If you think you’re clean after a shower, think again.
Despite washing your hair and lathering your body with soap, there’s one place that people often neglect to clean that doctor’s say is a breeding ground for bacteria — your belly button.
Just how dirty is your belly button? In a 2012 study published by PLOS One, researchers found 2,368 species of bacteria nestled into navels — 1,458 of which may be new to science. Gross.
According to dermatologist Dr. Lisa Kellett of DLK Cosmetic Dermatology and Laser Clinic in Toronto, navels make for an ideal space for bacterial breeding, especially when excess weight and piercings are concerned.
“Any fold where it’s warm and moist is where bacteria can breed,” Kellett says. “People who are very overweight and people with diabetes, especially Type 2, are at a higher risk of accumulating bacteria and getting infections to those areas.”
Kellett adds that any trauma to the area, like one experienced with a piercing, can also increase the chances of infection.
“With piercing [to the belly button] you have to be cautious because whenever you have a hole in the skin you can have that as a portal for infections,” she says.
Other areas that are ridden with bacteria include under the breast fold, the underarms and the groin area, says Kellett. Anywhere where there’s a fold — where one piece of skin touches another — you can expect a higher buildup of bacteria.
But when compared to other parts of the body, nothing comes close to hosting more bacteria than the belly button.
In 2009, researchers from the National Human Genome Research Institute swabbed various body parts — including the navel — on 10 volunteers and found that each of the 10 people they tested consistently housed about 1,000 species of bacteria in total across their bodies.
The area that was found to have the most bacteria at the time was the forearm, with a median of 44 species, followed by behind the ear with a median of 15 species.
But with navels being the ideal spot for bacteria, Keller says people should pay attention to any abnormalities that may arise from the belly button, like odour, discharge, redness and/or pain to the area. It may signal an infection.
When this happens, Kellett says a physician should be seen to begin treatment.
The type of treatment one receives will depend on the type of infection the patient is experiencing, says Kellett. Types of infections include yeast, fungal and bacterial.
“If you have an infection and you become septic — which is an infection of the blood — it can be life-threatening,” Kellett says.
To avoid bacteria buildup and infection, Kellett said to clean and properly dry the navel daily, especially when exiting the shower.
Kellett also suggests using a non talcum-based powder to help soak up any sweat that may accumulate throughout the day.