Are You Suffering From Dry Vaginal Skin? What the Heck is Really Going On?
Vaginal lubrication consists of clear fluid that seeps through the walls of the blood vessels encircling the vagina. When you’re sexually aroused, more blood flows to your pelvic organs, creating more lubricating vaginal fluid. But due to hormonal changes at perimenopause, menopause, childbirth, and even breast-feeding, this natural physiological process may be altered. Healthy vaginal walls are always coated in a thin layer of this moisture and mucus. Without adequate lubrication, vaginal tissues become dry, thin and prone to tearing.
Changes in vaginal moisture also occur in response to low estrogen levels. Estrogen is essential in keeping vaginal tissue supple and elastic. Adequate estrogen levels give the tissue its ability to produce slippery-smooth lubrication. Anytime a woman’s estrogen level is altered, for whatever reason including a hysterectomy or impaired ovarian function, vaginal thinning and dryness may occur.
Perimenopause and menopause are stages in a woman’s life cycle when estrogen levels may be fluctuating. Estrogen production can also be affected after childbirth and during breast-feeding.
There are many issues can alter the normal production of moisture. For instance, stressful situations, whether physical or emotional, constrict blood vessels that supply nutrients and oxygen to the vaginal tissue. Maintaining healthy vaginal secretions and vaginal elasticity requires adequate key nutrients such as essential fatty acids, vitamins A, C, and B.
Many medications have side effects that can directly alter vaginal secretions. They include steroid/cortisone drugs, cancer treatments, tamoxifen, aromatase-inhibitors, antihistamines, antidepressants, as well as ulcer and high blood pressure medications.
One little known side effect of oral contraceptives is reduced vaginal lubrication. The alteration of natural hormone production from taking the Pill has many consequences. Lack of healthy vaginal moisture can be one of them.
Commercial Lubricants-A Bad Idea
Many women turn to commercial lubricants when they become aware they are dealing with vaginal dryness. But beware! The chemicals used in them can irritate the delicate vagina tissue. Potential ingredients include fragrances, the antibacterial agent chlorhexidine, propylene glycol, glycerin, and a group of preservatives called parabens, (often listed as methyl-, butyl-, ethyl- and propyl-paraben). Some lubricants such as K-Y Jelly and Replens can alter the pH balance of the vagina, which would increase the risk of certain vaginal infections.
Beware of Vaginal Estrogen Creams
Since it is the hormone estrogen that causes the vagina to thicken and moisten, the medical approach is to prescribe an estrogen vaginal cream. However, when estrogen is applied in the vagina, it can be quickly absorbed into the blood stream and transported to other tissues. In fact, both vaginal applications of Premarin and Estrace raise your blood levels of estrogen much the same as estrogen pills.
Long-term exposure to high levels of estrogen can pose some risk to women diagnosed with breast cancer or at high risk of breast cancer by potentially elevating estrogen levels excessively. Doctors, therefore, discourage the use of these estrogens if a woman has a breast cancer risk.
Estriol is another form of estrogen that is often prescribed to women. While considered a safer form of estrogen, it still requires a doctor’s prescription and is expensive.