After all that time you spend making sure your vag-scape is silky smooth, it can be pretty unnerving to find some ugly bumps cropping up like weeds in your lady garden. And if they’re swollen enough, these little bulges might even have you thinking that something shady—or possibly life-threatening—is up with your health. But are all bumps down there worth freaking out over?
So unless your bumps are erupting like small, achy volcanoes (in which case you should see your doctor right away) it’s likely that they’re a harmless symptom of what the medical crowd calls “self-limiting” conditions—conditions that eventually clear up on their own with little to no treatment. So take a deep breath and put your mind at ease; those tiny speed bumps along your happy trail could be there for any one of these five not-so-terrifying reasons:
You probably thought pimples were over with as soon as you peaced out of your teen years, but breakouts can still haunt you in adulthood—not only on your face, but on your nether region, too. “Same as anywhere else on the body, we may develop acne in the vaginal area as well,” says DeLucia. They look just like any other acne blemish would: red, irritated, and sometimes filled with pus.
Uncomfortable as the zits may be, fight the urge to squeeze them. (And please don’t use them as an excuse to make a gross pimple-popping video.) DeLucia recommends keeping your hands to yourself and letting your skin clear up on its own: “Vaginal acne usually resolves itself, as it does on the face.”
Whether you prefer to trim the hedges with a razor or uproot the whole bush with a bikini wax, removing hair down there can be a real bitch. Aside from making the delicate skin along your bikini line red and itchy, it can also lead to ingrown hairs and folliculitis—a fancy term for an infected hair follicle.
“Due to efforts to treat the vaginal area with depilatories, shaving, and waxing, the hairs that grow back may get trapped [under the skin] and infected, causing bumps and pain,” says DeLucia. Slacking off on the hair removal for a week or two should help prevent a hairy situation from getting worse, but grooming-inflicted bumps usually tend to go away on their own anyway, says Eve Espey, M.D., professor and chair of the obstetrics and gynecology department at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine.
Over time, your skin can develop a number of marks that may have never been there before. Sun exposure can bring new freckles or moles to the surface, while continuous friction caused by skin-to-skin or skin-to-clothing contact can result in skin tags (which are soft, painless flaps of skin). All of these can pop up anywhere on your body, and your lady bits are no exception.
Skin tags don’t pose a threat to your health and usually don’t require medical treatment—unless, of course, they annoy you to the point where you simply want to remove them. Moles are a bit of a different story: For the most part they’re no biggie, but it’s important that you’re able to tell the difference between the normal and suspicious varieties—especially if you spend a lot of time in the sun.
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, normal moles are usually round and regularly shaped, and they can be either flat or raised. Atypical moles, however, tend to be asymmetrical and multicolored, and their size can increase over time. If your hoo-ha has sprouted a brown spot that looks sorta funky, get it checked out right away. “Melanoma can be diagnosed in the [groin] area as well, so any pigmented lesion—especially if it’s new—should be biopsied,” says DeLucia.
Between sitting at a desk from nine to five, working up a sweat at the gym after-hours and wearing constrictive underwear practically every minute of the day, your little wonder down under probably doesn’t get nearly as much fresh air as it needs. A constantly stuffy environment between your legs and incessant rubbing against clothing can lead to the growth of sebaceous cysts—a condition that sounds a lot scarier than it is.
“These cysts are like acne, and they’re often found in the groin area,” says Espey. “They can become infected, but the infection usually stays right in that area and doesn’t make you ill.” Kind of like whiteheads, these bumps can be filled with liquid, but they can be more on the firm side. Warm soaks and a visit to the doctor might be needed to treat sebaceous cysts, says DeLucia, but they’re nothing to lose sleep over.
While STDs can be the stuff nightmares are made of, not every virus that hits you where the sun don’t shine can put your life at risk. Genital warts are an example of a viral infections that can cause vaginal bumps that, at the end of the day, won’t likely hurt your health.
Vaginal warts are a type of sexually transmitted infection (STI), and they’re often caused by specific strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV). They’re small in size, they can be rough or smooth on the surface, and they’re typically skin color or slightly darker. “Warts do not cause health problems,” says Espey, “though most women seek treatment because of the stigma and cosmetic concerns around having genital warts, [which are contagious through sexual contact].” Although the warts themselves aren’t dangerous, you should still check in with your physician to find out if they were caused by HPV, which could put you at risk for cervical cancer and other issues.
If bumps down there still have you stressing, then it can’t hurt to have a medical professional take a look at them: “Bumps aren’t to be ignored,” says DeLucia, “and you should see your health care provider if they don’t resolve within a couple of weeks.”