Itchy genitals in women (vaginal itching)

Itching in the pubic or groin area can affect women of any age, and around one woman in 10 will consult a doctor about the problem at some point. It can be uncomfortable or painful and is often caused by infections, irritating substances or menopause.

By Wallace Health I Medically reviewed by Adrian Roberts.
Page last reviewed: October 2018 I Next review due: October 2021

What is an itchy vulva?

Itching of the vulva — the opening to the vagina, the clitoris, outer and inner lips and the skin in the area between the vagina and anus — is known medically as pruritus vulvae. Usually, it’s not serious but if it’s frequent and persistent, it’s important to get it checked out as, in rare cases, it can be a symptom of vulval cancer.

In most cases, an itchy vulva is caused by skin disorders, an irritant or sexually transmitted infections (STIs). In rare cases, an itchy vulva can be caused by stress.

Itchy vulva causes

The causes of an itchy vulva are extremely wide-ranging. It can sometimes simply be due to irritation from chemicals found in:

  • Bubble baths
  • Condoms
  • Creams
  • Detergents
  • Feminine hygiene products 
  • Perfumed soaps

You may also experience hormonal changes around pregnancy, breastfeeding and menopause, which can affect the delicate vulval skin.

Infections or infestation

  • STIs such as pubic lice, genital herpes and genital warts
  • Scabies — a rash caused by tiny mites that lay eggs under your skin; although scabies isn’t specifically an STI, it can be transmitted through sexual contact, affecting your genital area
  • Thrush (candida) — a common fungal infection that can also cause soreness, irritation and a white discharge

Underlying conditions

  • Itchy skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis or lichen planus can affect your genitals and groin, as well as other areas of your body
  • Lichen sclerosus — a long-term inflammatory skin disease
  • Poorly controlled type 2 diabetes leads to high blood sugar levels, which make yeast infections, such as thrush, more likely
  • Type 1 diabetes

Other causes

  • Bacterial vaginosis — an imbalance in the bacteria that naturally live in your vagina, which also causes a burning sensation, a fishy-smelling odour, inflammation and vaginal discharge
  • Stress — this is rare but stress can weaken your immune system, making you more likely to catch infections that cause an itchy vulva
  • Vulval cancer — this is rare and doesn't always cause any symptoms but can cause abnormal bleeding, itching and pain in and around your vulva; it affects the outer part of your genitals, specifically the inner and outer lips of your vagina, your clitoris and the opening of your vagina

Talk to your doctor if you're concerned about your symptoms.

Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about symptoms

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Getting a diagnosis for itchy genitals in women

See a doctor if your itching is frequent and persistent (lasts more than a week) or is accompanied by other unexplained symptoms. This includes a rash in your genital area, as well as any of the following symptoms:

It is very important to see a doctor if you notice any of these symptoms because many symptoms of minor conditions are very similar to those of serious conditions, such as vulval cancer. The earlier any condition is diagnosed, the easier it is to treat.

Your doctor may:

  • Ask you questions about your symptoms and general health
  • Physically examine your genitals
  • Take swabs — this involves inserting a small ball of cotton wool on the end of a thin stick into your vagina to obtain samples of your vaginal discharge that will be tested for infections

Your doctor may also consider other tests including:

  • Blood tests eg to check for conditions such as diabetes
  • Skin-patch testing to detect sensitivities to certain chemicals
  • Collection of a tiny sample of vulval skin, using a local anaesthetic

Test samples will be sent to a lab for analysis.

Treatments for an itchy genital area in women

If you need treatment, it will depend on the underlying cause. Your doctor may recommend:

  • Antifungal cream or pessaries, antibiotics or antiviral treatments for infections
  • Creams, ointments, freezing or occasionally surgery for genital warts
  • Moisturisers or hormone replacement cream if the cause is menopause-related
  • Oestrogen cream, tablets or vaginal moisturiser
  • Steroid cream or other treatments to reduce inflammation for certain skin conditions, such as eczema, psoriasis or lichen planus

Home remedies for an itchy genital area in women

Depending on the cause of your itchy vulva, treatments may include lifestyle changes, such as avoiding anything that may be causing an allergic reaction, and self-care. This includes avoiding

  • Using anything perfumed eg scented bubble baths, soaps and lotions
  • Using vaginal sprays and douches
  • Wearing tight-fitting clothes

You should also:

  • Always wipe from front to back after opening your bowels
  • Change out of wet or damp clothes immediately after exercising or swimming
  • Gently and regularly wash and dry your genital area
  • Not scratch the itchy area
  • Use condoms during sex
  • Wear loose underwear made from 100% cotton and change it every day

You can also try eating probiotic yoghurts ie yoghurts containing live bacteria. There is some evidence that this may help prevent recurrent yeast infections when used alongside prescribed antifungal medication.

Itchy genitals in women FAQs

What causes pain when urinating?

Pain when urinating can have a number of different causes, including irritation by chemicals, such as those found in scented soaps, bubble baths and other perfumed products, infections including urinary tract infections (UTIs) and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), inflammation, hormonal changes at menopause, kidney stones, bladder stones and in rare cases, cancer of the bladder or urethra. 

How do you treat painful urination?

The treatment for painful urination will depend on the cause. This may include antibiotics to treat an infection, anti-inflammatory creams or steroids, and lifestyle changes.  

Will a UTI go away on its own?

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) can go away on their own. But if you have a persistent UTI or recurrent UTIs, your GP may prescribe antibiotics. 

Why does it burn when I pee but I have no infection?

If you do not have an infection but you still experience a burning sensation when you pee, there are other causes, such as hormonal changes at menopause and bacterial vaginosis in women and non-bacterial prostatitis in men.

When should I go to the doctor for painful urination?

If you are concerned about your painful urination, or your symptoms are persistent or frequent, you should see your GP. 

What is the fastest way to get rid of a bladder infection?

Bladder infections can go away on their own after a few days. If your bladder infection persists, see your GP. They may prescribe a course of antibiotics to take for several days or weeks. It is important to drink lots of water when you have a bladder infection to help your body clear it. However, do not drink caffeine or alcohol as these can dehydrate your body and worsen your symptoms.