No matter your hygienic practices, acne has a knack for showing up at the absolute worst times, in the absolute worst places.
Among those unfortunate zit locations is the vulva—the external region of your vagina.
"Vaginal acne isn't as common as acne on the face, back, chest, and underarms, but it's not rare, either," says Kyrin Dunston, MD, board-certified ob/gyn at Signature Functional Medicine in Georgia to Prevention. Though it shouldn’t be a chronic issue, these annoying bumps are a fairly common problem.
When you get a zit down there, it doesn’t mean you aren’t clean enough. In fact, many of the culprits behind your vaginal acne are from grooming practices that irritate the skin!
When you seek to remove a thick, coarse hair (which describes most follicles down there), you leave yourself open to getting ingrown hairs. These pesky zits are basically a pus-filled bump with a little hair inside, and they’re the most common types of vaginal acne. These hair removal practices can also lead to razor bumps, which can get infected as well.
“We are covered in bacteria on our skin,” dermatologist Angela Lamb, M.D., tells Women’s Health. “So any time you create an irritation”—like using hot wax to rip out hair or creating micro-cuts in the skin with a razor—“that creates a portal for bacteria to enter.”
This doesn’t mean you have to grow all the hair out to prevent any vaginal pimples (unless you get them constantly or they’re painful). You can opt for a specially-formulated wax for sensitive skin or invest in laser hair removal to nix hair down there for good, thus eliminating breakouts.
If you wash down there with your typical body wash—particularly one with an added fragrance—you may be irritating this sensitive area of your body.
“Body washes that use harsh ingredients and have the wrong pH can aggravate the skin...” says Dr. Jessica Shepherd, MD, OB/GYN Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago to Teen Vogue. A healthy vagina's pH level is between 3.5 and 4.5, so it's important to look for a product that's within this same range. Products usually list this information somewhere on the packaging, or you can stick with a feminine wash formulated specifically to be used down there.
What you should always stay clear of when it comes to washing your lady parts are antibacterial soaps. They boast a pH level between 9 and 10, so they can seriously throw off your balance to cause acne or infection.
When you work up a sweat at the gym, you sweat everywhere…genitalia included. Especially if you’re wearing tight-fitted clothing, the moisture of the perspiration gets trapped and can lead to the growth of bacteria. (This group is particularly prone to bacne, too.)
“I see vulvar acne most commonly in avid exercisers where there can be more friction to the vulva, such as in spinning classes,” says Catherine Goodstein, M.D., an obstetrician and gynecologist at Carnegie Hill OB/GYN in New York City to Glamour. “Extreme sweating combined with excess sebum production and tight exercise clothing can produce pimples.”
One of the most effective ways to prevent vaginal acne caused by exercise is to shower immediately after you finish your sweat session to clean your body and allow your lady parts to breathe. Just be sure to use a gentle soap!
If the pimples near your privates are large, pus-filled and extremely painful, you may have a less common dermatological disorder known as hidradentis suppurativa, which affects the vulva. “There seems to be a genetic predisposition to forming these lesions, and obesity is a risk factor,” explains Dr. Goodstein to Glamour.
Though you aren't necessarily doing anything to cause this, it can be regulated. “In addition, there is believed to be a hormonal component to these, as patients with this disorder seem to do better when their hormones are regulated by birth control pills,” says Goodstein. If you aren't interested in taking oral birth control, antibiotics and steroids can also treat the condition.
How to treat a vaginal pimple:
Just like pimples on your face, doctors advise to leave them alone and resist the urge to pop them. Rather than squeezing the pus out of a whitehead, apply a warm, wet cloth to the bump a couple times a day. You can also apply Neosporin to the area to coax the pimple away.
If the zit isn’t healing with a home remedy or it’s large and painful, consult a doctor.
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