How to Decode Skin Conditions, Rashes, and Bumps On Your Vagina
Eh, what are those bumps on your vagina? Before you panic, get the need-to-know info on what could pop up on your most private parts
Finding lumps, spots, or bumps on your vagina is probably going to cause instant panic. Is it an ingrown hair? A pimple? Wait, is it even possible to have a pimple downstairs? OMG, is it an STD? It can be difficult to decipher exactly what's what-and if those bumps on your vagina need to be treated.
(Disclaimer: The word "vagina" really only applies to the cavity that leads from your external genitals to your cervix, not the whole area between your legs. So, yeah, it's easy to generalize the issue as having "bumps on your vagina," but it's helpful to be more specific: Is the issue truly inside your vagina, or on your vulva (around or between your labia), public area, buttocks, etc.?)
To help save your sanity, here's a rundown on some common skin conditions you might see in your genital area and what to do about them.
What it looks like: Pink or red bumps in your pubic area, sometimes with a little white cap of pus. What most people describe as pimples in the groin area is usually folliculitis, says Victoria Barbosa, M.D., a clinical assistant professor of dermatology at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. Folliculitis can occur on the vulva, groin, or buttocks. For some people, it's just there and doesn't cause any issues, but sometimes it can be mild to moderately uncomfortable, with itching or burning. (Ex: If it's farther back, it could be one of the reasons why your butt is itchy.)
How it got there: Folliculitis occurs when hair follicles become inflamed or infected. "It can be due to irritation from friction (walking, tight underwear, exercising), sitting around in your sweaty, wet gym clothes for hours, or bacteria," says Tsippora Shainhouse M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in Beverly Hills. Shaving is another possible culprit. (P.S. Here's How to Prevent Chafing-and How to Treat It When You Can't.)
What to do: A gentle antibacterial cleanser should help clear things up. It's also important to remove whatever it is that's irritating the hair follicles. So if that's wearing your workout clothes a little too long, make sure to change out of them as soon as you're done working out. Wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothes, keep the area clean and dry, and if you shave, replace your razor frequently (after two or three uses if only shaving the pubic area, or after every use if you also shaved a larger surface area like your legs). If things haven't improved after a week or two, make an appointment with your doctor," says Barbosa.
What it looks like: A soft, painless, skin-colored flap that hangs from the skin.
How it got there: Friction. "Skin tags occur in areas where skin rubs skin, so the most common areas they appear are the neck, underarms, and the groin," says Barbosa. Skin tags usually occur in older adults and are more common in people who are carrying a little extra weight. That's not to say being lean guarantees you won't develop a tag. "People of all shapes and sizes, even the trimmest, get them," she says.
What to do: Don't DIY! "There's a myth that it's a good idea to tie a string around the skin tag to choke off the blood supply so that it will fall off on its own," she warns. "However, I have seen many cases of swollen, infected tags due to people trying to remove them at home." Skin tags are benign and don't necessarily have to be removed. However, if you want it gone, your dermatologist or ob-gyn can freeze, burn, or clip it off. (Related: 10 Things to Never Put Near Your Vagina)
Plain Ol' Irritation
What it looks like: Rather than a "bumpy" appearance, simple irritation tends to be red, inflamed, and sometimes a little dry and scaly looking. The skin may also be itchy. (Related: What's Causing Your Itchy Vagina?)
How it got there: Something irritated the skin or caused an allergic reaction. "Consider any new products that you may have been using in the area: Soaps, wipes, shaving creams, and pads are common culprits," says Shainhouse. Some other possibilities include laundry detergents, latex condoms, lubricants, and toilet paper that's scented or colored. Skin conditions, like eczema or psoriasis, may also show up in your nether region. (It could also be one of these 12 Skin-care Habits Causing Irritation.)
What to do: If you suspect that a skin condition like eczema is causing the irritation, discuss it with your dermatologist. Otherwise, narrow down the irritant and get rid of it. "When it comes to your vaginal area, be boring," says Angela Jones, M.D., an ob-gyn and founder of AskDrAngela.com. That means using a plain, non-scented white bar of soap and avoiding products with perfumes and dyes, she says. (Related: Stop Tell Me to Buy Things for My Vagina) You may have to change your soap or detergent, switch hygiene products, or even swap out your underwear. If you think latex is causing the reaction, check with your doctor to see if polyurethane condoms may be right for you. "Stopping the offending agent and applying a thin layer of over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream a few times a day (for a few days) should help relieve the irritation," says Shainhouse. If not, it's time to schedule a visit to your doctor. (Having sex with a new partner can mess with your vagina's balance too.)
What it looks like: Similar to folliculitis-a pink or red bump, sometimes with pus, except you can sometimes see the hair embedded in the bump. These bumps typically occur in your pubic area (where there's more hair growth) vs. on your vulva or in your vagina-but they can pop up wherever there's a hair follicle.
How it got there: "Ingrown hairs are common when you have thick, coarse, kinky pubic hair, and when your pubic hair grooming involves a super-smooth shave or wax," says Shainhouse. Shaving makes the hair very sharp at the end, which can irritate the follicle when the hair grows back. "Repeated waxing weakens the hair and damages the follicle, which can alter its orientation so that the new hair is no longer in a straight line leading out of the skin," she says. What ends up happening is either the hair emerges from the follicle, exits the skin but then curls back into the skin, or the hair never makes it to the surface of the skin. The bump on your vagina is the end result.
What to do: If the hair is right at the surface, you can use sterile tweezers to remove it. For deeper hairs, try using warm compresses to help open the pore and free the hair. You could also apply a thin layer of salicylic acid or Retin-A, daily, until the overlying skin peels and the hair pops out, she adds. If the hair is really deep or doesn't seem to be making any movement toward the surface of your skin, you may need to ask your doctor extract it.
What it looks like: If you have a single, large bump near your vagina, this could be the culprit. A cyst typically looks like "a firm little lump, about the size of a pea or slightly larger, just beneath the skin," says Monica Leff, M.D., women's division chair at Miller Children's & Women's Hospital Long Beach, in California. A cyst is usually painless, however, it can cause tenderness if the cyst becomes very large or, in rare cases, gets infected. If a cyst ruptures, it can release a material that has a cottage cheese-like texture and an unpleasant odor.
How it got there: A cyst occurs when a gland or duct becomes clogged. It's not exactly clear why this happens, but an injury to the area (due to friction, an ingrown hair, etc.) or bacteria may be related. (Related: How to Buy Workout Clothes That Won't Irritate Your Skin)
What to do: A cyst is benign, so as long as it isn't infected or so large that it affects your daily activities, you can leave it alone. Some cysts go away on their own (but they may return). "If the cyst bothers you, it's very easy to remove it under local anesthesia, and takes only 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the size of the cyst," says Barbosa.
What it looks like: A soft, pink or flesh-colored bump that can be small or large, and raised or flat. You could have a single wart or a cluster of warts that look like the top of a cauliflower. Genital warts aren't usually painful or itchy, but they can get irritated if there's a lot of friction.
How it got there: "Genital warts are caused by low-risk types of the human papillomavirus (HPV)," says Jones. HPV is the most common STD. High-risk types of HPV are associated with cervical cancer, but the low-risk ones simply cause warts or no problem at all. (HPV is also one of the Dangerous Sleeper STDs for Women.)
What to do: There's no cure for HPV, but it sometimes clears up on its own. If left untreated, genital warts may go away eventually, but they could stay the same or increase in number and size. If you choose to have them removed, your doctor can either burn, freeze or clip them off, or use laser therapy or prescription topical medication, she says.
What it looks like: Heads up if the bumps on your vagina looks more like a blister: Herpes starts off as several small blisters that turn into little ulcers a few days later, says Leff. Herpes sores can be very painful (especially during the first outbreak). Some people experience burning when urine hits the open sores, so using the bathroom can be extremely uncomfortable. You may feel a tingling sensation or pain in your genital area, legs, or buttocks a few hours to days before the blisters appear. An initial herpes outbreak can last 10 to 14 days, and anywhere from 4 days to a week during recurrences.
How it got there: Herpes is an STD caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). HSV-1 usually causes oral herpes (also known as cold sores or fever blisters), and HSV-2 usually causes genital herpes. However, either strain can cause sores on the mouth or genitals. Herpes is highly contagious and can be spread through sex of any kind, touching the sores or fluids, or using something that has been in contact with the herpes blisters (like an infected razor or towel). You can even spread the virus from one part of your body to another (for instance, from your mouth to your nether region) if you touch a sore and then touch a different area. (But it isn't the only STD that's becoming more common in the U.S.) To prevent spreading the infection, avoid sexual contact during (or right before) an outbreak, use a latex condom to lower the risk of transmission when you have no sores or symptoms, wash your hands after using the restroom, and put any towels you used for showering or bathing into the laundry after a single use, she says.
What to do: Herpes usually isn't included in the normal battery of STD testing, so you may have to ask your doctor to test you for it specifically. (Here's how often you should get tested for herpes-and all other STDs.) There's no cure for the HSV, but fortunately, it's not something you have to deal with on a daily basis. "The virus lives in the nerves near the spine and just sits there quietly most of the time," says Leff. But sometimes it can reactivate and cause symptoms. Some women notice their outbreaks occur during times of high stress or around their period, but it can also happen randomly. If you have frequent or very bad flare-ups, your doctor can prescribe an antiviral medication to shorten the length of the outbreak and reduce symptoms.