Peeling of the skin on the labia is caused by a condition called lichen sclerosus. Lichen sclerosus is a chronic, inflammatory skin condition. It can affect men, women and children but is most common in women, according to Steadyhealth.com.
Lichen sclerosus generally targets the outer genitalia, the vulva or the anal area. Women who are post-menopausal frequently have this condition.
What It Looks Like
Small, white spots appear when the condition first manifests. These areas become smooth and shiny. The spots turn into bigger patches after which the skin thins and crinkles. The skin tears and peels easily as a result. Purple or red discolouration can occur because of bleeding inside of the skin.
In severe cases, this condition can cause scarring that results in the inner lips of the vulva shrinking and disappearing. The clitoris can be covered with scar tissue and the vaginal opening narrows.
Itching might be the only symptom of lichen sclerosus. However, if you have a severe case, bleeding, tearing and blistering caused by rubbing the skin can result in pain. Painful bruises and sores can also result if you itch the area. Urination, tight clothing and intercourse can all be uncomfortable.
Sometimes this condition goes away on its own, but it is best to have it treated by a physician because it can lead to scarring if untreated. Ultra-potent topical corticosteroids are used to treat lichen sclerosus. You have to apply the cream for an extended period to restore the skin's normal strength and texture, and to prevent the lesions from reactivating. Treatment does not reverse any scarring. The drawback in using the ultra-potent corticosteroid cream or ointments is that prolonged use can cause the skin to turn red, grow thinner and make you more susceptible to stretch marks. It can also predispose women to yeast infections.
What's Out, What's In
Testosterone cream and ointment used to be the medicine of choice for this condition, but it is no longer in favour because it causes masculine characteristics. Progesterone cream was once used to treat this condition, but it didn't prove to be effective. Vitamin A medications, including Retin A (retinoids) can be used by those who can't tolerate the corticosteroid cream.
A steroid-free ointment called tacrolimus (Protopic) is being used to treat this condition.
If a woman has an infection, low oestrogen levels or an allergy to the medication, this can prevent the symptoms from clearing up. You might end up treating these symptoms as well as the original ones.
According to Merck.com, diagnosis can be made by viewing the infected area. However, a biopsy can be done if the problem is not resolved after using hydrocortisone cream. If the area is ulcerated or thickening, it is especially vital that a biopsy be performed because lichen sclerosus is a precursor to squamous cell carcinoma.