Is That Bump On Your Vagina Something Serious — Or Just A Pimple?

photographed by Ashley Armitage; produced by Lorenna Gomez-Sanchez; produced by Megan Madden; modeled by Sebastian Rosemarie.
Nothing goes from a bad-case scenario to a lord-help-me-case scenario quite like discovering a red, painful, and pus-filled bump anywhere near your vagina. But before you spend the next four hours hunched in front of a mirror or on WebMD diagnosing your imminent death, know this: Just like scrotums can get pimples or cysts, so can your vulva.
Dermatologist Dr. Sandra Lee (better known as YouTube's resident Dr. Pimple Popper) says there are a handful of blemishes that manifest down there — including a form of acne called folliculitis. "This is when a hair becomes ingrown, triggering inflammation and a build-up of bacteria that leads to painful pimples," she explains. "Instead of a pore getting clogged with dead skin cells and debris like it would on your face or upper body, this forms secondarily around the hair follicle."
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Then, there are your standard epidermoid cysts, blackheads, and bartholin cysts that emerge on the vaginal area (the latter of which Dr. Lee says can turn into abscesses and should be drained by your OBGYN — which is why you won't see them on her channel). The common denominator between all of them, though: They can be easily mistaken for STIs. Below, Dr. Lee breaks down how to tell the difference so you can start the right treatment.
Who's Most Likely To Get Them
Anyone who waxes, shaves, or plucks the area can develop vaginal acne. "The hair in this area is curly, so when you pull it out at the root, as it grows back, it traverses under the skin," says Dr. Pimple Popper. "The hair can then curl under and grow the wrong way, which leads to redness, irritation, and a possible local infection."
What You Might See — & Where
Great news for anyone with a beach vacation planned: Blackheads and epidermoid cysts are most likely to make an appearance on the bikini line. The area closer to the vaginal opening, however, is where you'll see bartholin cysts. "Bartholin glands are located in the area to provide lubrication," she says. "If this gland gets blocked somehow, it can swell and become painful. If bacteria gets involved, it can turn into an abscess."
Folliculitis can occur anywhere with the potential to grow hair — even if the hair is very fine or hard to see. One place you'll never see a pimple: "At the opening of the vagina, which is comprised of 'mucosal' skin that does not have hair," Dr. Lee explains. Any bumps or redness around this area could be a red flag for something else.
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How To Know For Sure
It goes without saying that derms and OBGYNs exist for the sole purpose of spotting these kinds of things, but Dr. Lee says there are some clues you can look out for yourself. "Herpes look like pimples, but these blisters or bumps are often grouped together, and you can feel pain or discomfort in the area a few days before the breakout happens," she explains. "Genital warts typically don't cause any pain, but can be annoying, sticking out and getting caught on your underwear. They are often confused with skin tags." For those, seek out treatment from your OBGYN.
How To Treat Them
There are a few things you can do if the pimple is, in fact, a pimple. Dr. Lee says your derm can prescribe topical antibiotics if the situation gets out of hand; otherwise, stick to antibacterial washes and soaps to decrease the bacterial count in the area. (Just make sure you stay away from the vaginal opening!) SLMD Skincare has a Body Acne line with exfoliating salicylic acid to prevent bacteria build-up, or you can try any of these body acne products. And whatever you do, Do. Not. Pick.
After that, your focus should be on prevention: "Don't shave, wax, or pluck, but if you must, either shave in the direction of hair growth or just trim the area," Dr. Lee says. "Avoid applying occlusive topical products that can clog your skin's pores and hair follicles to the area, and skip tight clothing that can cause friction and pull out your hair, increasing the chance of pimples and folliculitis."
If that's not the best excuse to live in sweatpants and let our hair grow freely, we don't know what is.

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