Allergic contact dermatitis on the vulva

Vulvar allergic dermatitis results from contact with a hypersensitivity reaction resulting in inflammation after contact with an allergen directly to the skin of the vulva. ​1​

This agent must have already caused a reaction in this person at least once before, with the reaction developing across the day (12-24 hours) after contact.

Symptoms of allergic contact dermatitis

  • Itchy vulva
  • Possible general allergy symptoms elsewhere in the body (rashes, swelling, etc.)
  • Redness
  • Blistering

Typical allergens list​2​

  • Perfumes (balsam of Peru)
  • Preservatives (paraben, imidazolidinyl urea)
  • Nickel in zips, snaps, jeans
  • Topical antibiotics (neomycin, clindamycin, tetracycline, sulfonamides, nifuratel
  • Topical anaesthetics (benzocaine, lidocaine, prilocaine, pramoxine)
  • Topical antiseptics (hexachlorophene)
  • Dyes in clothing
  • Moisturisers including lanolin
  • Nail polish
  • Plants (poison ivy)
  • Rubber, latex (condoms, gloves, diaphragms)

Treatment for allergic contact dermatitis

Remove the cause if you can find it, then soothe the skin with oatmeal baths, ice packs and a vagina and vulva-friendly soothing cream or aloe vera to reduce itching (and scratching), and calm the area down. ​3,4​

Oral antihistamines may help to reduce the itch. The point of treatment is to reduce the inflammation and irritation as soon as possible.

Leave the area alone, wash only with warm water with the hand, use hypoallergenic laundry detergent, and if you are unsure what the cause was, you are now charged with that responsibility.

It could be obscure, so be diligent in your detective work, and don’t exclude any single thing, including water, that touches your vulva.

References

Margesson LJ. Contact dermatitis of the vulva. Dermatologic Therapy. 2004;17(1):20-27. International Society for the Study of Vulvovaginal Disease

  1. 1.
    Admani S, Maghfour J, Jacob SE. Localized systemic contact dermatitis: The vulva as a clue to identify allergen ingestion. International Journal of Women’s Dermatology. Published online December 2021:843-844. doi:10.1016/j.ijwd.2021.02.009
  2. 2.
    Marfatia Y, Patel D, Menon D, Naswa S. Genital contact allergy: A diagnosis missed. Indian J Sex Transm Dis. Published online 2016:1. doi:10.4103/0253-7184.180286
  3. 3.
    Vandeweege S, Debaene B, Lapeere H, Verstraelen H. A systematic review of allergic and irritant contact dermatitis of the vulva: The most important allergens/irritants and the role of patch testing. Contact Dermatitis. Published online December 13, 2022:249-262. doi:10.1111/cod.14258
  4. 4.
    Newton J, Richardson S, van Oosbre AM, Yu J, Silence C. A cross-sectional study of contact allergens in feminine hygiene wipes: a possible cause of vulvar contact dermatitis. International Journal of Women’s Dermatology. Published online November 28, 2022:e060. doi:10.1097/jw9.0000000000000060


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Jessica Lloyd - Vulvovaginal Specialist Naturopathic Practitioner, BHSc(N)

Jessica is a degree-qualified naturopath (BHSc) specialising in vulvovaginal health and disease, based in Melbourne, Australia.

Jessica is the owner and lead naturopath of My Vagina, and is a member of the:

  • International Society for the Study of Vulvovaginal Disease (ISSVD)
  • International Society for the Study of Women's Sexual Health (ISSWSH)
  • National Vulvodynia Association (NVA) Australia
  • New Zealand Vulvovaginal Society (ANZVS)
  • Australian Traditional Medicine Society (ATMS)
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