The warm dark recess of your belly button is a prime target for bacterial and fungal infections. These infections can strike at any age and are more likely to be a problem if you already suffer from certain health issues or have piercings.
In this article we’ll take a look at the causes of, and risk factors for belly button infections and find out how to treat the problem with simple, proven, natural remedies.
- 1 What Causes Belly Button Infections?
- 1.1 Risk Factors Increasing the Likelihood of Infection
- 1.2 Piercings
- 1.3 Health Conditions
- 1.4 Lifestyle
- 1.5 Symptoms of Infection
- 1.6 When Not To Rely On Natural Remedies
- 1.7 Salt Water
- 1.8 Tea Tree Essential Oil
- 1.9 How to dilute essential oils
- 1.10 Garlic
- 1.11 Why isn’t garlic used instead of antibiotics then?
- 1.12 Aloe Vera
- 1.13 Why?
- 1.14 Grapefruit Seed Extract
- 1.15 Herbal Oil Recipe
- 1.16 Practice Good Hygiene to Prevent Reinfection
What Causes Belly Button Infections?
Fungus and bacteria are the microbes responsible for belly button infections and it’s usually difficult, even in clinical settings, to determine which of the two is behind any infection.
Because of this, doctors use a two pronged attack when they treat these infections, targeting both bacteria and fungus. When it comes to home remedies, it’s advisable to follow that approach.
Using an antibacterial remedy when the problem is caused by a fungus, or vice versa, won’t do any good. Luckily when we use natural remedies, we have a good choice of ingredients available that can be used to fight both types of infections.
The microbes causing the infection usually live harmlessly on our skin (one research study identified over 2,300 species of bacteria living in the belly button), but sometimes when the conditions are right, they multiply rapidly and cause infections.
Because the belly button is the perfect spot for dirt, sweat, dead skin, body lotion and clothing fibers to collect, it provides the rich environment that bacteria and fungus need to feed and multiply.
Risk Factors Increasing the Likelihood of Infection
When you have any piercing on your body, you actually create an open wound that needs to be kept clean and germ free while it heals.
Infections are a common result of failure to care for piercing correctly and of dirty equipment and unsanitary practises at the piercing parlor.
Research published in 2015 revealed that 31% of piercings resulted in an infection. If your piercing parlor was unsanitary, you can be stuck with an infection even if you have followed a flawless aftercare routine.
Allergic reactions to the metal used in piercings (most often this is caused by nickel) can also give rise to what appears to be an infection. To eliminate the allergic reaction you will need to use non allergenic jewelry made from gold, surgical steel, titanium or silver.
Health conditions that can make an infection more likely include being overweight or obese, being pregnant, having diabetes, or having had recent surgery.
Wearing clothing made from synthetic fibers which don’t absorb excess moisture or allow skin to breathe can increase risk of infection, as can wearing clothing with tight waistbands that rub the area.
Frequent touching of the belly button or piercings can transfer bacteria present on fingertips to the belly button.
Symptoms of Infection
Infected belly buttons can have a variety of symptoms. In the early stages of an infection the only symptom present could be an itch or tingling sensation and slight redness.
As the infection progresses you may experience soreness, heat, discharge, swelling, and a foul odor.
Severe infections can cause dizziness, fever and vomiting.
In some cases the symptoms of an infection aren’t an infection at all and could be caused by psoriasis or even cancer. Any apparent infection which doesn’t respond to treatment should be investigated further by your doctor.
When Not To Rely On Natural Remedies
If your belly button is very painful and you see blood you should seek medical treatment. You should also see your doctor if you develop a fever, dizziness or vomiting, or if you don’t see any improvement after 3 or 4 days of using a natural remedy.
While home remedies can be very effective, sometimes you really do need to be under the care of an expert, and this is especially true for the very young or the elderly who have weaker immune systems.
The following remedies are all suitable for use on a belly button infection and can also be used to tackle other skin infections or to clean wounds.
Salt water, also known as saline solution, is one of the simplest home remedies you can use when you need to clean the site of an infection. All you need is regular table salt and water. The salt solution inhibits bacterial growth making it possible to bring a mild infection under control.
Because you’re trying to eliminate bacteria, it’s important to use the purest water that you can get hold of. This is so the salt can work on the bacteria in your belly button infection rather than any bacteria that may be present in your water.
Distilled (100% pure) water is the best choice, followed by filtered water that has been boiled and allowed to cool until it’s just warm. You need the water to be warm so that the salt dissolves easily.
You should be able to pick up distilled water at any large supermarket, look for it in the laundry products section. You’ll also find distilled water at your local gas station where it’s sold to top up car battery fluid levels.
How to make saline solution:
Mix 1 teaspoon of table salt into a cup (8 oz) of warm water. If you use metric measurements, that’s 9 grams of salt per litre of water.
Once the salt is fully dissolved, soak a clean cotton ball in the solution and use it to swab out your belly button. Use plenty, don’t skimp!
As well as fighting bacteria the saline wash should feel very soothing on sore or inflamed skin.
You can store your saline in a clean jar or bottle so you have it to hand over the next few days without needing to make up a new batch each time. Just make sure that you wash your container and then sterilize it in boiling water first.
Use the solution several times a day and be sure to use a clean cotton ball each time you dip because you don’t want to introduce bacteria to your sterile solution.
Cleaning your belly button with saline is a great first step when you have an infection to treat, and you can combine this powerful and safe disinfectant with any of the following remedies for even better results.
Tea Tree Essential Oil
Tea tree oil is both antibacterial and antifungal, and it’s one of the easiest essential oils to find in your local pharmacy or health store, making it an ideal choice when you need to hurry up and catch an infection before it has a chance to get worse.
It’s even proved to be effective against the problematic drug resistant bacteria MRSA.
Other essential oils are antimicrobial too and if you already have oils like clove bud, lemongrass, lemon thyme, cinnamon or patchouli you can dilute and use those.
If you don’t have any of those sitting on your shelf at home, tea tree’s easy availability and strong antimicrobial activity make it the best one to use.
Tea tree oil, like all essential oils, is very strong and you only need to use a small amount to get good results.
To prevent skin irritation or sensitization (which results in an allergic reaction if you attempt to use the oil again) it’s important to dilute the oil in a carrier oil before using it on your skin,
Because you’re treating an infection, you don’t want to use a carrier oil that will form a greasy film on the skin and provide a food source for bacteria or fungus. So, to dilute tea tree oil choose carrier oils which absorb easily and completely into your skin – flaxseed, wheat germ, borage, hemp seed, grape seed or walnut oils are all great choices.
If you can’t get those oils, you can use sunflower oil – available at any supermarket – but it will take a little longer to soak in.
How to dilute essential oils
A 2% dilution is generally safe and effective on skin, although the elderly and young children should only use a 1% dilution.
To make a 2% dilution mix 12 drops of essential oil into 30 ml (one ounce) of carrier oil.
For a 1% dilution use 6 drops.
Once you’ve cleaned the area, apply the oil blend with your fingertip, making sure that you coat the interior surface of your belly button as well as the surrounding skin.
Use several times a day.
Garlic is an outstanding antimicrobial, effective against bacterial, viral and fungal infections. Many studies over the years have shown that garlic is a powerful antibiotic which can combat a very wide range of bacteria.
Why isn’t garlic used instead of antibiotics then?
Good question. The main drawback of garlic for many types of infection is that you can’t get enough garlic into the system to have an effect.
When taken internally, large amounts of garlic act as an emetic (makes you vomit), and while eating a small amount with a meal has no adverse effect, consuming the quantity that you need to tackle an infection is a different matter altogether.
Alternative health practitioners will often use the juice of up to 9 entire bulbs of garlic a day to treat infections, and the juice of just one bulb is enough to cause violent vomiting and severe nausea. So it’s fair to say that this is a limiting factor in its use.
However, when you have an infection on your skin, you don’t have to ingest the garlic, so you can easily take advantage of its 27 known active antimicrobial substances to treat your infection (for comparison there’s only one active substance in penicillin.)
What’s more, because garlic is so complex, bacteria are unable to develop resistance to it, while, as we have found to our dismay, these organisms quickly develop resistance to man made antibiotics.
In fact, within a year of the discovery of penicillin in 1928, Alexander Fleming (the discoverer of penicillin) was already warning that numerous bacteria had become immune to its effects, and now our antibiotics are becoming less effective with every passing day.
To get an idea of the power of garlic, take a look some of the serious infectious agents that garlic is known to be effective against:
- Pseudomonas aeruginosa
- Candida albicans
- E coli
- Herpes simplex
- Influenza B
- Viral encephalitis
- Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus – MRSA
- Staph infections
How to use garlic:
Crush a clove of fresh garlic and then rub the clove over the affected area. If skin is too sore for the application of raw garlic, you can make an infused oil which will retain much of the antimicrobial power of garlic but be less harsh on the skin.
Important – You must crush or chop the garlic to activate the antimicrobial compounds. After crushing, the garlic will be at its most potent after 10 minutes when the enzymic activity is complete.
If you have a juicer, you can juice a bulb of garlic and then apply the neat juice, or mix it with oil.
To make an infused oil, peel and crush a bulb of garlic and add it to a clean jar containing ¼ cup of warm oil. Leave to infuse overnight and it’s ready to use the next day.
Garlic kills bacteria on contact and even though it will smell pretty pungent, that’s a small price to pay to get rid of an infection.
Aloe is a common ingredient in skin care products and after sun lotion, but it also has under appreciated value as an antimicrobial.
The juice extracted from fresh aloe is known to combat – amongst others – the H. pylori bacteria that cause stomach ulcers, staphylococcus aureus – the bacteria that’s the cause of so many different infections, MRSA – the multiple drug resistant form of staph bacteria, and P. aeruginosa, a type of bacteria commonly found in the wounds of burn victims.
One study that looked at the antimicrobial effects of aloe vera against multi drug resistant strains of P. aeruginosa found that the bacteria was inhibited by aloe vera gel in all of the 140 clinical isolates they looked at in the study.
So, resistant strains of P aeruginosa which laughed in the face of the synthetic antibiotics, imipenem, gentamicin and ciprofloxacin, couldn’t survive when faced with aloe vera gel.
The researchers concluded that “It is hoped that this study would lead to the development of aloe gel usage as a main medicinal source to treat various infectious diseases.”
Herbal antibiotics expert, Stephen Buhner, notes in his book Herbal Antibiotics, “Clinical practitioners who regularly use aloe, report excellent results when it is used on skin wounds of any degree of severity and from any source.”
How to use aloe vera gel:
The first thing to say about aloe vera gel is that you really should (and I can’t stress this enough), use fresh aloe gel that you’ve extracted from your own plant.
Because many products for sale on store shelves have been tested and found to contain zero, yes zero, actual aloe vera gel.
If you buy a tub or tube of fake aloe vera gel and use it on an infection, you won’t see any improvement.
Aloe vera plants are easy to get hold of and they’re easy to take care of. Just pop your potted aloe on a sunny windowsill and water it occasionally. Aloe’s are adapted to desert environments so they don’t need a great deal of water.
If you live in a warm climate, you can plant aloe’s in the ground outdoors (they’re very attractive plants), and you’ll soon be rewarded with lots of baby plants.
The gel is found in the leaves of the succulent, and all you need to do is take a sharp knife and cut of a length of leaf. You can take an inch long piece or cut an entire leaf, it’s up to you. You won’t damage the plant by cutting into the leaf and the plant quickly seals and heals the “wound”.
Once you have a section of leaf, you need to remove the skin. Place the section on a cutting board and cut along the sides of the leaf, then turn the knife horizontally, press down on the top of the leaf with the flat of your hand and slice the top skin away, flip the leaf over and do the same to remove the last piece of skin.
Now you have a block of crystal clear, fresh aloe vera gel. Pop it into a cup and use a teaspoon to mix it up and liquefy it a little.
After you clean the infection site, use your fingertip to apply the gel several times a day.
Grapefruit Seed Extract
Grapefruit Seed extract or GSE is a broad spectrum antibiotic, but you must be very careful when you use it because it can cause extreme skin discomfort and damage akin to a chemical burn if you don’t dilute it properly. As long as you follow instructions on dilution, GSE is safe and effective.
One study found that GSE was effective against a host of infectious agents, including 249 staphylococcus species, 86 streptococcus species, 232 enterococcus species, 77 enterobacter species, 86 E coli strains.
It’s important to purchase a high quality GSE product and one of the best on the market is the Citricidal brand.
How to use GSE:
Because it’s incredibly potent, you only need very tiny amounts of GSE. Thoroughly mix 5 to 10 drops in 100 ml (3 ounces) distilled or filtered water. Don’t squeeze the bottle to make the drops come out faster – you’ll end up with too much GSE – just let it drip out at its own pace.
Use a cotton ball to apply the liquid several times a day.
Herbal Oil Recipe
In his book Herbal Antibiotics, Stephen Buhner gives the following recipe for a herbal oil to treat skin infections.
- Olive oil – 1 quart
- Echinacea – 1 ounce
- Garlic – 1 ounce
- Sage – 1 ounce
- Usnea – 1 ounce
- Acacia – 1 ounce
You can buy the herbs listed in the recipe in powdered form which makes them very easy to work with. Fresh garlic is more potent than dried and if you want to use this form of garlic, chop it up as finely as you can before adding it to the other ingredients.
To modify this recipe for use in the belly button area you could substitute a non greasy oil like wheat germ, hemp seed, argan or jojoba oil.
- Add the oil to an oven safe pot (pyrex container would be ideal)
- Add all of the herbs
- Heat overnight in an oven set to 150 to 200 F (66 to 93 C)
- Allow to cool, then strain the oil through a fine cloth.
- Store in a sealed glass container
Practice Good Hygiene to Prevent Reinfection
It’s important to keep your belly button clean during an infection and afterwards to prevent repeat episodes.
Use saline if an infection is present. Daily washing with soap and water is all that’s needed for aftercare, but you must make sure that you rinse thoroughly, so no soap residue (which can be food for bacteria and fungus) is left behind.
Dry carefully to ensure that you don’t provide a damp breeding ground for microbes.
Wipe with diluted tea tree or other essential oil once a week as insurance against another infection.