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Chances are you have a great sense of what your penis normally looks like. So it can be a real cause for concern if you notice peeling, irritated skin on your penis.
Peeling or irritated skin can affect any part of the male genitals, including the glans (head), shaft, frenulum (the elastic bit connecting the head to the shaft), foreskin, and scrotum.
In addition to having an undesirable appearance, peeling skin can cause physical discomfort and itchiness.
The good news is that most cases are easily treated at home. But certain cases do merit a trip to the doctor. The treatment depends largely on the cause.
Here are some of the underlying causes of peeling or irritated penis skin.
This one is pretty straightforward. Just as hands can chafe in certain conditions, so can penises.
Dry skin may be the result of cold weather, low humidity, prolonged exposure to hot water (which removes more of your skin’s moisturizing oil than cooler water does), or harsh soaps.
Skin on the penis can be irritated by an allergic reaction to some substance or material. Possible culprits include latex, spermicide, laundry detergents used on underpants, lotions/lubricants, or even the fabric of your clothes.
“Spanking the monkey,” “flogging the dolphin,” “choking the chicken,” “slamming the salami.” These euphemisms illustrate the kind of abuse that some penises are subjected to on a daily basis.
Why not apply some lube and practice the more gentle, caring act of “polishing the family jewels”? This goes for partnered sex, too — probably even more so.
Tight clothing can also be a source of friction. If you suspect this could be the culprit, it may be time to retire those skinny jeans.
Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune disorder that affects the skin, causing redness, irritation, scaliness, and/or splitting.
Many people who have psoriasis will experience symptoms on their genitals at times, in the form of either inverse psoriasis (characterized by smooth, red patches of skin) or plaque psoriasis (characterized by raised patches of red, scaly skin).
Both varieties can be itchy and painful. The National Psoriasis Foundation suggests seeking specialized care for genital psoriasis.
Eczema (aka dermatitis) is not so much a cause of dry, irritated skin as another name for it. Eczema is characterized by persistent irritation of the skin, and its causes include many of those listed above.
You may be surprised to learn that people with penises can get yeast infections. But these single-celled fungal critters are fair-minded — they don’t discriminate on the basis of sex. They can thrive on any patch of moist skin and can definitely cause irritation.
Uncircumcised penises are at particular risk, since the folds in foreskin can be an inviting habitat. (How fortunate it is to be born a human and not a fungal irritant!)
Other risk factors include poor hygiene, antibiotic use, and underlying medical conditions. If not treated in time, a yeast infection can lead to a condition called balanitis (see below).
Balanitis is an inflammation of the head or foreskin of the penis that can produce a thick, white buildup of discharge in skin folds.
About 5 percent of people with penises are affected by balanitis, which is more common in uncircumcised penises and can be caused by slacking on penile hygiene. It can also be the result of diabetes or a sexually transmitted infection, including HIV.
Because balanitis can be caused by a more significant underlying medical condition, it’s a good idea to consult a doctor if you suspect you have it.
Sexually transmitted infections
Peeling or irritated skin may be a symptom of various STIs.
Genital herpes can cause itching that could be mistaken for simple dry skin. Likewise with HPV, which is among the more common STIs. Syphilis may produce a rash on any part of your body.
STIs can be difficult to diagnose, because some have no symptoms. It’s a good idea to get checked by your doctor if you believe you could be at risk.
Scabies is a skin condition caused by microscopic bugs living in the skin.
You can pick up scabies from contact with another person who has it or even from contact with items they’ve recently touched (the mites can survive for up to four days without a host!). They can cause irritation in the groin area if they set up shop there.
But don’t be alarmed if you’ve heard scabies referred to as the “seven-year itch” — with today’s treatments, scabies is not a long-term concern.
Folliculitis is a fancy name for inflamed hair follicles. It’s caused by either a bacterial or fungal infection and can cause severe itching.
There are several varieties with different causes, but one of special concern for the groin area is “razor bumps,” which can be caused by shaving curly hair too close or getting a bikini wax. Pubic hair is particularly curly, so be careful when trimming those hedges!
Let’s face it — when talking to a doctor, many people would rather not acknowledge ownership of a penis, let alone mention anything out of the ordinary with it.
But look at it this way: Sooner or later, you’re going to have to submit to the dreaded prostate exam, so you might as well get comfortable with your doctor now.
It’s a good idea to discuss your peeling penis with a doctor if:
- at-home treatments are ineffective
- symptoms persist or get worse after a few days
- symptoms first appear after you’ve had unprotected sex (or if an STI is otherwise possible)
- you also have other troubling symptoms, such as a burning sensation while urinating, discharge from the glans, or pain
A good doctor should make you feel comfortable discussing these things. If that’s not the case, or if you feel judged due to your symptoms or sexual experiences, it may be time to switch doctors.
A doctor can diagnose many of these conditions visually. If your doctor suspects you have an allergy, they may order a skin patch test to confirm it.
Sexually transmitted infections can be diagnosed via blood and/or urine tests. And if discharge is an issue, your doctor may collect a discharge sample for analysis.
The following home remedies may be helpful for peeling or irritated skin on the penis. As always, read the directions on any over-the-counter (OTC) medication and use as directed.
- Corticosteroid creams. Used to moisturize and treat inflamed skin, these creams can calm troubled skin in a hurry. You can buy them here.
- Highly emollient cream. “Emollient” merely means soothing or softening for skin. Not sure where to look? Try this one.
- Coconut oil. Coconut oil is nature’s one-stop shop for your cooking and skin care needs. It’s highly moisturizing and nongreasy — perfect for “down there”! Buy some here.
- Polyurethane condoms. If you suspect you have a latex allergy, switch to polyurethane condoms. You can get some here.
- Water- or silicone-based lubricants. if your peeling or irritated skin could be caused by too much friction, water- or silicone-based lubes can help — plus, they’re body-safe and won’t degrade condoms. Oil-based lubricants are OK for external use in masturbation, but they should NOT be used internally, as they’re damaging to condoms and difficult for the body to flush out.
- Antifungal creams. If you suspect you have a yeast infection, reach for an OTC antifungal ointment such as Lotrimin Ultra or Miconazole.
- Good hygiene. Poor hygiene could lead to some of the conditions described above, such as yeast infection or balanitis. The UK’s National Health Service recommends washing your penis once per day with a mild soap.
Treatments your doctor may recommend include:
- Antibiotics. For bacterial infections, your doctor may prescribe erythromycin or penicillin.
- Antifungal creams. Clotrimazole or miconazole may be prescribed for conditions like yeast infection or balanitis.
- Circumcision. Circumcision may be recommended if other treatments haven’t been successful for recurrent balanitis. Circumcision has even been shown to reduce the risk of contracting HIV, but it’s not clear whether it reduces the risk of other STIs.
Antibiotics are normally prescribed for bacterial or parasitic STIs. And fortunately, it often takes only one dose to clear up an infection! Viral STIs, such as herpes or HIV, call for antiviral medication.
If you have an STI, your doctor may advise you to use condoms or abstain from sex, and your sexual partners may need to seek treatment as well.
The bottom line: There are many possible causes of peeling, irritated penis skin, and finding out the cause will help you determine the right solution.