Navel stones are an accumulation of sebum and keratin that can resemble a large blackhead in your belly button.
A navel stone is a hard, stone-like object that forms inside your belly button (navel). The medical term for it is omphalolith which comes from the Greek words for “navel” (omphalos) and “stone” (litho). Other commonly used names are ompholith, umbolith, and umbilical stone.
Navel stones are rare, but anyone can get them. They’re most commonly found in people with deep belly buttons and those who don’t practice proper hygiene habits. They’re seen more often in adults because they can take years to grow big enough to be noticed.
Because they usually don’t cause symptoms, you may not even know you have one until it’s grown very large.
Sebum is an oily material made in the sebaceous glands in your skin. It normally protects and waterproofs your skin.
Keratin is a fibrous protein in the top layer of your skin (epidermis). It protects the cells in this outer layer of skin.
A navel stone forms when sebum and keratin from dead skin cells collect in your belly button. The material accumulates and hardens into a tight mass. When it’s exposed to oxygen in the air, it turns black through a process called oxidation.
The result is a hard, black mass that can vary in size from tiny to large enough to fill your belly button.
Most navel stones aren’t bothersome and don’t cause any symptoms while they’re forming. People can have them for years without knowing it.
Eventually, inflammation, infection, or an open sore (ulceration) can develop in your belly button. Symptoms like redness, pain, odor, or drainage are often the reason a navel stone is noticed.
Navel stone or blackhead?
Blackheads and navel stones contain the same substances, but they aren’t the same thing.
Blackheads form inside hair follicles when a follicle becomes clogged and sebum and keratin build up. They have a dark appearance because the hair follicle is open, exposing the contents to air. This results in the oxidization of lipids and melanin.
A navel stone forms from sebum and keratin that collects in your belly button.
One big difference between the two is how they are treated. Navel stones are pulled out of the belly button, while blackheads are sometimes pushed out of the follicle.
Blackheads are most commonly treated with topical retinoids. A dilated pore of Winer (a large blackhead) is removed by punch excision to prevent it from returning.
Both can be looked at and taken care of by a dermatologist.
Not cleaning your belly button
The biggest risk factor for a navel stone is not practicing proper belly button hygiene. If you don’t regularly clean your belly button, substances like sebum and keratin can collect in it. These substances can develop into a hard stone and enlarge over time.
Depth of belly button
To form a stone, your belly button has to be deep enough to collect these substances. A stone can then form and grow. The deeper your belly button is, the more likely it is that substances will accumulate in it.
When you have obesity, it can be difficult to access and clean your belly button. Extra tissue in your midsection can also compress your belly button, making it more likely to retain collected material.
Hair around your belly button can direct sebum and keratin toward and into your belly button. Belly hair also collects lint as it rubs against your clothes. Your hair helps trap these materials in your belly button.
The treatment for navel stones is to take them out. Your primary care doctor should be able to remove most navel stones, or they can refer you to a dermatologist who has more experience with them.
Usually your doctor uses tweezers or forceps to pull out a stone. In rare cases, the belly button has to be opened up a little to get the stone out. This is done using local anesthesia.
If an infection or skin ulceration is found underneath the stone, your doctor may treat it with antibiotics.
Sebum is a sticky material that can make the stone stick to the skin in your belly button. To make removal easier, olive oil or a glycerin preparation typically used to remove ear wax can be used.
Can I remove it myself?
Some people remove navel stones themselves, but it’s safer to have your doctor do it. There are several reasons for this.
- It can be hard to see inside your own belly button.
- Your doctor has equipment and experience to remove it safely.
- Inserting a pointed tool like tweezers into your belly button can cause an injury.
- What you think is a stone could actually be something much more serious, such as malignant melanoma.
- There might be inflammation, infection, or an open sore behind the stone that needs medical attention.
The best way to prevent navel stones is by keeping your belly button clean. This also helps prevent other problems like bad odors and infection.
Regularly bathing or showering can help keep it clean, but your belly button sometimes needs extra attention and cleaning, too.
If your belly button sticks out (an outie), use a soapy washcloth to thoroughly clean it.
If your belly button goes in (an innie), clean it regularly with soap and water on a cotton swab. Your belly button can be very sensitive, so remember to be gentle when using cotton swabs.