Yep, You Can Totally Get Acne On The Skin Around Your Vagina

·14 min read
Photo credit: Thomas Quack / EyeEm - Getty Images
Photo credit: Thomas Quack / EyeEm - Getty Images

There are few things that are more unpleasant than bumps on vagina. Whether they’re irritated, sensitive, or completely pain-free, chances are your mind is racing to all kinds of places when you find something out of the ordinary down there. The good news is bumps in your private region aren’t usually a cause for concern and can be brought on by a simple change in grooming habits or if you’ve been hanging out in sweaty clothes for a bit too long.

Indentations and a bumpy surface in your vaginal walls can also be normal parts of your vaginal structure, or rugae, says Taraneh Shirazian, MD, a New York City-based ob-gyn and ambassador for Monistat. “This is [actually] part of your normal anatomy and just may not be something you noted before,” she says. “The vagina is not a smooth surface; it has a natural texture, so [you shouldn’t] be alarmed.”

That said, it’s a good idea to have any new bumps you find checked out by a gyno because they can sometimes be a sign of a health condition, like a sexually transmitted infection, for example. But it can be a bit tricky to spot anything irregular around the vaginal or vulvar area, especially if you don’t remove your pubic hair. “This doesn't mean that you should change your grooming practices, but if you have symptoms that you are concerned about, make sure to bring it up and point them out,” says Jodie Horton, MD, an ob-gyn in Washington and the chief wellness advisor for Love Wellness.

The same goes for people with darker skin tones, she notes. "Vulvar skin conditions may also be more difficult to notice in women with darker skin, especially if the skin in the genital area is protected by pubic hair," Dr. Horton points out. So if you’re a Black, Indigenous, or person of color, be sure to bring up unusual symptoms you’re experiencing so you can be sure to receive an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.

Vaginal bumps can take on different looks depending on the cause. Our guide here can help you pinpoint exactly what you're dealing with and what you can do about it.

1. You have a breakout.

You probably thought pimples were over with as soon as you peaced out of your teen years, but breakouts can still haunt you in adulthood—and not only on your face.

“Same as anywhere else on the body, we may develop acne in the vaginal area as well,” says Carolyn DeLucia, MD, of VSPOT Medi SPA in New York City. They look just like any other acne blemish would: red, irritated, and sometimes filled with pus. (When they are pus-filled, they may appear as white bumps near the vagina.)

Uncomfortable as the zits may be, fight the urge to squeeze them. Dr. DeLucia recommends keeping your hands to yourself and letting your skin clear up on its own: “Vaginal acne usually resolves itself, as it does on the face.”

2. Your hair-removal routine is irritating your skin.

Removing hair down there can be a real pain. Aside from making the delicate skin along your bikini line red and itchy, it can also lead to ingrown hairs and folliculitis—a fancy term for an infected hair follicle. Basically, it's super easy for hair removal to lead to bumps in your vagina region, more specifically the vulva.

“Due to efforts to treat the vaginal area with depilatories, shaving, and waxing, the hairs that grow back may get trapped [under the skin] and infected, causing bumps and pain,” says Dr. DeLucia.

Toning down the hair removal for a week or two should help prevent a hairy situation from getting worse, but grooming-inflicted bumps on the vulva usually tend to go away on their own anyway, says Eve Espey, MD, a professor and the chair of the obstetrics and gynecology department at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine.

3. You have new moles or skin tags.

Over time, sun exposure can bring new freckles or moles to the surface, while continuous friction caused by skin-to-skin or skin-to-clothing contact can result in skin tags (soft, painless flaps of skin).

Skin tags don’t pose a threat to your health and usually don’t require medical treatment—unless, of course, they annoy you to the point where you simply want to remove them. Moles are a bit of a different story: For the most part they’re no biggie, but it’s important that you’re able to tell the difference between the normal and suspicious varieties—especially if you spend a lot of time in the sun.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, normal moles are usually round and regularly shaped, and they can be either flat or raised. Atypical moles, however, tend to be asymmetrical and multicolored, and their size can increase over time. And yeah, they can show up in your groin area too, says Dr. DeLucia. If you've sprouted a brown spot that looks sorta funky down there, get it checked out right away.

4. You have an allergic reaction or infection.

Irritation from either a vaginal infection or from an allergic response may cause minor bumps in the vaginal canal, says Dr. Shirazian.

“Be careful using products on or in the vagina that can alter [its] pH and cause irritation,” she explains. The solution in this case may be as simple as changing your soap. If you have an infection caused by yeast, for example, Dr. Shirazian recommends trying over-the-counter products like miconazole nitrate creams to decrease inflammation and irritation and to treat the infection.

5. You have sebaceous cysts.

Between sitting at a desk from 9 to 5, working up a sweat at the gym, and wearing constrictive underwear practically every minute of the day, your vagina definitely doesn’t get nearly as much fresh air as it needs.

A constantly stuffy environment between your legs and incessant rubbing against clothing can lead to the growth of sebaceous cysts (fluid-filled, possibly white bumps on your vagina area that can appear like acne).

“They’re often found in the groin area,” says Dr. Espey. “They can become infected, but the infection usually stays right in that area.” Warm soaks and a visit to the doctor might be needed to treat sebaceous cysts, says Dr. DeLucia, but they’re nothing to lose sleep over.

6. You have genital warts.

Vaginal warts are a type of sexually transmitted infection (STI), and they’re often caused by specific strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV). They’re small in size, they can be rough or smooth on the surface, and they’re typically skin color or slightly darker.

“Warts do not cause health problems,” says Dr. Espey, “though most women seek treatment because of the stigma and cosmetic concerns around having genital warts, [which are contagious through sexual contact].”

Although the warts themselves aren’t dangerous, you should still check in with your physician to find out if they were caused by HPV, which could put you at risk for cervical cancer and other issues.

7. You have scabies.

Scabies is an STI caused by mites that burrow into your skin and lay eggs (ew!). Besides making your skin crawl, this infection commonly causes severe itchiness and small red bumps along with a rash. It needs to be treated with prescription medication, so definitely pay your ob-gyn a visit if you've had sex with someone who has it.

8. You have a Bartholin's cyst.

If the weird bump or lump is near the opening to your vagina, it may be a Bartholin's cyst, says Allison Hill, MD, an ob-gyn at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles and co-author of The Mommy Docs' Ultimate Guide to Pregnancy and Birth.

You have glands on each side of your vaginal opening that are responsible for helping you get wet down there and stay nice and lubricated for fun times, but occasionally these can get blocked or backed up with fluid. The cyst on its own isn't a huge deal but sometimes they get infected, becoming painful and pus-filled, Dr. Hill says.

If the cyst is small and painless, your doc will probably tell you to wait it out, and it will likely go away on its own. But if it becomes large and/or painful, you need to see your doctor right away. They can drain the cyst and prescribe antibiotics if necessary, she says.

9. You have ingrown hairs.

Pubic hair is characterized by its curly shape, but that tight coil can have a major downside: Pubic hairs are way more likely than other hairs to burrow back into your skin, causing ingrown hairs. "The most common reason I see for painful bumps in the vaginal area are ingrown hairs," Dr. Hill notes.

These can become infected, but it's pretty rare—more often than not they're just itchy and annoying, she adds. You can use tweezers and a mirror to try and remove the offending hair yourself, or you can leave it alone and it should eventually heal on its own.

If the bumps aren't going away or show signs of infection (redness, swelling, pain, or pus), check in with your doc, she says.

10. You have molluscum contagiosum.

No, it's not a Harry Potter spell—molluscum contagiosum is a scary-sounding name for a common, benign condition. These small, pearly, firm bumps on your vaginal area are the result of a skin infection caused by the molluscum contagiosum virus, and they're typically the only symptoms. Sometimes, the bumps can get larger, turn red, itch, and ooze.

These bumps can appear anywhere on your skin, including your face, hands, and yes, genitals, Dr. Hill says. You get them by coming into contact with someone or something carrying the virus—say, by having sex or sharing a towel with someone who has open sores. You can even give them to yourself. If the bumps are oozing, they're contagious, and when you itch them, you can accidentally spread them to other parts of your body.

For most people, these vaginal bumps go away without treatment within a few months (as long as you don't itch them and keep spreading them!) but if you have a weakened immune system, you may need medical treatment, she says.

11. You have an infected sweat gland.

Sweat glands are everywhere, including in your groin region, as any girl who's ever worn light-colored leggings during a workout can attest. And those sweat glands can get infected, causing swollen, painful bumps on your vagina area, Dr. Hill says.

Women who work out in tight leggings (which is pretty much everyone, right?) are particularly at risk for this affliction—especially if you don't shower right away, she says. Staying in your damp workout pants, undies, or swimsuit, especially those that aren't made out of wicking fabric, traps the sweat against your skin which can cause your sweat glands to become blocked or infected.

Proper hygiene, including thoroughly rinsing your vaginal area with clean water and a mild soap if you want, and changing into dry clothes as soon as possible, will prevent most of the bumps on your vagina, she says. Otherwise, they'll probably go away on their own; but if they show signs of infection, call your doctor.

12. You have syphilis.

The first sign of syphilis is one or more small, painless bumps at the site of the infection—usually your genitals or mouth, says David Diaz, MD, a reproductive endocrinologist at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California. The vagina bumps stay for three to six weeks, then disappear on their own. But make no mistake, this doesn't mean the syphilis is gone, and you still need treatment ASAP, Dr. Diaz says. Otherwise, it could become life-threatening.

Syphilis is highly treatable with antibiotics, but the sooner you catch it, the better. If you have any reason to believe you've been exposed to an STD, get tested, he says.

13. You have vaginal inclusion cysts.

Cysts can happen anywhere, explains Dr. Horton, but a vaginal inclusion cyst is the most common type of cyst you'll find down there. They're often caused by trauma, childbirth, or vaginal surgery.

While they typically don't cause any pain and aren't dangerous, they can definitely be annoying. If it turns out you have them, your gyno will monitor them.

14. You have Skene’s duct cysts.

Skene’s glands are found on each side of the urethra (the urinary opening where you pee), explains Dr. Horton. A Skene’s duct cyst will form if the gland becomes obstructed due to an infection. These cysts are usually less than a centimeter in size and don’t cause any other symptoms. Cysts larger than a centimeter, however, can cause pain with urination and sex.

If the cyst becomes infected and filled with pus, and forms an abscess, the gland will be tender, swollen, and red. An abscess can be treated with antibiotics or surgically removed.

15. You have vulvar varicosities.

Varicosities is the name for enlarged, dilated veins, and they can totally pop up on the vulva or outer part of your vagina. It’s most common in pregnant women and women with a condition called pelvic congestion syndrome. Basically, varicosities is the result of a change in blood flow and increased hormones that cause the veins to dilate and grow. Varicosities will look blue or purple and bulge out from the skin.

“This condition may be difficult to see in women who have darker skin, but if you experience vulvar pressure, heaviness, or pain during intercourse, you may want to get a pelvic exam to rule it out,” explains Dr. Horton. “Treatment can include applying ice, elevating your feet, and wearing compression stockings to increase blood flow to the vulva.”

16. You have lichen sclerosus.

This is a rare condition that causes thin, shiny white patches on the vulva and anus. It can occur at any age, but it's most common in women over 50. The patches come with itching, blisters, pain, and bleeding. Its cause is unknown, but experts believe it’s tied to immune system issues, hormonal imbalances, genetics, and skin trauma.

“Diagnosis of lichen sclerosis can be difficult and is often confused with other skin disorders of the vulva, as it involves carefully examining the vulva, including areas with pubic hair,” says Dr. Horton. “If you do have it, it's important to have life-long screenings of the skin affected by lichen sclerosus because it leads to an increased risk of vulvar cancer.”

17. You have genital herpes.

Herpes is a condition most women are aware of, as it’s a common sexually transmitted infection caused by herpes simplex virus (HSV) 1 and 2, says Dr. Horton. After initial exposure, the virus will become dormant and can reactivate at any time. Symptoms include pain, itching, small red bumps, tiny white blisters, or ulcers. During an initial outbreak, you may have flu-like signs and symptoms, such as swollen lymph nodes in your groin, headaches, muscle aches, and fever, as well as itching and burning.

“There is no cure for herpes, but symptoms can be treated quickly with antiviral medication to decrease the duration of an outbreak,” says Dr. Horton. “Condoms are the best way to reduce your risk of exposure and transmission of herpes.”

18. You have vulvar cancer.

Vulvar cancer is most common in older women, and it typically forms as an itchy lump or sore on the vulva, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Before you freak out though, know that any bumps on your vagina likely aren't cancerous unless they come with these other symptoms: itching that never goes away, pain and tenderness around the vulva, vaginal bleeding outside of your period, changes to the color or thickness of the vulvar skin, and any open sores or ulcers, per the Mayo Clinic.

If you have these symptoms persistently, get your lumps and bumps checked out by a doctor. If one of them is cancerous, it can be surgically removed.

The bottom line: Most causes of vaginal bumps are harmless and can be easily treated, so don't panic if you see any down there. But you should still get them checked out ASAP to make sure nothing else is going on.

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