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May 24, 2021
5 min read

Rash on penis: 10 possible causes

A rash on the penis can have many potential causes. There are several sexually transmitted infections (STIs) that could cause a rash on the penis. Other potential causes include jock itch, skin irritation, or a drug reaction. If you have questions about a rash on your penis, consult your healthcare provider.

mike bohl

Reviewed by Mike Bohl, MD, MPH

Written by Michael Martin

Disclaimer

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.

Any rash is uncomfortable and possibly embarrassing, but a rash on your penis is something no one wants to deal with. You might be wondering what could be causing this rash. There are many possibilities, depending on what’s going on in your particular case.

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What does a penis rash look like? 

Like a rash anywhere on your body, a rash on the penis can take several forms. It might look like red skin, a red patch, or red dots. The penile skin might be red, tight, itchy, flaky, irritated, or painful. Your healthcare provider can look at your rash and tell you what type of rash it might be.  

Why do I have a rash on my penis? 

There are many possible reasons for a rash on your penis. Let’s look at 10 possible causes.

1. Sexually transmitted infection (STI)

STIs are, understandably, the first thing many men associate with a rash on the penis. But not every rash is an STI (see below for several other skin problems that are common causes).

According to Dr. Seth Cohen, a urologist with NYU Langone Health in New York City, the STI most associated with a penis rash is genital herpes. “Herpes lesions are typically obvious,” he says. “They’re painful, red, raised, and irritated.” They may look like blisters and leak fluid. 

A rash on your penis with those characteristics warrants a visit to your healthcare provider as soon as possible, Cohen says.

A penis rash could also be a symptom of these STIs:

  • Genital warts—These are painless growths or lumps around the penis, vagina, or anus, caused by human papillomavirus (HPV). They may be flesh-colored, grey-white, pink-white, or brown. They can appear as single warts or clusters, and they may be smooth and pearly or cauliflower-shaped. A healthcare provider can prescribe several medications and treatments to clear genital warts (Leung, 2018). In some cases, surgery may be necessary to remove them.
  • Molluscum contagiosum—This viral skin condition produces tiny bumps that are smooth and shiny. Caused by skin-to-skin contact, they can show up anywhere on the body.
  • Scabies are tiny mites that burrow under the surface of the skin and lay eggs. This condition can cause intense itching, especially at night. Scabies is highly contagious but can be resolved relatively quickly with medication that kills the mites and their eggs. 
  • Syphilis usually appears as a firm, round, painless sore on the genitals. It’s essential to seek treatment for syphilis right away. Untreated, the disease can lead to severe health problems affecting the heart, brain, and other organs (CDC, 2017).

2. Contact dermatitis

A penis rash could signify an allergic reaction to several common irritants and allergens, including soaps and fabrics. This type of rash is called allergic contact dermatitis (Uter, 2018). 

3. Jock itch

Jock itch (or tinea cruris) is a fungal infection in the groin area that can cause an itchy rash on the penis, scrotum, and thighs. Over-the-counter antifungal creams can clear it up (Pippin, 2020). 

4. Balanitis

Balanitis is an inflammation of the head of the penis (or glans penis), usually caused by a viral, bacterial, or yeast infection. It’s most common in men who are uncircumcised or have diabetes, says Cohen. Uncircumcised men can lower their risk of developing balanitis by keeping the foreskin clean. Balanitis can be easily relieved with medication (Wray, 2020).

5. Drug reaction

Certain drugs can cause a condition called “fixed drug eruption”—where a rash or irritation appears on some parts of the body, including the penis. These drugs include certain antibiotics, certain anti-inflammatories, and certain over-the-counter pain relievers (Ozkaya-Bayazit, 2003Orr, 2009Zaouak, 2019).

6. Genital psoriasis

If the rash on your penis is scaly, it could be psoriasis, a skin disease in which the immune system causes the overproduction of skin cells. This type of rash can cause thick, red, inflamed patches to form on the skin, including on the penis. Several treatment options are available to treat it, including topical, injectable, and oral medications (Beck, 2018). Read more about psoriasis vs. eczema and how you can tell them apart.

7. Eczema

Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, causes a red rash or red patches to develop on the skin (Lee, 2016). Several at-home remedies and prescription medications can effectively treat it. Read everything you want to know about eczema here.

8. Yeast infection

Yeast infections are often, but not always, caused by having sex with a female partner who has a yeast infection caused by a fungus called Candida albicans. You might experience redness, itchiness, or irritation. Telltale signs also include a thick white discharge, small white spots, or a dry, peeling rash. Over-the-counter antifungal creams can resolve a yeast infection quickly, but it’s always a good idea to see a healthcare provider and abstain from unprotected sex until your infection clears. It’s also important for any infected sexual partners to get treatment.

9. Dry masturbation or sex

If you masturbate or have sex without sufficient lubrication, friction can cause the skin on your penis to become irritated, leading to swelling, soreness, or peeling. There’s an easy fix for this kind of rash: Make sure you use plenty of lube.

10. Irritants in lotions or lubes

A lube, cream, or lotion you use for masturbation or sex might irritate the penis skin, causing a rash. You might experience swelling, burning, or itching. If you’ve used a new product for sex or masturbation recently, you might want to discontinue it and see if your skin condition resolves.

Home remedies for rash on penis

To alleviate a rash on your penis:

  • Try a topical over-the-counter cream such as hydrocortisone.
  • When you shower or bathe, avoid harsh soaps and use a gentle soap or cleanser that contains an emollient (moisturizer).
  • Keep the area clean and moisturized.
  • Use gentle laundry detergents free of dyes and fragrances.
  • Avoid wearing sweaty clothes for prolonged periods.
  • Use sufficient lubricant for masturbation or sex and discontinue any products that might be irritating.

How to talk with your healthcare provider

When you visit your healthcare provider, these are some questions they might ask about the rash on your penis:

  • How long have you had this rash?
  • When you urinate or ejaculate, is it painful?
  • Is there a discharge from your penis?
  • Are you sexually active? Do you use condoms?
  • Have you recently started using any new products, such as detergent or soap?
  • What medications are you taking?

References

  1. 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. doi: 10.1007/s13555-018-0257-y. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs13555-018-0257-y
  2. Lee, J., Son, S., & Cho, S. (2016). A comprehensive review of the treatment of atopic eczema. Allergy Asthma & Immunology Research; 8(3): 181–190. Published online 2015 Sep 14. doi: 10.4168/aair.2016.8.3.181 Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4773205/
  3. Leung, A. K., Barankin, B., Leong, K. F., & Hon, K. L. (2018). Penile warts: an update on their evaluation and management. Drugs in context, 7, 212563. doi: 10.7573/dic.212563. Retrieved from https://www.drugsincontext.com/penile-warts-an-update-on-their-evaluation-and-management/
  4. Orr, T., & Noon, A. (2009). An acutely erythematous, oedematous penis and antecubital fossae rash in a patient taking etanercept: a case report. Cases journal, 2, 9116. doi: 10.1186/1757-1626-2-9116. Retrieved from https://casesjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1757-1626-2-9116
  5. Ozkaya-Bayazit, E. (2003). Specific site involvement in fixed drug eruption. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 49(6), 1003–1007. doi: 10.1016/S0190-9622(03)01588-3. Retrieved from https://www.jaad.org/article/S0190-9622(03)01588-3/fulltext
  6. Pippin, M, Madden, M. (2020). Tinea cruris. [Updated 2020 Jun 25]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK554602/
  7. 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. doi: 10.3390/ijerph15061108. Retrieved from https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/15/6/1108
  8. Wray, AA, Velasquez J, Khetarpal S. Balanitis. [Updated 2020 May 28]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2020 Jan-. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537143/
  9. Zaouak, A., Chabchoub, I., Essid, D., Ben Jennet, S., Hammami, H., & Fenniche, S. (2019). Genital Involvement in Bullous Fixed Drug Eruption. Skinmed, 17(5), 306–309. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31782703/