You're not alone if you have acne down there —here's how to deal
Have you ever looked down at your bikini area and wondered: Is that acne, a bunch of ingrown hairs, or something I should be concerned about? Because if you have, you’re definitely not alone. In fact, if you take a moment to type acne-related questions into Google, you’ll notice that the pubic area is a popular topic:
Though it seems that many people have questions about acne down there, it isn’t always easy to find answers. To learn more about vagina acne specifically, we reached out to dermatologists with our most pressing questions. Here’s what they had to say…
What exactly is vagina acne? What are the symptoms we should be on the lookout for?
Dr. Julia Tzu, the Founder and Medical Director of Wall Street Dermatology, explains that acne in the private area can be separated into two different categories: 1) Folliculitis: inflammation of the hair follicle and 2) Pseudofolliculitis: inflammation from an ingrown hair.
“Technically speaking, due to the mechanism by which it arises, it is not acne,” Dr. Tzu tells us. “Folliculitis and acne however, both appear as scattered red, inflamed bumps or pus-filled bumps. In the case of folliculitis, the inflammation is centered around the hair follicle.” Dr. Joshua Zeichner, the Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research for Mount Sinai Hospital’s Department of Dermatology, reaffirms this and adds that true acne in the genital area is uncommon, but can occur because there are many oil glands in that region.
How does someone know they’re dealing with folliculitis instead of ingrown hairs?
Since razor bumps and folliculitis are two different things, Dr. Tzu explains, “The difference between folliculitis and pseudofolliculitis is whether the inflammation is centered around the actual hair follicle (folliculitis) or whether it is centered on the hair shaft repenetrating the skin (pseudofolliculitis).” She adds that it can be difficult to distinguish between the two because they look similar. Most of the time, according to Dr. Tzu, both pseudofolliculitis and folliculitis are present because shaving and waxing can lead to both conditions.
Dr. Zeichner adds, “Razor bumps may occur from ingrown hairs or irritation from shaving. Folliculitis is a minor infection of the hair follicle causing red bumps around the follicle along with pus pimples.”
Why does folliculitis occur?
Dr. Tzu reveals that several different factors can contribute to folliculitis. Firstly, there’s frictional irritation, which can come from shaving, waxing, or constant rubbing. Moisture being trapped in the pubic area can also lead to folliculitis, along with the presence of bacteria.
Would you say that folliculitis is common?
It’s important to make a distinction between true acne in the pubic area and folliculitis. The former isn’t widespread, while the latter tends to be more common. “Folliculitis in general is very common, and can occur on the chest, buttocks, scalp, and genitals,” states Dr. Tzu. “Folliculitis of the genitals specifically is common enough for me to see several cases a week.”
How would you recommend individuals treat folliculitis? Stop shaving, waxing, etc.?
Dr. Zeichner tells us, “Folliculitis may be treated with antibacterial soaps or a surgical grade cleanser which you can get at your local drugstore called Hibiclens. Alternatively, try a benzoyl peroxide-containing wash to kill bacteria on the skin. Make sure to apply and leave on while you sing the alphabet to give it enough contact time with the skin before rinsing off so it can do its job.” To give us an example, Dr. Zeichner sent us a link to Neutrogena’s Clear Pore Cleanser/Mask.
To keep the pubic area acne-free, Dr. Tzu recommends that we also avoid frictional irritation while keeping the pubic area clean and dry. Both Dr. Tzu and Dr. Zeichner suggest that one consider laser hair removal if they permanently want to eliminate hair removal-related breakouts. However, Dr. Zeichner mentions that such a procedure is not covered by insurance.
“If OTCs [over-the-counter products] are not working, visit your dermatologist for evaluation for a prescription options,” Dr. Zeichner concludes. “Topical dapsone is a non-irritating option that will not bleach fabrics, two factors that are important when treating the bikini area.“