What IS Belly Button Lint?

what causes belly button fluff_lint

Probabilities are that you saw the headline to this blog and thought to yourself, ‘hmmm, yeah-what IS that stuff that gets stuck in my belly button?” and voila! Here you are looking for the answer to a question that, well, let’s be real here, we have all asked ourselves but would never dare bring up the subject to your friends and risk them looking at you as if you’ve just grown a second head. I mean, really, it’s not exactly IQ stimulating conversation, is it. Never the less, read on to satisfy your curiosity while keeping it on the down low.

Believe it or not, a professor at Leibniz University in Germany performed a study on this and published it in 2009. Professor Georg Steinhauser studied over 500 pieces of what he technically termed ‘naval fluff’, which is the ‘lint’ that is captured and gets stuck inside the belly button. The study was done more out of curiosity and fun, but it sure did capture the attention of the public back in 2009. I won’t even begin to try to complicate this simple and amusing story with long, complicated technical, scientific words that I can’t pronounce anyway. Bottom line is this, belly button fluff (aka lint) is the collection of fibers from the clothes we wear as well as dead skin cells and dust that get stuck to the hairs surrounding the belly button, which would apply more to men than women, (which Steinhauser’s study also found), and end up getting lodged inside the belly button. Another finding was that of the two types of belly buttons (innies vs outies), it was those cute, sexy innie belly buttons that tends to collect more of the fluff/lint than outies due to the natural indention and folds of skin.  And amazing as it sounds, there was an earlier study done by Dr. Karl Kruszelnicki through his Australian radio show where many of his listeners participated in a survey about where naval ‘fluff’ comes from and how it’s formed. One of the discoveries of the survey is that fluff forms more in middle-aged, hairy men and usually those who have put on excess weight.

Are you feeling your brain swell with such amazingly profound knowledge, yet? Are you ready to jump onto your Facebook page and start a collective survey of how many of your peeps will discuss and joke about their belly button fluff (lint)? That’s alright if you prefer to keep this newfound knowledge to yourself…I totally understand.

Now on to the medical side of this fluffy story (pun totally intended) and what some of you are already asking yourself: Can this stuff cause me any health issues or skin problems? I happen to have asked myself this same question, and since my professional background is in the healthcare industry, I put on my detective hat to find out. Although I have worked in medical offices where, every occasionally, a patient would ask the doctor about the ‘smelly stuff in my belly button’. Generally, there are no medical conditions or issues that you have to be concerned about with the accumulation of belly button lint, if you have good, or even decent, personal hygiene and make a date with your hot shower or bathtub on a somewhat regular basis. However, some of us like to slather various forms of hydrating, smelly good lotions or body creams and sprays all over our bodies. Sometimes these products can build up inside the belly button and cause a skin rash or infection known as Candidiasis (a yeast infection that grows in dark, damp areas of the body); especially if you have a hairy and even a smelly-swelly belly. And sometimes those sexy, belly button piercings can become infected because, well, you just put a hole in your skin which leaves that area susceptible to infection. And in other instances, the skin around the naval can get dry and become itchy.

If your mind automatically started to wonder how do you clean this area around and inside your naval to keep that stinky smell away and the itchiness that may arise every now and then, the solution is simple:

  1. TAKE A SHOWER AND USE SOAP! That’s the quickest way to keep that belly button clean by using the tip of your finger or a towel to gently swirl and swish around and inside your belly button.
  2. Dip a cotton swab into a warm water and salt solution and gently do the same as you would in the shower. If you haven’t cleaned your belly button in a while, or maybe never until now, you may have to gently massage a few times to help loosen built up lint that can cling stubbornly to your skin.
  3. If you have a naval piercing, it is suggested to keep the newly pierced area clean with warm water and salt, sea salt is preferred but table will work as well. AVOID LOTIONS AND SPRAYS AROUND THE AREA!! These can cause extra moisture to develop in the area and contribute to the growth of bacteria and even fungus. Gross as that sounds, fungus loves the warm, moist environments that the human body can provide. What a way to make you feel all warm and fuzzy and sexy.
  4. Rinse and pat dry with a clean towel the newly cleansed and (hopefully) odor free naval area

Now for those who think they may have an infection in their belly button, here are a few things to look for:

  1. Foul odor (a slight odor as that is normal from a clean dark, damp naval area), discharge, pus
  2. Inflammation, swelling, red, itchy skin around the naval area
  3. Persistent pain, especially if it’s surrounding a piercing
  4. Blistering around the naval area and/or piercing
  5. A hard, stone like mass inside the belly button

If you are experience one or more of the symptoms above, contact your doctor’s office for an appointment. If any of these symptoms are severe and you are unable to see your doctor within a few days, you may want to go to your nearest urgent care center to prevent the condition from worsening.

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