Bodies are exhaustingly high-maintenance. The list of things you’re supposed to be doing just to stay alive and in reasonably good health gets more detailed the longer you live—especially when it comes to grooming and hygiene. You might think you’re doing a reasonably good job of detailing all the bits on your body, but a lot of folks are missing a pretty vital part of their washing up: Their navel.
You probably don’t think much about your belly button, at least since the ‘90s pierced naval heydey. As it turns out, you do so at our peril. If you fail to keep it clean, it will forcefully remind you of its presence. Here’s why you should be cleaning your belly button regularly (and how to do it).
Put simply, your belly button is gross. The grossness varies depending on whether you have an “innie” or an “outie.” Outies are a bit easier to clean less prone to problems, although they still should be cleaned regularly. Innies need a bit more attention because they’re literally an indentation in your body, and a lot of really nasty stuff can embed itself in there. A study found more than 60 different types of bacteria are partying in the average belly button; they also tend to collect dirt, hair, shed skin cells, and fibers from your clothing, all of which conspire to create nightmarish scenarios.
What kind of scenarios? Well, infections, for one: The dirt and humid conditions found in that fleshy cave can result in some nasty irritation caused by bacteria, yeast, or fungus. A navel infection will result in redness, swelling, itching, pain, and discharge that can be a mix of blood and pus. And a belly button infection can become quite serious, especially if it spreads to other parts of your body.
You can also develop omphaloliths, or navel stones. These are pretty much mega blackheads formed from dead skin, sebum excretions, hair, and anything else that gets trapped in there. These can get rather…impressive in size, and removing them sometimes requires a professional’s touch (and a strong stomach).
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How to clean your belly button (and what not to do)
The best way to avoid infections and stones in your navel is to keep it clean. The bad news is that if you have an “innie,” simply showering isn’t enough—while incidental contact with soap and water can’t hurt, you really do have to dig in there once in a while to make sure your belly button is clean. In other words, we finally have a use for cotton swabs that don’t involve your ears. Use one with some rubbing alcohol and just gently swirl it around in there. If it comes out dirty, dump it and use another and repeat until the swab comes out clean.
Cleaning an “outie” belly button is obviously easier, but you should definitely pay attention when showering and ensure that you’ve actually removed any dirt or other stuff from the protrusion. Your outie can still get infected if you let it get grimy.
One final tip: If you use lotions or any other sort of skin cream, avoid getting any inside your belly button. It’s already a pretty dank place in there, so adding something moist and lubricating to the mix isn’t the best idea.