An itchy bellybutton can have a number of causes. Most of them aren't a big deal and can be managed at home or with a quick visit to the dermatologist.
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Here are some possible reasons for your itchy bellybutton, and what to do to get relief.
1. You Have Contact Dermatitis
Contact dermatitis is "dermatologist-speak" for a red, itchy rash that develops after skin has been exposed to an irritant.
Irritants can be a new soap, laundry detergent, personal care product or a plant like poison ivy or oak. But, when it comes to bellybutton itching, the most common irritant is nickel.
"Pant buttons are usually made out of nickel, and can create a round rash where it touches the skin," says Jennifer Gordon, MD, a board-certified dermatologist with Westlake Dermatology in Austin, Texas.
Start by pinpointing what might be causing the rash and avoiding it to stop your skin from getting further irritated.
Then apply a cool, wet compress, calamine lotion (Amazon, $4.92) or a 1 percent hydrocortisone cream (Amazon, $9.29) to stop the itch as the rash heals, which can take around two to four weeks, per the Mayo Clinic.
2. You Have Eczema
Eczema — a skin condition that causes red, itchy patches and swelling — most often affects the arms and legs. But it can also affect your navel.
"Eczema in this area can result from irritation of the skin caused by frequent rubbing or friction," says Marisa Garshick, MD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Cornell-New York Presbyterian Medical Center.
People who get eczema in their bellybuttons are typically already dealing with the skin condition. Most cases of eczema appear in early childhood, from genetics or environmental triggers, according to the National Eczema Association.
If you have eczema, avoid triggers that cause your skin to flare up (like heat, sweat or personal care products with added fragrance).
3. You Have a Bug Bite
What are the odds that a mosquito or other bug finds its way into your bellybutton? Perhaps not that high.
But if you've got a puffy, reddish bump inside your navel that itches a lot, there's a good chance that's what happened.
For most people, mosquito bites are just an annoyance. But for others, even a mild bite can cause hives or a low-grade fever, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In that case, you might be allergic and would need to visit an allergist.
While mosquito bites typically fade on their own within a couple of days, there are strategies you can try to ease the itchiness and pain. Wash the area with soap and water to reduce the risk of infection. Then, apply an ice pack for 10 minutes to reduce itching and swelling, according to the CDC. You can also try an anti-itch cream like calamine lotion.
4. You Have a Yeast Infection
If you have a bright red rash around your bellybutton that's itchy, swollen or even produces a bit of white discharge, you may have a yeast infection.
Yeast infections are caused by a fungus called candida, per the CDC, and commonly affect other body parts such as the vagina, anus and tongue. While yeast can develop anywhere on your skin, it tends to thrive in areas that are warm and damp — like the skin folds around your navel, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
And if it doesn't smell, that's normal. Unlike most infections, yeast surprisingly won't make your bellybutton smell.
If you have recurring yeast infections, it may be due to an underlying health condition such as high blood sugar or frequent antibiotic use. Talk to your doctor about possible causes and treatment.
If you think you have a yeast infection in your bellybutton, visit a dermatologist to see what you're truly dealing with, Dr. Garshick says. If yeast is the culprit, you'll need a prescription topical antifungal such as nystatin, miconazole, clotrimazole or ketoconazole cream.
5. You Have Intertrigo
Sometimes an itchy, burning rash is caused by an inflammatory condition called intertrigo, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Intertrigo can happen when skin gets irritated by heat, humidity or friction (i.e., skin rubbing together). Like yeast infections, it tends to thrive on parts of the body that are warm and damp, like your bellybutton. If left untreated, intertrigo can even turn into a yeast infection, according to the National Library of Medicine.
Keep the affected area dry and cool. Use a towel to soak up water after bathing or sweat after exercising.
Then, apply a barrier cream like Triple Paste medicated ointment (Amazon, $20.71), and wear loose, breathable clothing, per the Cleveland Clinic. If at-home measures don't help, visit your dermatologist, as intertrigo can get infected, Dr. Gordon says.
6. Your Piercing Is Infected
If you've got a bellybutton piercing, sweat, dead skin buildup or even an infection could be the cause of your itching and discomfort.
"Because [bellybutton piercings] create an area for moisture buildup, they may be associated with more irritation," Dr. Garshick says. Metal jewelry — especially nickel — can also cause contact dermatitis and lead to redness and itching.
Make sure you're cleaning your piercings regularly and following any after-care instructions given by your piercer to avoid infection, per the Mayo Clinic.
If your piercing is itchy and your piercer recommends the use of such products, consider applying some Vaseline (Amazon, $5.10) or Aquaphor (Amazon, $10.61). Make sure your piercing stays dry by patting it with a washcloth after bathing.
7. You Have a Cyst
Cysts — small, benign bumps below the skin — can form anywhere on the body, including in the bellybutton. They aren't always bothersome, but sometimes, they can have a thick, yellow or smelly discharge, or get red or itchy when infected.
Try to avoid picking or popping a cyst on your own, which can lead to infection if not cleaned properly.
If you notice a new bump in or near your bellybutton, visit your dermatologist. Though cysts are not typically problematic, "you should always have them looked at since, given the location, they could be associated with an umbilical hernia or granuloma [area of inflammation]," Dr. Garshick says.
If the cyst feels irritated or infected, you may also need to have it drained, according to the Mayo Clinic.
When to See a Doctor
An itchy bellybutton that lasts for a few days (and improves with at-home measures) probably isn't cause for concern.
But if itching lasts for more than two weeks, distracts you from normal activities and is affecting other parts of your body, you may want to see a dermatologist.
And if itching comes with even worse symptoms, like weight loss, fever, night sweats or open sores, this may indicate a more serious problem. In this case, your doctor can properly diagnose and treat the issue.
- Mayo Clinic: "Contact Dermatitis"
- American Academy of Family Physicians: "Eczema and Atopic Dermatitis"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Mosquito Bite Symptoms and Treatment"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Belly Button Yeast Infection"
- National Library of Medicine: "Intertrigo"
- Mayo Clinic: "Epidermoid Cysts"
- CDC: Candidiasis
- Mayo Clinic: Piercings
- The Journal of Pediatrics: "Eczema in early life: Genetics, the skin barrier, and lessons learned from birth cohort studies"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Intertrigo"
- National Eczema Association: "Baby eczema"
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.