Vaginal dryness occurs when the vagina is less lubricated and therefore less moist. Though it is one of the most common symptoms associated with menopause, vaginal dryness can occur at any age. It is usually caused by a decrease in the body's level of estrogen, a hormone secreted by the ovaries. Lower estrogen levels lead to a thinning of the vaginal wall, decreased elasticity, and reduced vaginal secretions.
This condition varies in intensity and duration, and can significantly impact your quality of life. It may be accompanied by the following symptoms:
- Pain or discomfort during sex
- Burning sensation
- Vaginal infections
- Recurring urinary tract infections (UTIs)
- Pain or discomfort while urinating
Causes and triggers
Vaginal dryness may accompany or be caused by certain health conditions. It can also be a side effect of some treatments or medications. In addition, certain lifestyle habits can trigger or aggravate vaginal dryness. Here are a few examples:
- Use of products that irritate the skin (e.g., certain soaps, detergents, douches)
- Use of spermicides
- Prolonged use of sanitary pads or tampons
- Allergies or inflammatory conditions (e.g., vulvar dermatitis)
- Vaginal infections
- Decreased estrogen production (e.g., menopause)
Medications and treatments:
- Heart medication
- Antihistamines (for allergies)
- Cancer treatments (chemotherapy and radiotherapy)
- Hormonal contraceptives (e.g., the birth control pill)
- Postpartum period
- Days following menstruation
- Low libido
The prevention and treatment of vaginal dryness vary, depending on the cause. Adopting or modifying certain lifestyle habits can reduce or prevent vaginal dryness. Sexual stimulation (masturbation, intercourse) can also help maintain good vaginal health.
Lubricants and moisturizers are the first line of treatment for mild symptoms.
Lubricants should be used as needed to temporarily relieve symptoms of vaginal dryness and during sexual intercourse. Lubricants can be made with water, silicone, or oil. Some lubricants, such as oil-based ones, are not compatible with latex condoms because they can degrade the latex and reduce the condom's efficacy.
Vaginal moisturizers are designed to adhere to the vaginal wall and retain water. They provide longer-lasting relief than lubricants and can be used on a regular basis, 2 to 3 times a week.
The various brands on the market are all similarly effective. Some products contain ingredients that may cause irritation and should be avoided (e.g., parabens, glycerin, propylene glycol, flavours, fragrances, warming agents). You may have to try several products before finding the one that works best for you. We recommend testing a small amount of the product on your skin before applying it to the genitals (vulva, vagina). You may find it helpful to look at a product's ingredient list with a health professional so that you can make an informed choice.
|Oil-based|| Note: Synthetic oils such as petroleum jelly (e.g., Vaseline) should not be applied inside the vagina. Natural oils, however, are okay to apply inside the vagina. To be avoided for the following reasons: |
|Oil-based|| To be avoided for the following reasons: ||Natural oils:|
Vaginal dryness that occurs during menopause can also be treated with prescription medications, some of which are hormone-based (e.g., estrogen). These treatments may be applied topically to the vagina or taken by mouth. You will need a medical consultation to assess whether these treatments are appropriate and safe for you.
Other treatments are available, including physiotherapy. Don't hesitate to discuss your options with your health care provider.
When should I see a health care professional?
Speak with your health care provider if you experience any of the following:
- Vaginal lubricants or moisturizers do not provide relief
- Severe vaginal dryness
- Vaginal ulcers or fissures
- Persistent vaginal bleeding
- Vaginal secretions with an abnormal colour or odour
- Symptoms that cause distress