Page header image

Vulvar Dystrophy

What is vulvar dystrophy?

Vulvar dystrophy is a change in the skin of the vulva. It is a white spot of thick or thin skin on the vulva. Dermatoses is another term used for changes in the skin of the vulva.

The vulva are the folds of skin around the opening of the vagina. The urethra, which empties urine from the bladder, also opens into the vulva.

How does it occur?

Four types of vulvar dystrophy are:

  • Squamous cell hyperplasia is an irregular white or gray patch of the skin of the vulva that is slightly raised (thickened).
  • Lichen simplex chronicus is a thickened, white, itchy area. It usually happens on just one side of the vulva.
  • Lichen sclerosis may cause an area of thin skin in the vulva. It can happen at any age, including puberty, but it usually happens in menopause.
  • Lichen planus is a chronic skin disease. It can cause symptoms on the skin or in the mouth and sometimes in the vulvar or vaginal area. Severe cases in the genital area can cause painful red areas or sores.

The cause of vulvar dystrophy or dermatoses is often not known. Sometimes irritation of the skin may be a cause, or irritation may make the symptoms worse.

What are the symptoms?

Possible symptoms of vulvar dystrophy are:

  • itching
  • burning
  • pain with sex
  • white or gray patch of thickened or thin skin on the vulva, sometimes with scaling, cracking, bleeding, or wrinkling
  • redness or sores
  • stinging and irritation.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and examine your genital area. Your provider may do a biopsy. If you have a biopsy, your provider will numb the area and take a small sample of skin. The sample will then be viewed in a lab with a microscope.

How is it treated?

The treatment depends on the type of vulvar dystrophy you have.

  • If you have squamous cell hyperplasia or lichen simplex chronicus, your healthcare provider may prescribe a steroid cream. You may need to put the cream on the vulvar area a couple of times a day for several weeks.
  • If you have lichen sclerosis, your provider may prescribe a strong steroid cream, such as Clobetasol, to put on the area.
  • Lichen planus may be treated with steroid vaginal medicine or steroid cream. Steroid medicine helps your skin heal and helps prevent scarring. Lichen planus symptoms usually do not go away completely. They can also come back.

In addition to using the medicine prescribed by your provider, you should try to avoid irritation of your vulva. For example, avoid use of strong or perfumed soaps, lotions, or deodorants in your genital area.

How long will the effects last?

Avoiding irritation of your vulva and using the medicine prescribed by your healthcare provider should help your skin heal and help keep the problem from happening again.

If not treated, some types of dystrophy, such as lichen sclerosis, can cause scarring and shrinkage of the inner lips of the vulva. The vaginal opening may become smaller and might even close. Using the medicine prescribed by your provider will help prevent these problems.

How can I take care of myself?

Follow your healthcare provider's directions for using the prescribed medicine. Keep using the medicine for as long as your provider tells you to.

Other things you can do to help relieve irritation and your symptoms are:

  • Bathe with nonirritating, unscented soap. Rinse your genital area thoroughly but gently. Pat dry without rubbing.
  • If you have sores in the genital area, your symptoms may be soothed by soaking in a bath to which you have added aluminum acetate solution (Burrows solution). You may also soak a cloth in Burrows solution and put the moist cloth on the sore area.
  • Wear loose-fitting, cotton underwear.
  • Keep your genital area dry.
  • Do not use strong or perfumed soaps. Do not use feminine hygiene products, such as sprays or powders. Avoid bubble baths and oils.
  • Do not use perfumed laundry detergent or fabric softener.
  • Do not use tampons or scented toilet paper.
  • Avoid using spermicides. Use a different form of birth control.
Written by Anthony Angello, MD.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2010-01-21
Last reviewed: 2010-01-10
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2011 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
Page footer image