Change of any kind is scary — but the sort that hits closer to home tends to rattle us a little more than whenever Instagram messes with its algorithm. So, when we notice that something looks a little different down below, you can imagine the frenzied googling and overthinking that ensues. Of course, your first step when you observe a dramatic change in your body should always be to talk to your doctor, but, more often than you might think, some changes in your vulva are normal and natural. Case in point: the color of your labia.
First of all let’s start with the basics: Labia are the outer part of your vagina, also referred to as the lips, and though people commonly referred to the whole female sex organ as the “vagina,” that’s just the name for the internal segment. Vulva is the catchall name for the external part, and within that you’ve got labia majora, the outer folds of skin, and labia minora, or the inner folds.
It goes without saying that everyone’s labia are unique in terms of their shape, size, and overall appearance, so there isn’t one exact color that your labia should be. As a rule, the color of your labia is initially determined by your skin tone, though its exact shade will change with time. Susan Loeb-Zeitlin, MD, gynecologist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medicine, says that, when someone’s labia change color, hormones usually have something to do with it. And the first time that you noticed a difference was likely during puberty, when the labia develop, grow larger, and, in turn, may get darker.
Tara Shirazian, MD, gynecologist at NYU Langone Health, adds that pregnancy may also affect the overall color of someone’s labia, again, due to the major hormone changes that accompany it. Other than that, she says that slight shifts in labia color are pretty common — and, unless you have additional symptoms, they’re rarely a cause for concern.
“Color itself is not really a major indicator of disease,” Dr. Shirazian says. “There would be some other indication, like a lesion or abnormal discharge.” (For the record, abnormal vaginal discharge usually smells and looks very different from what you’re used to, and often comes with pain and itching.)
But if you’re taking a hand-mirror to your vagina, here’s what you need to look out for. If you do notice a specific spot on your labia that’s darker or redder than the rest of your surrounding skin, like a mole or swollen bump, get in touch with your doctor. Dr. Loeb-Zeitlin says that any new pigmented lesions should be evaluated for melanoma, which your doctor will do via an in-office biopsy.
So, while you should regularly check in with (and show some love for) your vulva, you probably don’t need to fastidiously monitor, let alone feel self-conscious about, every single subtle change in your skin tone down there. “An array of colors is normal,” Dr. Shirazian says.