Ouch! If you regularly muddle through your day with soreness, itching and/or irritation “down there,” you’re likely dealing with vaginal dryness. The discomfort can flare up from something as simple as that little nub on your jeans rubbing you the wrong way or using the bathroom and wiping with a bit too much gusto — and it’s frequently a cause of pain and discomfort during intimacy. And the issue only worsens with age. Fortunately, there are easy ways to restore moisture and block pain. We’ve rounded up the best natural remedies for vaginal dryness, and many can provide immediate relief.
The most common causes of vaginal dryness
The top trigger for vaginal dryness: aging. Experts say up to half of postmenopausal women experience vaginal dryness (and nearly 90% don’t seek relief from their symptoms). Loss of estrogen during menopause can cause vaginal tissue to become thinner, drier and more prone to irritation, explains Barbara DePree, MD, a gynecologist, certified menopause practitioner and director of Women’s Midlife Services at Holland Hospital in Michigan.
This thinning of the vaginal tissue due to estrogen dips is also known as vaginal atrophy. The condition is something Dr. Depree says can lead to dryness, burning, itching, painful sex and even recurring urinary tract infections. In fact, vaginal dryness due to hormone changes is so common that research in Menopause suggests up to 75% more women experience dryness post-menopause than they did during menopause. (Menopause can also cause dry mouth. Click through for the best natural dry mouth remedies).
While menopausal hormone swings are the top cause of dryness and discomfort, having diabetes can also raise your risk. Dr. Depree says vaginal dryness is twice as common in women with diabetes as it is in women without diabetes. High blood sugar can damage blood vessels, hampering circulation to the vagina and leading to less lubrication.
Other less-common risk factors for vaginal dryness include having your ovaries removed (oophorectomy), taking medications used to treat uterine fibroids or endometriosis, taking a type of antidepressants known as SSRIs that decrease lubrication and taking antihistamines, which can dry up lubricating mucous membranes.
The best natural remedies for vaginal dryness
While Dr. DePree credits regular sex with helping to make vaginal tissues more elastic, most of us need extra help to restore vaginal moisture. These natural remedies provide reliable relief from even the most bothersome vaginal dryness flare-up:
Vitamin E for vaginal dryness
When vaginal atrophy causes tissues to lose elasticity and become chronically inflamed, it’s vitamin E to the rescue. A study in the International Urogynecology Journal found vitamin E worked on par with prescription estrogen creams at easing pain, itching and vaginal dryness discomfort when used once daily for four weeks. To get the benefits of vitamin E for vaginal dryness, simply insert a suppository directly into your vagina up to four times a day. Tip: Refrigerating the suppository can make application easier and less messy. Some women also like to wear a pantyliner or lie down for a few minutes after insertion to prevent the oil from leaking. One to try: Carlson Key-E Suppositories (Buy from Amazon.com, $15.73).
Coconut oil for vaginal dryness
To reverse vaginal dryness, try massaging ¼ tsp. of coconut oil into the area outside of the vagina daily, advises Hilda Hutcherson, MD, an obstetrician and gynecologist, clinical professor and associate dean in the Office of Diversity at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. Coconut oil brims with essential fatty acids that moisturize when you apply it inside and outside of the vagina.
The payoff: Research in the International Journal of Dermatology found that a daily application of coconut oil reduced dryness for 93% of older women. And not only does it soothe vaginal dryness, coconut oil’s antifungal and antimicrobial properties help ward off vaginal infections too. Caution: Because coconut oil can degrade latex, avoid using it with condoms. (Click through to see how coconut oil can help reverse thinning hair.)
Hyaluronic acid for vaginal dryness
As an alternative to expensive vaginal creams, try an over-the-counter vaginal moisturizer, says Mary Jane Minken, MD, clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at Yale. “There’s a big difference between a lubricant, which you use only at the time of sex, and a moisturizer, which should be used regularly, two to three times a week,” she says. “A moisturizer draws fluid into the vaginal wall for long-term relief.”
To boost the benefit, Dr. DePree advises looking for a gel or cream with hyaluronic acid (HA) for vaginal dryness. Hyaluronic acid is made by the body but decreases with age, Dr. DePree explains. It has the ability to attract and sustain moisture for lasting relief. It works so well, a study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that women who used a vaginal moisturizer with hyaluronic acid every three days improved their vaginal dryness after 30 days. Those are results on par with synthetic estrogen creams. What’s more, 57% of women who used the HA cream experienced a reduction in pain during sex. One to try: Revaree (Buy at HelloBonafide for $62).
(Click through to our sister site to discover how a smaller vagina after menopause impacts the type of lubrication you need — and how water-based lubricants can actually make vaginal dryness worse. )
Yams for vaginal dryness
It may sound strange, but enjoying more yams can naturally increase your estrogen levels. This helps offset the menopausal hormone dip that triggers painful vaginal dryness. In fact, research in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that when postmenopausal women ate one yam daily for 30 days, they boosted their estrogen levels by 27%. This helped naturally keep their vaginal tissues hydrated and supple. (Click through to discover the amazing health benefits of ube, or purple yams and find out how sweet potatoes ease menopause symptoms like vaginal dryness.)
Sea buckthorn oil for vaginal dryness
Another good first line of defense when it comes to taming vaginal dryness: sea buckthorn oil. Dr. DePree recommends taking 3,000 mg. of the oil capsules twice daily. A small study found that compounds in sea buckthorn oil help the vaginal tissue and lining retain moisture. And 60% of postmenopausal women in the study reported beneficial effects. One to try: Emerald Labs Sea Buckthorn (Buy from Walmart.com, $17.06).
For extra help, consider these prescription and in-office fixes
If natural remedies don’t deliver the relief that you’d hoped, these prescription and in-office procedures can help:
Localized estrogen treatments for vaginal dryness
“So many women with vaginal dryness go untreated out of fear that vaginal estrogen products are going to have side effects, and that’s simply not the case,” says Chicago ob/gyn Lauren Streicher, MD, Clinical Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and host of Dr. Streicher’s Inside Information: Menopause, Midlife and More Podcast. Local suppositories, rings and creams slowly secrete a low dose of estrogen just in the vagina to keep tissues supple. Options include twice-weekly creams, biweekly inserts and an estradiol vaginal ring, which lasts up to three months.
Laser treatments for vaginal dryness
Dr. DePree says laser treatments, like the MonaLisa Touch (offered in doctors’ offices and some spas), work by causing micro injury to the vagina. This triggers the body’s healing mechanisms to kick-start the production of collagen, elastin and healthy new vaginal tissue. The laser is used in a series of three 5-minute treatments done with a wand inserted into the vagina. Recovery time is minimal and cost varies — up to $1,000 per treatment.
Dr. DePree says her patients have had great success with this procedure. Temporary side effects (redness, swelling, irritation and burning with urination) have been rare, she adds. If you decide to try the procedure, Dr. DePree cautions against doing it at a day spa. A careful pelvic exam done by a medical provider is essential to confirm the procedure is warranted.
Read on for more ways to improve your vaginal health during and after menopause:
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