Here’s Why an Over-the-Counter Vulva Gel Doesn’t Take the Place of a Doctor’s Visit

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Woman wearing face mask sitting on examination table talking with female doctor holding an injection. Doctor discussing with patient before giving a vaccine to her.

Picking up an over-the-counter soothing vulva cream at your local drugstore might seem like an easier solution to treat itching or dryness than scheduling time with your doctor, but if you’re experiencing any sort of discomfort or changes to your vulva (or vaginal health in general!), speaking with a medical specialist is always the best option.

“If someone is experiencing dryness, itching, or a rash on their vulva, they should see their gynecologist or a dermatologist to determine if it is not some dermatologic abnormality, infection, peri- or postmenopausal atrophy, vulvar dysplasia, cancer, etc. before self-treating with a moisturizer,” explained Laurence Orbuch, MD, FABOG, a board-certified ob-gyn.

In other words, you should check with your doctor first to ensure you’re not dealing with a more serious issue that’s causing your itching or discomfort instead of simply stocking up on what’s available without an Rx at your local drugstore.

That’s not to say all over-the-counter vulva and vaginal health products, like anti-itch creams or soothing gels, are horrible for you or don’t serve a purpose.

“Sometimes there’s utility for [over-the-counter products], but I like to make the recommendation to patients versus them making it themselves because, a lot of times, they’re buying these things in place of seeing a doctor,” said Tamika K. Cross, MD, FACOG, a board-certified ob-gyn based in Houston.

“Sometimes it is something like an infection or something that needs to be treated with a medication or prescription, so that makes a difference, too.”

After your issue is evaluated, your medical professional will be able to point you in the right direction for relief, she added.

You can even ask your doctor which over-the-counter products (and ingredients) to avoid. Dr. Cross said one of her favorite brands is SweetSpot Labs because the products are formulated without parabens, fragrances, and other harsh chemicals.

When shopping for these types of products meant for the vulva (after all other concerns have been ruled out!), Dr. Orbuch suggested avoiding formulas that have preservatives and irritating chemicals. He said they should also be natural and preferably even organic.

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