Menstruation can bring along a whole slew of symptoms, and everyone is different in terms of what they encounter every month. But if your period has ever arrived with a side of vaginal itchiness, you may have wondered what may be behind this occurrence.
Alyssa Dweck, MS, MD, FACOG, a practicing gynecologist and the chief medical officer at Bonafide, said this experience of feeling itchy while menstruating is one she's heard before — and it's frequently related to menstrual hygiene products.
As Dr. Dweck explained, some people may experience itching from using tampons that are too high in absorbency for their flow, while others may have sensitivities to conventional menstrual care products, like tampons and pads, made with non-organic materials and fragrance.
What's In Tampons, Pads, Or Liners That Could Cause Itching?
According to Jacqueline Giannelli, FNP-BC, NCMP, and founding nurse practitioner at Elektra Health, many menstrual care products are made with ingredients like synthetic fragrance and colors, parabens, phthalates, parabens, and surfactants. "These additives can cause an allergic reaction (contact dermatitis), leading to the sensation of itch on the skin of the vulva and vagina," she said.
However, more and more menstrual care brands are leaving these potentially irritating additives out of their product formulations. Dr. Dweck said that those that are sensitive to conventional menstrual care products may want to consider giving 100 percent organic menstrual-care products a trial. "Others may benefit from switching to a medical-grade silicone menstrual cup or menstrual underwear," she added.
If you're using tampons, choosing the least absorbent tampon for the period flow may help alleviate this issue too. Many experts also generally recommend staying away from scented period-care products, like tampons, to avoid itching and other issues.
How pH of the Vagina Can Cause Itching
According to Giannelli, another potential cause of vaginal itch during one's period may be due to changes in the pH of the vagina. As Giannelli explained, the hormones estrogen and progesterone are in decline in the days leading up to menstruation. When estrogen levels are low, Giannelli said the vaginal environment is less acidic and there may be an increase in pH. This increase in pH can cause a disruption in the vaginal microbiome, or the ecosystem of bacteria that help protect against infections.
"Certainly any infection can cause vaginal itching, but even subtle changes to the microbiome can create a state of inflammation that can present as itching. We see this often in perimenopause when hormone levels are already lower at baseline, but especially so around the time of one's period," she noted.
Dr. Dweck also mentioned that douching, which should be avoided, can also negatively impact the pH of the vagina and cause itching.
Talk to Your Doctor About Vaginal Itching During Your Period
It's important to remember that there are many potential culprits behind vaginal itch, so if you've been experiencing itchiness or have any concerns, check in with your healthcare provider for personalized advice and to rule out any health issues and infections.
"Some examples of conditions that can cause vaginal itching include vaginal infections, contact dermatitis, vulvar skin conditions such as lichen simplex chronicus and lichen sclerosus, vaginal dryness, and pudendal neuralgia (a nerve issue). Any itching or uncomfortable feeling that lasts for more than a day or two and does not improve should be evaluated by a provider familiar with these conditions," Giannelli said.