While suddenly discovering your vulva or vagina is puffy, painful or swollen is never a fun experience, it is a pretty normal one. Could it mean you’re allergic to toilet paper?
There can be a lot of reasons why swelling or irritation happens: An infection, injury, or even intense sex. And yep, experts agree that toilet paper can also cause some of these issues. “Toilet paper can irritate your vulva and your vagina, especially if you have sensitive skin,” says board-certified ob-gyn Pari Ghodsi, M.D. Michael Ingber, M.D., a urogynecologist at The Center for Specialized Women’s Health, agrees, noting that toilet paper actually can cause all kinds of infections if you don’t use it properly.
Don’t freak out—odds are you’re already using toilet paper in a very safe, effective way. We asked the experts what below the belt issues toilet paper is most likely to cause and what to do about them.
Technically, you can be allergic to certain chemicals, like fragrance, used in your toilet paper. This can cause a case of vulvitis, a condition which often shows up as itching, burning, redness or swelling. If you notice these symptoms after using a new type of TP (especially if it’s scented) switch brands.
This is a common reason to avoid scented toilet paper. The chemicals used to create the fragrance can disrupt the normal pH of your vagina and lead to a yeast infection, says Jessica Shepherd, M.D., an assistant professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology and director of Minimally Invasive Gynecology at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Chicago. If you think your toilet paper might be the cause of repeat infections, switch to a hypoallergenic type, Ghodsi recommends.
Yeah, wiping too roughly or with a harsh toilet paper can create little cuts on your vulva. “The tissue in that area is very delicate, so you should make sure you’re not being too rough when you wipe,” says Shepard. These microcuts can lead to irritation, swelling, and even an infection if they’re not treated appropriately, Ingber says. That’s why experts also recommend that you dab instead of wiping whenever you can.
It might seem weird that the stuff you use to clean urine off can also cause a UTI, but here’s the deal, per Ingber: The female urethra (the spot where pee comes out) is short, and bacteria don’t have to travel far to get into your bladder. When you wipe from back to front, you can push fecal particles, which can contribute to a UTI, forward and into your urethra where they can travel up to your bladder and cause an infection. That’s why Ingber (and most doctors) recommend wiping from front to back, which keeps that bacteria in the back where it should stay.
A lot of toilet papers have fragrances, dyes, and other chemicals that can irritate your skin and cause you to puff up or notice a swelling, says Ingber. And, he points out, if your toilet paper is white, it may contain bleach, which can bother your vagina. Excessive wiping can also cause you to puff up, Ghodsi says. If you notice swelling, one option is to try a softer toilet paper.
If you notice your vagina is having issues like any of the above and you recently changed toilet paper brands, the first step is to stop using the new one, says Ghodsi. If the problems persist, it might be time to visit your doctor—she can prescribe something to help with the symptoms and look into whether something else more complex than your toilet paper brand is the culprit.