You and your belly button go way back, but it probably doesn’t get as much attention in the shower as bigger body parts, such as your arms and legs. After all, it’s the regular recipient of soapy run-off from your chest every time you wash up. So, do you really need to scrub the area, too? And if so, how should you be cleaning your belly button to ensure your outie or innie is hygienic enough?
Ahead, the answers to those questions and more need-to-know details about belly button cleaning, according to dermatologists.
What Are Belly Buttons, Anyway?
Your belly button, aka your navel, is the spot where your umbilical cord was attached before and immediately after your birth, explains board-certified dermatologist Ife J. Rodney, M.D., founding director of Eternal Dermatology Aesthetics and professor of dermatology at Howard University and George Washington University.
ICYDK, the umbilical cord carries oxygen and nutrient-rich blood to a baby from its mother in utero and carries away waste, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Once a baby is born, they no longer need the umbilical cord, so it’s cut, leaving behind a short piece called a stump. Within a few weeks, the stump will naturally dry up and fall off, and, violá, the baby now has a belly button. «The make-up of the blood vessels in the cord and how it falls off determines the belly button’s shape,» says Dr. Rodney.
Should You Be Cleaning Your Belly Button?
«Yes, of course,» says New York-based board-certified dermatologist Gary Goldenberg, M.D., founder of Goldenberg Dermatology. «Your belly button should be cleaned just like the rest of the skin.»
Whether you’re the owner of an outie or innie, your belly button is home to «tiny creases, where dead skin, dirt, and bacteria can accumulate,» explains Dr. Rodney. In fact, a 2012 study found that there are up to 67 different species of bacteria in the average belly button.
If you have an outie, the folds in the skin can be easier to see and clean, as they’re protruding a bit more from the body. But if you have a deeper belly button (think: an innie), it’s harder to spot the tiny grooves and to adequately clean out the cave with a quick run of a, say, soapy washcloth down your abdomen. «A regular shower can get some of the dirt, dead skin cells, and bacteria, but not all of it,» adds Dr. Rodney. (
Without getting in there and cleaning your belly button on the regular, the lingering gunk — e.g. dirt, sweat, dead skin cells, clothing fabric, and bacteria — can collect and «cause odor or even an infection,» says Dr. Goldberg. It can also build up and form a belly button or navel stone, which is pretty much what it sounds like: A calcified collection of sebum (oil) and keratin (hair fibers) that looks like a stone, according to research published in the Indian Journal of Surgery. The longer the rock of yuck camps out in your belly button, the more likely it is to also cause an infection.
It’s important to note that you don’t necessarily need a cut for an infection to form in your belly button, especially if you have an innie, says Dr. Goldberg. «Moisture tends to pool there and the area becomes like a petri dish,» he says. «That alone is enough to cause an infection.»
How Often Should You Be Cleaning Your Belly Button?
There’s no hard and fast rule for how frequently you should be cleaning your navel, but a general rule of thumb seems to be once or twice a week, says Dr. Rodney. But more is fine: A «slight, unpleasant smell» means it’s time for a cleaning, he notes.
Other signs that suggest your navel needs some TLC? «Sometimes you may see dirt within the tiny folds of your belly button,» she says. «[The dirt] may look white or black or a slightly different shade than your skin color.»
Similarly, you might notice some «residue» (think: white-ish, brown-ish, or gray-ish gunk) on your washcloth after cleaning in and around the navel. And if you have any have itching, irritation, or redness down there, a belly button cleaning should be in order, adds Dr. Goldenberg. (See also: Here’s Why You Have Itchy Skin At Night)
How to Clean Your Belly Button
You actually want to approach cleaning your belly button a little differently than you do when washing the rest of your body. Here’s how to properly clean your belly button, according to Dr. Rodney:
- Moisten a cotton swab with water and mild soap.
- Slowly and carefully move it «through the space,» so that you’re gently getting into the tiny creases and folds.
- Pause and take a look at the swab: If dirty, throw it out and start fresh with a new one.
- Repeat two or three times or until it comes out clean.
«Cleaning during or immediately after showering helps, as [showering] can get [off] the initial dirt, sebum, and debris,» says Dr. Rodney.
If you have a navel piercing, consult your doctor to determine how to best clean your belly button, as you might need to follow additional instructions that are specific to your piercing, explains Dr. Rodney. Instructions will likely vary depending on how new your piercing is. «For a brand new piercing, I would recommend antibacterial soap until it’s completely healed,» says Dr. Goldenberg. «For a long-term piercing, regular soap and water in the shower work well.»
If you’re wondering if you can simplify this process, such as if it’s safe to clean your belly button with alcohol, know that it’s okay but not necessary, according to Dr. Goldberg. Simply cleaning your belly button with H2O and soap is just an accessible, and safer bet. «Alcohol can irritate and dry the skin,» notes Dr. Goldberg. This can cause your skin to crack and, in turn, increase the odds of developing an infection.
Of course, if you notice something is off with your navel, it’s time to call your doctor. «If the area has an odor, drainage, or even just redness and irritation, it may be a sign of an infection,» says Dr. Goldenberg. «Most commonly, this is a bacterial infection but I have also seen yeast infections of the umbilicus in my practice.»
The bottom line on belly buttons: If you clean your belly button per the above instructions regularly, you should be just fine. And, if you’ve never cleaned your belly button before, then you might want to start.
Why Does My Belly Button Smell?
Discharge and smells can be a result of several different factors, though slight navel odors are typically normal. If you have a combination of foul smell and discharge, it could be a sign of:
- A fungal infection or yeast infection of the belly button.
- A bacterial infection of the belly button.
- A wound or bruise around or within the belly button.
- A simple build-up of sweat and belly button dirt.
Belly Button Infection
Belly buttons that are crusted, inflamed, or itchy may be infected.
Infected belly button symptoms
Common symptoms of a belly button infection or allergic reaction to a piercing include:
- Red, itchy skin around the navel.
- Foul smells.
- Yellow, green, or dark-colored discharge.
- Persistent pain, particularly around a piercing.
- Blistering around the navel or piercing.
Rarely, people can develop stone-like masses inside the belly button. Known as omphaliths or umboliths, these growths can fill the entire navel and lead to infection, inflammation, and ulcerated skin. For these reasons, it’s important to keep your belly button as clean as possible.
Who’s at risk?
You’re at higher risk of problems if you have an “innie” belly button or if you have your belly button pierced. That’s because deeper belly buttons and piercings are more apt to become infected.
How to Clean Your Belly Button
- The first step to a clean belly button may seem obvious, but it bears mentioning. A shower with plain old soap and water should remove lint, dirt, and some bacteria. You don’t need to scrub, but you should make sure the shower washes away obvious grime.
- If you have an “outie,” lucky you: Your belly button is probably pretty clean. Those with deeper navels may need to get a little more aggressive about cleanliness. Dip your finger or a soft washcloth in a solution of saltwater (about a teaspoon of table salt in a cup of warm water) and gently massage the inside of your navel. This should loosen stubborn germs that can cause odor. Then rinse with plain water and pat it dry.
- Resist the temptation to apply lotions or creams to your belly button. The extra moisture can contribute to bacterial or fungal growth.
How to Clean a Belly Button Piercing
If you have a navel piercing, you’ll need to pay special attention to your belly button. You can use the same saltwater solution mentioned above:
- Wet a clean cloth in the solution and apply it to the area as a warm compress several times a day. This should remove any discharge or crust and allow you to gently move the jewelry through the piercing.
- Pat it dry when you’re finished.
Remember, if your belly button still smells and doesn’t respond to these approaches, you should visit your doctor. If you develop redness, swelling, pain, or discharge, your belly button could be infected. This is especially likely if you have a navel piercing. In this case, you may require antibiotics or other treatment and should visit UPMC Urgent Care right away. Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .
- How to send an invoice on ebay
- How to use dosbox
- How to make dried cherries
- How to be happy with your body
- How to make afghan firnee (phirnee)