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How to clean your belly button correctly

A clean belly button is essential for everyone, not just those with piercings. But how exactly are we supposed to go about cleaning them? An expert unpacks the truth. 

If the last time you paid any attention to your belly button coincides with your months spent in utero, you’re not alone. While they‘re more than happy to be dressed up with a bit of bling and can make an excellent body shot crevice (granted you don’t laugh), the list of uses for the human belly button is sadly pretty limited. 

But that hasn’t stopped people from getting creative when it comes to their buttons. In the last decade, the market for cosmetic intervention has grown exponentially, with people enlisting the help of surgeons to reconstruct, reshape and redo their natural navals.  

Nonetheless, whether you’re an innie or an outie (or somewhere in between), your belly button deserves the princess treatment. And yes, that means keeping her spick and span. 

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What exactly is hiding in our belly buttons?

According to Dr Karan Raj, an expert responsible for a viral TikTok explainer on this very topic, an uncleaned belly button could potentially be housing all kinds of nasty muck, with a 2012 study published in the National Geographic revealing over 1,450 species of ‘new to science’ bacteria have been found in the stomach crevice. 

“All flesh holes can build up with sweat, dead skin cells, oils, clothing fabric, bacteria, and forbidden cheese,” Dr Raj explains. “If not washed out on a regular basis, this material can accumulate and harden into an omphalolith—a belly button stone. Belly button stones come in a wide array of colours; it’s usually black but can be a light brown.”

Unlike the human body’s impressive array of self-cleaning orifices, such as the vagina, ears and nose, Dr Lucy Glancey, a specialist in non-surgical aesthetics, says the belly button lacks the drive (and ability) to keep itself clean. 

“The belly button area is dark and moist and therefore becomes a breeding area for bacteria and yeast,” she says. “Left untouched, the buildup of dirt, dead skin, bacteria, sweat, soap, shower gel, and lotions and potions can lead to crustiness, scabs, unsavoury smells, and possible infection.” 

How to properly clean your button

Cleaning your belly button properly isn’t likely to be a pleasant experience, especially if you’re sporting an ‘innie’. The area is notoriously sensitive and ticklish, with deeper stimulation often triggering an icky feeling. 

Adequately cleaning your innie button requires a little more attention than the ‘outies’. Experts recommend thoroughly (but gently) dabbing the area with a cotton swab and antibacterial soap, or a small amount of alcohol. Whatever you use, ensure you properly rinse the area afterwards. 

For the outies, take a moment during each shower to give your button a bit of TLC, “I suggest using a gentle cleansing wash, lather up and rinse thoroughly,” says Dr Glancey. “Unlike an ‘innie’ belly button, you can put moisturiser on to keep it soft and avoid crustiness.” 

Of course, if you don’t think your cleaning attempts are powerful enough to undo two decades of neglect, or suspect your belly button may be housing a nasty infection, visit a dermatologist ASAP.

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