Belly button lint is a fact of life for anyone with an “innie,” or concave navel. Regular bathing will usually keep your navel free from lint or other dirt and grime. In very rare cases, dirt, oil, and other debris can get trapped in your navel and turn into a navel stone.
Learn more about navel stones and how to prevent them.
What Is a Navel Stone?
A navel stone is sometimes called an omphalolith or umbolith. It is a condition where substances like sebum, or skin oil, hair, dead skin cells, and dirt can accumulate and form a hardball. The stone is usually a dark color and firm to the touch. They may resemble a large blackhead in the opening of the navel.
Some navel stones protrude and are easy to see. Others are deep inside the navel. You might not know one is forming. They develop over a long period of time. It can take years for a navel stone to become so large that you can feel it or see it.
What Causes Navel Stones?
Your navel, or belly button, is the small round spot on your lower abdomen that marks where the umbilical cord was attached before you were born. Navels can be concave (an “innie”) or protrude slightly (an “outie”).
Trapped debris. Concave navels can trap debris such as dirt, lint from clothing, or the natural oils that occur on your skin. Some belly buttons can be fairly deep. This makes them hard to clean thoroughly. People who are obese, elderly, or disabled may have trouble cleaning their navels.
If debris builds up, it can start to stick together and form a small, hard ball. Over time, the ball will get larger and might become visible. Some navel stones stay hidden in the folds of skin.
Appearance. Navel stones are usually dark brown or black. They are also dry and hard to the touch. When doctors examine them under the microscope, they can whether the stone is made up of dead skin, hair, sebum, or other debris that has built up in the navel.
Navel stones aren’t usually painful. They may look unsightly, which can make you want to ask a doctor about removing them. If you can’t see it, you may not even know it’s there. Sometimes, the stone starts to irritate the skin inside your navel. This can lead to discomfort. You may also notice pain, discharge from your navel, or an unpleasant odor.
Are Navel Stones Dangerous?
The navel stone itself isn’t a health problem or a symptom of an underlying condition. It’s just an accumulation of dirt and oil in a spot that is hard to clean. But a stone can start to irritate the skin in and around your navel.
The irritation might lead to a skin infection inside your navel. This will need medical attention. The doctor treating the skin infection may also be the person who discovers your navel stone.
Treatment and Prevention of Navel Stones
Removal. The only treatment for a navel stone is to remove it. Your doctor may be able to pull it loose with instruments like forceps. Sometimes, doctors will use a liquid to soften the navel stone and make it easier to pull out.
In some cases, the doctor might need to remove it surgically by making a small incision in the surrounding skin. The stone will then come loose more easily. If there is an infection in the skin, your doctor will also treat that.
Testing. Your doctor may want to test the stone after it has been removed. This is usually just a precaution to make sure it’s actually a navel stone and not some other type of growth. Navel stones take years to develop. They don’t come back quickly if they come back at all.
Hygiene. You can prevent navel stones by making sure to clear your navel regularly. Caregivers who take care of elderly or disabled people should be aware of the risk of navel stones and be proactive about hygiene for their patients. Using soap and water regularly is a good cleaning method. If you have a particularly deep navel, you can use a cotton swab to gently clean inside it.
Navel stones are quite rare. Most people will never develop one. Talk to your doctor in the unlikely event that you have a navel stone. They can help you safely remove it and treat any problems the stone causes in or around your navel. Being careful about cleaning your belly button will prevent navel stones.