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If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
The penis is a complex and special thing, but unfortunately, it’s not immune to conditions that plague some of the less special parts of the body, say, the armpit and elbow—for example, dry skin.
What causes dry skin on the penis?
Dry skin on the penis can be caused by a number of things, from sensitivities to soaps and detergents to certain skin conditions, as well as what you wear and how you’re — let’s just say using your penis.
The skin on your penis might feel like your hands or other parts of your body when they get dry. The skin might be tight, itchy, flaky, or peeling. Really dry skin might crack or feel irritated or painful.
The dryness might extend to the glans (head) of the penis, and if you have a foreskin, that area might get into the act too.
It’s an inconvenient truth—penises are subject to yeast infections too. This fungal infection is often, but not always, caused by having sex with a female partner who has a yeast infection. The symptoms can be similar to dry skin, including redness, itching, or irritation. Telltale signs of a penile yeast infection include a thick white discharge that may be present in skin folds of the penis, small white spots on the penis, or a dry, peeling rash (Thaler, 2018).
Over-the-counter antifungal creams often clear up a yeast infection quickly, although it’s always a good idea to see a healthcare provider (and abstain from unprotected sex until your infection is cleared) (Thaler, 2018). It’s also important for any infected partners to get treatment as well to prevent reinfection.
Balanitis is an inflammation of the glans (head of the penis), usually caused by a viral, bacterial, or yeast infection. It’s common—3% to 11% of males experience it at some point in their lifetime—and can be relieved by medication (Wray, 2020).
Eczema is a medical condition officially known as atopic dermatitis (Lee, 2016). People with eczema experience inflamed skin that can be dry, red, itchy, or cracked, and it’s possible for it to extend to the penis. There are several at-home remedies and effective prescription medications to treat eczema; it’s a good idea to get eczema treated because just scratching away can lead to infection.
Read everything you’d want to know about eczema here.
Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune condition in which the immune system causes the overproduction of skin cells, which are created in days rather than weeks. This can result in thick, red, inflamed patches forming on the skin, including on the penis. Psoriasis that develops in the genital area is known as genital psoriasis. Several treatments are available to clear it, including topical, injectable, and oral medications (Beck, 2018).
Read more about psoriasis vs. eczema and how you can tell them apart.
If you’re a simultaneous fan of going commando while wearing raw denim, this might be the source of dry skin on your penis. The rubbing of the penis against fabric can cause chafing, which, combined with sweating, can lead to irritated skin. And tight clothing, even if you insist on underwear, can cause friction and sweating that results in the same. The solution might be loosening up and choosing natural fabrics like cotton that allows air to circulate.
Soaps or detergents
The dyes and fragrances in certain soaps, washes, and detergents can be really irritating to people with sensitive skin and can cause dryness anywhere. Using gentle, dye-free, and fragrance-free soaps and laundry detergents may bring relief. Products that contain an emollient (moisturizer) may also be helpful.
Dry skin anywhere on the body can be caused by an allergic reaction to any number of allergens—soaps, fabrics, foods, dust, animal dander, and so on. This is called allergic contact dermatitis (Uter, 2018). If the dry skin appeared recently, it might be worthwhile to eliminate any new products you’ve tried recently one at a time to see if they might be the culprit, and always pick mild, hypoallergenic products.
Dry masturbation or sex
Friction—the key to romance and the source of sexual misadventures we’ll remember just as long. If you masturbate too long without lube, the friction can cause the skin on your penis to become dry and irritated, which can lead to swelling, soreness, dryness, flaking, or peeling.
Irritating lotions or lubes
And on the flip side: The lube, cream, or lotion you use for sex or masturbation might also cause dry skin on the penis if you’re sensitive or allergic to it. Lubes today come with so many bells and whistles—flavors, colors, as well as stimulating, warming, and cooling effects (seemingly, everything except literal bells and whistles)—and any of those additives could be an irritant to sensitive skin. You might experience dryness, itching, burning, or swelling.
What can you do about dry penis skin?
To prevent or relieve dry penis skin, you can use home treatments you’d employ to address dry skin just about anywhere else on your body:
- Use gentle, dye- and fragrance-free laundry detergents
- When you shower or bathe, avoid harsh soaps and use a gentle soap or cleanser that contains an emollient (moisturizer)
- Shower or bathe in warm water, not hot (that’s more drying)
- Keep the area clean and moisturized
- Don’t wear sweaty clothes for prolonged periods
And as for your sexual health:
- Remember to use adequate lube for masturbation and sex
- If something you’re using for lubrication may be causing irritated skin, switch it up
- Wearing a condom can protect you from contracting a yeast infection or STI from your partner(s)
Dry skin or STI?
Dry skin is usually something that’s treatable at home. But anytime you see something different on your penis, it might—wisely—be a mental red flag. You may be wondering if you should see a healthcare provider about an STI or skin condition.
If you have symptoms of a yeast infection or balanitis, you should see a healthcare provider.
You should also see a healthcare provider if you notice a bump on your penis after unprotected sexual contact or if you have pain during sex, pain during an erection, burning during urination, open sores, itchy or painful blisters, fever, fatigue, or discharge.
If you haven’t been diagnosed with eczema or psoriasis and suspect you might have signs of those skin conditions on your penis, it’s a good idea to consult with a healthcare provider also.
And of course, if you’re concerned about whether something on your penis is a skin condition or STI, it’s wise to pause sexual activity until you find out for sure.
- Beck, K. M., Yang, E. J., Sanchez, I. M., & Liao, W. (2018). Treatment of Genital Psoriasis: A Systematic Review. Dermatology and Therapy, 8(4), 509–525. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1007/s13555-018-0257-y. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13555-018-0257-y
- Lee, J., Son, S., & Cho, S. (2016). A comprehensive review of the treatment of atopic eczema. Allergy, Asthma, Immunology Research, 8(3), 181–190. doi:10.4168/aair.2016.8.3.181. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4773205/
- National Eczema Association. (2020). What is atopic dermatitis and how can I tell if I have it? Retrieved Sept. 25, 2020, from https://nationaleczema.org/eczema/types-of-eczema/atopic-dermatitis/
- Thaler, M. (2018, November 20). Men Get Yeast Infections, Too! Retrieved Sept. 10, 2020 from https://www.onemedical.com/blog/get-well/male-yeast-infection/
- Uter, W., Werfel, T., White, I. R., & Johansen, J. D. (2018). Contact Allergy: A Review of Current Problems from a Clinical Perspective. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 15(6), 1108. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph15061108. Retrieved from https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/15/6/1108
- Wray AA, Velasquez J, Khetarpal S. (2020). Balanitis. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing. Retrieved on Oct. 7, 2020 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537143/
Dr. Mike is a licensed physician and the Director, Medical Content & Education at Ro.