Why Your Belly Button Smells

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Vedrana Sucic / EyeEmGetty Images

As if you didn’t have enough bodily fluids to handle, here’s one more: belly button discharge Disturbing, but fortunately less common than other classic belly button problems, like a smelly belly button or a crusty one.

Here’s what’s up with this central spot:

If you have a smelly belly button

It’s generally nothing to worry about; it’s just a buildup of “keritanaceous material,” says MH advisor Brian C. Capell, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of dermatology in genetics at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. Skin cells turn over every two to four weeks. Cells need to be shed, and they might get stuck in your anatomy. As you’d imagine, it’s likelier in people with deeper belly buttons. The fix is pretty straightforward; a little cleanout can take care of it.

If you have belly button discharge

Belly button infections aren’t the most common, but they happen. “Usually, you see them in people who’ve had manipulation to that area, like a piercing, or laparoscopic surgery that goes through the navel,” says Dr. Capell.

Usually, the belly button discharge will be a pale white, off-yellow, or light green color, and will kind of look like snot does when you have a cold. It may also give off an unpleasant, sour smell, which is another sign of infection.

Your belly button discharge could also be a ruptured epidermoid cyst—basically, a bump that’s caused by skin cells that don’t slough off. These are generally harmless, except they can rupture and get infected in your belly button sometimes. You’ll know it—it will be red, tender, and may have discharge.

If you have anything that acts like an infection, it means “see your doctor.”

If you have an itchy rash around your belly button

It could be contact dermatitis, usually an allergy to nickel that a navel ring is made of, or an allergy to nickel in a belt buckle. If you know you have a nickel allergy, you can buy a kit that tests whether something contains nickel, and you can also buy a solution you can brush on the metal that acts as a barrier between it and your skin.

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