What are these vaginal bumps I have? Is it normal to have them in such a private area? If so, what causes them?
Get insight bumps on the vaginal area, including the most frequent causes such as STDs, ingrown hair, abscess, cysts, acne, skin tags, eczema, cancer, angioma, molluscum contagiosum, folliculitis, among others and their treatments.
Any blisters, sores (ulcers), pimples, bumps and lumps around this area often cause a lot of anxiety. Most women tend to assume they are due to STDs or worse, some kind of cancer. Whereas they could be due to STDs or cancer, there are many other likely causes might be harmless.
Although we have mentioned blisters and sores, this discussion is going to focus on or tackle only vaginal bumps and pimples. We will dedicate other posts for blisters, sores, and lumps.
Pimples and bumps on the vagina can be clustered or alone, small or bigger in size, painful or painless. Some of them are more sores than bumps.
To have a feel of what having them feels like, here are experiences from two women:
3 days ago, I woke up without the bump, but throughout the day, the area around the left side of my vagina became increasingly sore. It wasn’t till I came home that I took a look at it. It’s a hard pea-sized bump under my skin, and can be pushed around a bit. I was thinking it was a cyst, but is it normal for it to develop within 8 hours? I normally have a bit of vaginal discharge, but it seems to have increased the past few days. Any ideas for what it might be? I don’t think it is an STD because I haven’t seen my boyfriend since the summer… so haven’t had sex since then (he has been my only partner). Worried because it came so suddenly and it hurts when I walk (underwear rubs against it)”. Grace11 [Medhelp.org]
A similar situation is:
“Can you get a pimple on your outer vaginal area? My boyfriend and I have been having unprotected sex for more than three years, but I get tested every year and I haven’t tested positive for anything so far. Recently, when he inserted his penis, I felt some discomfort…not inside, but when his penis hit the outside. Then I found this bump, very sore to the touch and looks like a pimple. Once I popped it, it didn’t hurt as much and it’s slowly going away. Should I be concerned about herpes?” – ANONYMOUS [Sexualhealth.com]
A number of things can cause bumps on your private part or a ‘bumps down there’. Some of these causes are harmless while others can potentially cause complications. Some of the main reasons for vaginal pimples and bumps include:
1. Ingrown hair
If you often shave or wax your pubic hair, ingrown pubic hair is one of the possible causes of pimple-like bumps near your vagina vulva.
Ingrown hair “happens when the sharp tip of the hair curls back or grows sideways into the skin of the hair follicle” [Medicinenet.com]. This is not a problem that affects women only but can also affect men’s pubic hairs.
To prevent them, ensure go for the right hair removal techniques and procedures to minimize ingrown hair such as using a sharp razor, shaving in the direction of hair growth, using shaving gels or creams, opting for permanent pubic hair removal, etc.
Normally, ingrown hair heals without treatment. However, sometimes, it can become red, warm, sore and irritated especially if it is infected. In such a case, treatment may be necessary. Go for ingrown hair removal and treatment especially with topical antibiotics to deal with the infection. Get a prescription from your dermatologist.
2. Vaginal Cysts
The second possible cause is cysts. These are “sac-like lumps are filled with fluid, air, or other materials” [WebMD.com]. Blocked glands, ducts or trauma (for inclusions cysts) are the common causes of these cysts.
Types of vaginal cysts
The common types of include Müllerian cysts, Gartner’s duct, Bartholin’s gland cysts and inclusion cysts (the most common type, which is small and found on the lower backside of the vaginal walls).
Signs and symptoms
When not infected, they tend to be generally painless, feel pebble like and move when touched by fingers, resemble pimples, and are under the skin. However, when they are infected, cysts often become swell, become tender, and filled with white or grayish pus, which might have a foul odor.
In most instances, they do not require any kind of treatment. However, a biopsy might be recommended to be certain they are not cancerous. If they are infected, you might need antibiotics.
Large cysts might require draining by a gynecologist.
If your cysts are painful, try sitz bath – sitting in a bathtub filled with warm waters, just a few inches.
3. An abscess
Besides Bartholin’s abscess that occurs when your Bartholin’s glands on either side of the vagina opening blocked and infected, STDs and other bacteria can cause abscess and thus bumps i.e. “ an abscess can result from a number of bacteria including those that cause sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhea or chlamydia” [WebMD.com].
If you have a large (more than a centimeter), sore and enlarging, red-streaked or sore abscess near your rectal or groin area require you to see a doctor. Otherwise, go for home remedies i.e. try warm compresses and do not prick or try to drain them.
4. Genital area acne or pimples
I came across someone asking whether it is normal to have pimples in your private area or not. Just like any other part of your body, that has oil glands and hair follicles, you can end up with pimples or acne.
The common types of pimples that can affect your body including you genital areas (such as labia, inner thighs, butt cheeks, and groin area) include whiteheads, blackheads, papules, pustules, nodules, and cysts.
Pimples (zits or spots) are small papule or a pustule that “occurs when the sebaceous glands, which are located at the base of hair follicles, become overactive” [Medicalnewstoday.com] and together with dead skin might clog pores. When this happens, it provides a favorable environment for bacteria multiplication and thus one will end up with pimples or acne.
To some women, these pimples tend to flare up during menstrual periods while to others they are cyclic i.e. they come and go especially when related to hormonal changes (especially during puberty and pregnancy).
On causes, they can be triggered by a myriad of things such as tight-fitting clothing, touching your genitals with dirty hands, hormonal changes, excessive sweating, some medications, stress, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and other external factors.
There are many OTC and prescription topical creams, lotions, serums, oral medications or even injections, which are often, recommended once the cause has been determined.
Common ones include benzoyl peroxide, Retin-A, sulfur, Azelaic acid, salicylic acid, resorcinol, isotretinoin, photodynamic therapy, oral antibiotics, oral contraceptives, light therapy, Spironolactone, etc. Let your doctor help you choose the best treatment option.
On treatment, some people often opt for home remedies such as neem, burdock, lavender essential oil, tea tree oil, marigold, comfrey, cat’s tail, among others. See more details on herbal remedies for vaginal pimples.
Since they do not have any scientific backing, we cannot confirm whether the remedies are effective or not. Some people claim they work miracles while others think otherwise.
To relieve pain, you can try a warm compress. Furthermore, Epsom salt sitz bath, and keeping proper hygiene is necessary.
Avoid using products meant to treat acne on other parts of your body, use only non-perfumed medicated antibacterial soaps, and do not pick or pop zits on your vagina, wear loose breathable clothing especially the panties made from natural fabric, avoid groin dumpiness, and keep good personal hygiene down there!
5. STDs (STIs)
The other cause of raised bumps is STIs. Most of these sexually transmitted infections will come with a few other symptoms. The common STIs that can lead to raised bumps or blister-like sores on or around your vagina include the following:
a). Genital herpes
This is the most common cause of sores rather than just bumps around your vaginal area. It is caused by either herpes simplex virus-2 or herpes simplex virus-1 that affects both which men and women. They often affect buttocks, anus, and mouth in women and men, vaginal area, cervix and external genital in women while in men, they can affect the penis, urethra, scrotum or penis.
Genital herpes signs are mild and they include pain, burning sensation, and itchiness that occurs within 10 days after sexual contacts with an infected person before a “small red bumps or tiny white blisters, which may appear several days later” [Mayoclinic.org].
Afterward, ulcers form after rupturing, oozing and at times bleeding of the blisters and scabs when the ulcers begin healing. Other symptoms may include body aches, increased vaginal discharge, swollen lymph nodes, and fever.
There is no cure for genital herpes. However, to reduce the severity and frequency of breakout, one can use antiviral medications.
b). Genital warts – HPV
Genital warts are cauliflower-like “small fleshy growths, bumps or skin changes that appear on or around the genital or anal area” [Nhs.uk] caused by the human papillomavirus or HPV. Although in most cases these bumps might be painless, sometimes, these “growths can cause pain, discomfort, and itching” [Healthline.com].
In some instances, HPV can lead to complications such as cervix, vulva, penile and anal cancer.
Once in your bloodstream, the HPV cannot be treated. However, to reduce the appearance of genital warts, try OTC topical treatments such as podophyllin and podofilox, imiquimod or trichloroacetic acid.
Visible genital warts, which do not go away, might require surgical removal since as mentioned; some types of HPV can result in cancer. Finally, to reduce the risk of HPV infection, ensure you are vaccinated.
c). Syphilis in its primary stage
During the primary stage of syphilis (after about 21 days from the exposure day but it takes up to 90 days) one might develop syphilitic sores often called chancres at the point of bacterium Treponema pallidum contact. They can happen in your mouth, lips, vagina, anus, rectum, penis, etc. depending on the spots where the bacteria entered your body. The chancres could be one or several.
Syphilis chancres are usually round, painless and firm when you touch them and they will last for between 3-6 weeks and heal with or without treatment. This does not mean syphilis is cured unless it has been treated.
Caused by Haemophilus ducreyi bacterium, this STI can cause “open sores, usually on the penis, rectum, and vulva — especially around the opening to the vagina. Sores may produce pus and be painful” [Plannedparenthood.org] as well as cause swollen lymph nodes.
Furthermore, the sore will be soft, painful, have borders that are sharply defined, grayish or yellowish base covering materials, bleeds when scrapped, and its diameter ranges from 1/8 inch to 2 inches.
Chancroid sores are commonly located on labia majora (outer vagina lips), labia minora (inner vagina lips), inner thighs and the area between genitals and anus i.e. “four or more red bumps on the labia, between the labia and anus, or on the thighs” [Healthline.com].
Treatment is by antibiotics while if you have swollen lymph nodes that are so large, local surgery or a needle might be used to drain them.
6. Molluscum Contagiosum
Your bumps could be due to Molluscum Contagiosum, a viral skin infection that causes growths or lesions anywhere on your body, your vaginal area (genital) being no exception. They often last for 6-12 months, while in some cases they can stay longer.
To identify them, the lesions (known as Mollusca) are “small, raised, and usually white, pink, or flesh-colored with a dimple or pit in the center” [Cdc.gov]. They are smooth, firm and have a small pit in the center of the bump.
In terms of size, they can vary be from the size of a pinhead to as big as 2-5 mm and are common on the neck, arms, legs, abdomen and the genital area where they might be in clusters or alone.
According to Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “treatment for molluscum is usually recommended if lesions are in the genital area (on or near the penis, vulva, vagina, or anus).”
Treatment is by physical removal using cryotherapy, laser therapy, or curettage. Oral therapy with oral cimetidine will be recommended in case one fears the pain and experience associated with cryotherapy, laser therapy and curettage especially small children.
In addition, podophyllotoxin cream (if you are not pregnant or planning to be pregnant) can also be used. Finally, a health professional may recommend other oral therapies such as salicylic acid, iodine, tretinoin, cantharidin as well as imiquimod.
7. Skin tags
Skin tags are harmless small, painless and soft skin growths common in armpits, neck, groin folds, eyelids, and on the area below your breasts. Sometimes, they can appear on your vagina especially on the vulva or labia areas.
Skin tags occur when collagen bunches and blood vessels are trapped in thicker skin bits and they are often in pregnant women, diabetic people, people with HPV, those who use steroids, and those who are obese.
Since it is easy to confuse them with genital warts, let your gynecologist help you in the diagnosis and recommend the best treatment. Treatments are by freezing, cauterization, cutting, and tying with suture or thread.
8. Female genital eczema
Any of the common types of eczema (i.e. atopic dermatitis, seborrhoeic dermatitis, allergic contact eczema and irritant contact eczema), can affect the female genital areas causing red itchy rash and bumps on the vulva.
Sweating, tight clothing, friction between your skin surface, soaps, shower gels, bubble baths, talcum powder, feminine wipes, deodorants, perfumes, antiseptics and hemorrhoid preparations are known to trigger eczema on genitals.
To avoid further irritation, see your doctor for treatment. Emollients and topical steroids are often used to reduce itchiness and irritation due to eczema. Finally, anti-itching preparation could also be recommended for severe itchiness cases.
9. Vulva or skin cancer
Skin cancer, especially vulva cancer, is a rare but possible cause patch on your vagina. Vulva cancer is a slow-growing skin cancer accounting for about 4% of all gynecologic cancers. It affects much older women
When caused by cancer, the patches or bumps might change in color, are more than 5mm in size, they grow, they have an uneven outline and they may be asymmetrical. Furthermore, one might bleed after sex, have a sore and persistently burning vulva.
Vulva cancer treatment
If detected early, vulva cancer can be cured especially during precancerous stages. Treatment is by surgery including laser and scalpel surgery as well as chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
Going on with possible causes, angiomas are one of them. According to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology, “An angioma is a benign growth that consists of small blood vessels” that can be located anywhere. Angiomas tend to be protruded dark red, purple or bluish in appearance, and they do not bleed when squeezed or change in shape.
There are different types of angiomas including cherry angioma, venous lake, and spider angiomas that can affect your vulva or vaginal area.
Generally, angiomas tend to worsen with pregnancy. However, being non-cancerous, angiomas do not need treatment unless they bleed or are bothersome where electrodesiccation, laser or liquid nitrogen (cryosurgery) are used for treatment.
In the beginning, folliculitis may “look like small red bumps or white-headed pimples around hair follicles — the tiny pockets from which each hair grows” [Mayoclinic.org]. If ignored, it can spread and become crusty sores that do not heal.
Although it not life-threatening, it can be sore, itchy, very embarrassing or cause large swollen mass or bump. Severe infections that recur can lead to scarring and permanent hair loss in the affected area.
Folliculitis is mainly be caused by a fungal or bacterial infection. However, according to DermNet New Zealand Trust, yeast, parasitic infection, scabies, and viral infections are thought to also cause or worsen this infection. Finally, occlusion, chemicals, topical steroids are also known to cause this folliculitis due to contact reactions.
On risk factors, shaving, tight-fitting clothes, using substances that block or irritate follicles as well as HIV and diabetes can increase the risks of getting this problem.
Folliculitis treatment is by benzoyl containing over the counter medications as well as antibiotics. To fasten healing and soothe itchiness, try warm salt water compress. If there is not an improvement, see your GYN/OB.
12. Other possible causes
Other possible causes of these bumps, pimples or rashes include allergic reaction to some toiletry products, excessive friction from tight-fitting clothing, excessive sweating, scabies (especially on vagina lips or around your vagina vulva but not in your vagina), boils, yeast infection, among other conditions.
While looking at each cause, we covered the necessary treatments or remedies to deal and/or minimize the effects. And as seen, there are many reasons why you could be having these zits. Do not jump to conclusion and begin with treatment.
Our best advice is that the moment you notice bumps, blisters, spots, sores, lumps or ‘pimples down there’, it is a noble idea to seek for immediate medical care from your gynecologist. This will help reduce complications where causes are more serious.