? What are my options?
There is limited evidence to suggest that any type of over the counter moisturizer is better than another. The available formulas do differ in their composition, but ultimately work to moisturize the lining of the vaginal walls for overall increased lubrication during sex and otherwise.
However, just as with the food we eat, we counsel our patients that fewer ingredients when possible is probably better for the body!
We regularly recommend HyaloGyn (which is most easily purchased directly from their website), but some other great options include:
And, of course, moisturizers are not a person’s only option for making sex feel more comfortable and lubricated—for more tips and tricks on combatting dryness check out our blog on lubricants!
Have a favorite vaginal moisturizer that you want to tell us about? Follow us on Twitter and let us know! @WomanLab_
** Please note—products above are listed as examples and are not indicative of endorsement or sponsorship