If you ever find bumps around the vaginal area, it’s easy to automatically assume that you have a sexually transmitted infection. But there’s no need to worry or jump to conclusions right away. Sometimes, it may just be a case of vulvar acne.
As board-certified dermatologist, Tsippora Shainhouse, MD, FAAD, tells Bustle, “In general, acne develops due to a combination of four factors: excess sebum production or oil, which is usually hormone-related, follicular hyperkeratinization, which is a build up of keratin in the follicles/pores, bacteria on the skin, and an inflammatory response in the skin to all of the above.”
Vulvar acne, which is also sometimes called vaginal acne, is common. In fact, Dr. Shainhouse says that it’s very common to develop at least one or two lesions ever in your life. “I can see three patients in a day with them,” she says.
Just like any other kind of pimple you find on your body, it can show up as red bumps on the skin that range from itchy and uncomfortable to painless. But unlike other pimples you can find on your face or chest, Dr. Shainhouse says that vulvar acne usually presents itself as folliculitis (inflamed hair follicles), discrete abscesses, or a more serious and rare skin condition called hidradenitis suppurativa, or long-lasting bumps under the skin.
For the most part, pimples around the vagina are really nothing to worry about. But here are some things all women should know about getting acne in that area, according to experts.
1It Can Be Caused Due To Inflammation Of The Hair Follicles
Inflammation is known to affect your body in a number of different ways. Although there are many different causes of vulvar acne, inflammation of the hair follicles is a major one. “Sometimes, skin cells and keratin build up in the follicles, which result in clogging up the opening,” Dr. Shainhouse says. When this happens, it can lead to blackheads in the vulvar area.
2Your Choice Of Clothing Can Increase Your Risk Of Getting It
Some types of fabrics are known to be more vagina-friendly than others. For instance, Dr. Shainhouse says that sweating in your “nylon no-show underwear” can lead to irritation and inflammation. “Constant rubbing (think exercising and then sitting around in sweaty clothes) can cause pink bumps, and when combined with skin bacteria or yeast, this can cause pink or pus-filled pimples around the hairs,” she says. You can prevent this by wearing cotton underwear, which gives your skin more room to breathe. Also, be sure to change out of sweaty underwear or tight leggings after a workout.
3Using Anti-Bacterial Soap In The Shower Can Help
The vagina is self-cleaning and is prone to irritation if you use fragrant soaps or washes. But to help with acne, Dr. Shainhouse says you can consider using an anti-bacterial or benzoyl-peroxide soap in the shower. Just be sure to stick to the vulva and outer areas, and not inside the vagina itself.
4Vaginal Acne Can Also Show Up As An Abscess
“Getting an abscess is fairly common, so don’t be shy if you get one,” Dr. Shainhouse says. According to her, an abscess is a “dilated, balloon-like, pus-filled, sealed-off cyst” that develops in the base of the follicle. If you’ve never had one before, consider yourself lucky. It usually hurts and you really shouldn’t do anything to squeeze it out unless the overlying skin gets stretched thin enough to rupture. Like folliculitis, this can be caused due to rubbing from your underwear or a pad, or hair pulling from grooming. It can even occur as a secondary bacterial infection.
5You Can’t Really Do Anything To Prevent Them
If the vulvar acne is presenting itself as an abscess, they usually go away on their own within a few days. Unfortunately, Dr. Shainhouse says you can’t really prevent them. The good news is, there are ways to manage it. For instance, you can try applying a warm compress for comfort and to help it drain if it’s ready to do so. But if it hurts too much to sit, walk, or even wear underwear, you may need to see a dermatologist. “They can have it lanced, if it’s ready or injected with mild steroid to reduce the inflammation,” she says. “Sometimes you might need an oral antibiotic for a few days.”
6If It’s Not Folliculitis Or An Abscess, There’s A Rare Chance It May Be Something Else
Hidradenitis suppurativa is an inflammatory skin condition that most likely has a genetic or autoimmune component, Dr. Shainhouse says. Symptoms can range from mild to severe, and often shows up as painful, recurrent and persistent cysts, or “pus-filled, weeping acne lesions.” Aside from the vaginal area, these can also happen in the armpits, buttocks, and breasts. Unlike other forms of vulvar acne, this is one that must be managed by a doctor since it goes away and comes back every so often throughout your life. “It can be maintained with over-the-counter anti-bacterial washes, prescription topical and oral antibiotics and injectable biologic immunomodulators,” she says. “Sometimes the sinus tracts and cysts can be unroofed (cut open) and scraped out or completely excised by a surgeon.”
7It’s Not An StI
It’s easy to confuse vulvar acne for other things like herpes or genital warts. Although it may look and feel similar, it’s not. According to Dr. Shainhouse, people often confuse pimples for herpes, genital warts, and molluscum contagiosum, which are all non-follicular blisters and bumps. Just be sure you don’t pick at the pimple or try to pop it. If it becomes an open wound and you engage in sexual activity, it can increase your risk of getting an STI if you’re not careful.
For the most part, pimples in the vaginal area are nothing to really worry about. They should go away on their own. But of course, if it becomes uncomfortable or the pain becomes too much, you should always consult your doctor.