No matter how diligent you are about keeping your skin squeaky clean and your pores clear, acne has a way of showing up at the worst possible times—and sometimes, in the worst possible places. Like on your vagina. Don’t freak out, though: Vaginal acne is totally normal.
“Vaginal acne isn’t as common as acne on the face, back, chest, and underarms, but it’s not rare, either,” says Kyrin Dunston, MD, board-certified ob/gyn at Signature Functional Medicine in Georgia. While a zit-related incident down there is totally normal, she says, it’s rarely a persistent problem.
What Causes It?
Acne down there strikes for similar reasons to facial acne—namely, it’s secondary to excessive production of sebum (oil) within a narrowed hair follicle, says Kecia Gaither, MD, double board-certified ob/gyn in New York. Hormonal fluctuations during menstruation can also cause vaginal acne, along with bacterial overgrowth in the pores, dead skin cell accumulation, ingrown hairs in the genital area, and, not surprisingly, stress. (Here’s how to safely remove an ingrown hair in 3 steps.)
How Do You Recognize It?
Fortunately, it’s not hard to distinguish vaginal acne from other types of bumps. “If it looks just like a pimple on your face, you’ll know that’s what it is,” says Dunston. Pimples may also cause slightly more discomfort than ingrown hairs because they typically contain more fluids. (Make sure you can recognize these 5 kinds of vaginal bumps every woman should know about.)
Vaginal acne is usually no biggie—however, if they’re numerous or recurrent, or persistent, then you’ll want to check in with your gyno. “Some STDs will present with bumps similar to acne, but they’re usually numerous and don’t resolve on their own,” says Dunston. If a lesion persists for more than a week, or it’s associated with vaginal itching, odor, or discharge, it’s best to get checked out right away.
How Do You Treat It?
If you do spot vaginal acne, there are plenty of ways to send it packing. Below, Dunson and Gaither share their favorite products to help get rid of acne down yonder. No matter which product you choose, though, use it carefully on the keratinized skin only (the thicker part with the hair), and steer clear of the mucosal skin (the soft wet part inside the lips), advises Dunston.
1. Daily Azelaic Acid Serum
“Found in certain grains like wheat, rye, and barley, azelaic acid is a natural organic compound that decreases inflammation, removes dead skin cells, and has antibacterial properties,” says Gaither. Formulations with at least 20% have been noted to be an effective acne treatment, she adds.
2. Oregano Soap
Try using unscented soaps that contain natural antibacterials, such as oregano oil, which can help ward off harmful bacteria and prevent vaginal acne from forming, suggests Dunston.
3. Lotions with Green Tea Extract
“Lotions containing at least 2% green tea extract can significantly decrease acne breakouts,” says Gaither. (One study found by almost 60%!)
4. Organic Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil has antimicrobial properties (for bacteria and fungi) and effectively cleans pores. “It also helps to maintain the natural moisture of the skin, providing soothing relief while also balancing oil secretions from the sebaceous glands,” says Gaither. Undiluted tea tree oil can be irritating, so make sure to dilute it with water and test it on your forearm before using it in V-town.
5. Acne Eliminating Body Lotion
This lotion contains quite a few ingredients your skin will love—aloe, witch hazel, jojoba oil, and tamanu oil to moisturize and calm the skin, along with tea tree oil to fight breakouts. It also contains salicylic acid, which works by sloughing dead skin cells that can clog pores while decreasing redness and swelling, says Gaither.
6. NeoClear by Aerolase
Much like acne on your face, chest, and back, this laser treatment can address all kinds of acne with laser energy. Fortunately, it is a quick in-office procedure that doesn’t even touch your skin (we know that counts down there!) that will have your skin clear of any bumps or redness in no time. Plus, there’s an added benefit of hair reduction so you can say goodbye to that pesky razor!
How Do You Prevent Vaginal Acne?
The best way to prevent vaginal acne is to establish healthy habits down below. For starters, keep the vaginal area clean and dry, and wear cotton-crotched panties for breathability and to decrease moisture accumulation. (“Bacteria love dark, damp places,” says Gaither, so no hanging out in your gym duds.) Also, consider setting a limit on how often you shave the pubic area, which increases the odds of infected hair follicles, she adds. And if you do find a pimple, don’t pop, pick, or manipulate it. This will only make your vagina angry—or worse, give you a skin infection called cellulitis. (Ouch.)