Your belly button is pretty far south of your nose. But if you happen to notice an unpleasant smell coming from that region, you might wonder what’s going on.
The simplest explanation for belly button odor is a hygiene issue. Dirt, bacteria, and other germs can collect in this hollow area, which is where the umbilical cord attached you to your mother while you were in the womb. The little indentation is likely to collect dirt and debris if you don’t keep it clean.
Sometimes a stinky belly button can be a sign of a condition that needs medical attention, like an infection or cyst. Look for other symptoms that come along with these conditions, such as:
- white, yellow, or green discharge
- swelling and redness
- a scab around your belly button
- a lump in your abdomen
Causes of a smelly belly button can range from poor hygiene to an infection.
Your belly button has its own tiny ecosystem. Researchers have discovered that our belly buttons may be home to nearly 70 different types of bacteria. Fungi and other germs can also get trapped inside the belly button region.
These germs feast on oil, dead skin, dirt, sweat, and other debris that gets trapped in your belly button. Then they multiply. Bacteria and other germs create the foul smell, just as they make your armpits smell when you sweat. The deeper your belly button is, the more dirt and germs can build up inside it.
The result of this mix of bacteria, dirt, and sweat is an unpleasant odor. The good news is that it’s easy to resolve the odor with some good hygiene habits.
Candida is a type of yeast that likes to grow in dark, warm, and moist environments, like your groin and underarms. Your belly button also provides the perfect habitat for these tiny creatures, especially if you don’t keep it clean. You’re more likely to get a yeast infection if you have diabetes mellitus. Diabetes mellitus is a disease of an above-normal blood sugar level (hyperglycemia), and this hyperglycemia reduces your immune system’s ability to fight off infections. Find out more about the connection between diabetes mellitus and yeast infections.
Recent surgery to your abdomen, such as surgery to fix an umbilical hernia, can cause your belly button area to be at a higher risk of infection.
The skin near a belly button piercing can also get infected. Any time you create a hole in the skin, bacteria can get inside. Here are some tips for managing an infected belly button piercing.
If you do have an infection, you might see pus leaking from your belly button. Sometimes the pus will smell. Other symptoms include pain, redness, and swelling in the area. Any signs of infection, including fever, pus, and redness, need to be checked out by your doctor.
Epidermoid and pilar cysts
An epidermoid cyst is a bump that starts in the top layer of skin, and a pilar cyst starts near a hair follicle. Both of these cysts contain cells inside a membrane that produce and secrete a thick keratin protein sludge. If one of these cysts gets large and bursts, the thick, yellow, foul-smelling discharge will drain from it. It’s also possible for these cysts to become infected. Your doctor can diagnose and provide treatment for these types of cysts.
Sebaceous cysts are much less common than epidermoid cysts and pilar cysts. Sebaceous cysts originate in the sebaceous glands, which normally produce a waxy and oily lipid mixture called sebum for skin lubrication and protective properties. Sebaceous cysts fill up with sebum and can become infected. If you have a sebaceous cyst problem, different treatments are available depending on your needs and your physician’s approaches.
When to see a doctor
You don’t need to see your doctor for hygiene issues. Once you clean your belly button, the smell should improve.
Do make an appointment with your doctor if you notice discharge from your belly button. It could be a sign of infection. Also call your doctor if you have other signs of infection, including:
- pain in your abdomen
- pain when you urinate
Your doctor will examine your belly button and might scrape off a sample of the discharge. The sample will go to a lab, where a technician will check it under a microscope or perform other sample testing to see what components are in the discharge.
For an infection
Keep your belly button clean and dry. Avoid wearing tight clothes. Sweat and dirt can build up under clothes that cling to your skin. Limit the sugar in your diet, especially if you are diabetic. Excessive blood glucose level increases your risk of infection. Your doctor might recommend using a topical antifungal or antibiotic cream, depending on which type of germ caused the infection.
If an area of skin by a piercing has gotten infected, remove the jewelry. Soak a cotton ball in a mixture of antimicrobial hand soap and warm water, and gently wash your belly button with it. Try to keep the area clean and dry at all times. Avoid wearing tight clothing because it can irritate the infected area. If these methods aren’t effective, you may need to see your doctor.
For a sebaceous cyst
You don’t have to treat a superficial skin cyst unless it gets infected or bothers you. A dermatologist can get rid of the cyst by injecting it with medication, draining it, or removing the whole cyst.
How to clean your belly button
The easiest way to prevent bacteria and dirt from collecting in your belly button is to clean it every day. Here’s how:
- In the shower, put a little bit of antibacterial soap on a washcloth.
- Using your index finger underneath the washcloth, gently wash the inside of your belly button.
- After you get out of the shower, pat your belly button dry.
Afterward, don’t use too much cream or lotion in or around your belly button. It can encourage an environment where fungi and bacteria can grow more easily.
If you have a belly button piercing, keep it clean and dry. Wet a washcloth with a mixture of antimicrobial hand soap and water and gently wash around the piercing.