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What Causes Dermatitis of the Penis?

Certain laundry soaps may cause penis dermatitis.
A cold compress may offer relief for itching and pain.
An allergic reaction can cause dermatitis.
Dermatitis may be the result of the type of bath soap used during bathing.
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  • Written By: Laura M. Sands
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 16 July 2014
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Dermatitis of the penis is a painful and extremely irritating condition, but it is not life threatening. Allergic contact dermatitis commonly occurs after a sexual encounter where the penis comes in contact with an allergen on the skin of another person, or skin inflammation may be due to prolonged moisture around the genitalia. Other causes of dermatitis of the penis may occur as the result of using or coming in contact with certain personal lubricant products, feminine deodorants, harsh soaps or spermicidal products, as well as common household detergents that may trigger an allergic reaction in individuals prone to skin allergies. Dermatitis of the penis is also sometimes caused by an allergic reaction to the latex in condoms or may even be due to excessive friction causing damage to the skin’s surface. A male who urinates outdoors may experience dermatitis of the genitals if contact with poison ivy or the Manchineel tree is made.

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Contact dermatitis can occur quickly after exposure to an irritating substance or allergen. Symptoms usually occur within one hour to two days of original contact with whatever originally caused the inflammation. Commonly referred to as a penis rash, dermatitis of the penis is characterized by skin inflammation and dry scaly skin on the genitals that often turns red, white or gray, as well as intense penis itching. Males with darker skin tones commonly notice a lightening of the skin in the affected area instead of redness. Some males may also experience blisters, which cause pain during urination or sexual stimulation.

Laundry soaps, fabric softeners and bath soap may also cause dermatitis of the penis. This is particularly true in males with sensitive skin or in cases where residual chemicals remain in garments as the result of incomplete rinsing. For a few men, an allergy to certain fibers, such as nylon used to make underclothing, may also trigger symptoms of dermatitis of the penis.

Treatment of dermatitis of the penis involves identifying the original source of the penis rash and, if possible, eliminating it. A doctor may prescribe medication to help reduce the swelling and soothe the itch. Applying a cold compress to the area also helps relieve itching and reduce inflammation.

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Discuss this Article

anon947096
Post 33

Due to an illness which sometimes interferes with my normal once-a-day gentle water wash of my penis, followed by an application of a hypo-allergenic emollient cream, a few times in recent years, I've developed what seemed to be Balanitis: little red patches on the inside of my foreskin and on the glans. These would weep a bit, like eczema, but, once normal washing was resumed, it would all heal and go away over a fortnight or so.

The last time I had it I made the mistake of washing twice a day, and because this made my inner foreskin and glans too dry it was all worsened by eczema/dermatitis. It is not meant to be dry. That's why the foreskin produces fatty smegma -- to keep the skin healthy. I went back to washing once a day and applied a little Dermol cream and/or a gentle emollient afterwards, and I made good progress again.

On one occasion, even the tepid or cool water I used to wash my penis caused a patch that was healing to flare up allergic reaction-style, so it's important to have a bit cream on first, and then apply more after the wash -- not a huge amount, though. You want to encourage the return of your skin's normal level of moisture.

In my case, it is even better not to towel dry my inner foreskin and glans, but to leave a little water moisture in there, to which a bit of cream is then gently added. Dryness is definitely the worst thing here to aggravate the matter. This might not be the case for everyone, but it's my experience. I might even go as far as to suggest washing once every two days if you get back to a good level of improvement. Yes, we need to wash a natural build-up of beneficial smegma away, but for those of us who are prone to eczema and so on, it can pay to get the balance right between the frequency of washing and the preservation of the skin's moisture. Washing once a day might be bad for some, even if not for everyone.

As for the creams, Dermol can be bought at pharmacies, or you can see what your doctor thinks about the idea. It has a mild anti-microbial ingredient that helps those who sometimes suffer from infected eczema. As for an emollient moisturising cream, there are many in the shops. Look for those that have been tested for allergic reactions and are hypo-allergenic. Aqueous Cream and E45 are examples, but there are more, including some for babies. I don't get on too well with AC or E45, so you might also find some creams suit you while others irritate.

Other than this, avoid using soaps and towels washed in scented washing powders. Surcare fragrance-free washing powder is all I will use for towels and clothes. As I said, I don't towel dry the inside of my foreskin and glans at all, and my trouble became worse when I did. We're not meant to be so washed and dried that our natural moisture never gets a chance to make our skin supple like it should be.

I hope some of this helps. --Paul.

MidLifeMale
Post 32

I traced three episodes of this painful condition to use of a prescribled antibiotic sulfamethoxazole-trimethoprim double strength. In all three occasions, it occurred with 24 hours of taking the medication. I would use neosporin or triple-B gel to cover the eruption sore and make certain all my urine exited before putting it back.

For the first two days, use of a plastic wrap to prevent contact between the sore and my underwear saved me from considerable pain while clothed and later I removed it to let it hang out and air dry in privacy. About five or six days are required to heal enough to discontinue topical antibiotic cream. Eight or nine days are required for extreme sensitivity to urine spillage to restore back to normal. About two and half weeks are required before resuming sexual activity, but using a condom can make it sooner, depending on the pain level. Normal saliva and vaginal fluids are painful to even the slightest cracked or open skin.

anon926318
Post 31

If you think you have contact dermatitis of the penis, first, stop freaking out. Your penis isn't going to fall off, even though it feels that way.

Whatever cream or anything you have on it cortisone, yeast infection cream, Blue Star ointment, or whatever... get in the shower and rinse that crap off with cold water! It is only irritating your skin more and more, making it worse and making it take longer to heal. Not to mention, it is potentially threatening down the road. The prescription strength medications will also "numb" you so much you can lose feeling down there. Then you can’t get an erection and have sex at all, so think twice before putting anything on your penis.

In order to get the cream to come off, sometimes it’s better to use semi cold water than lukewarm water at first, to get all the cream off, and then go to cold water to cool it down. Run it as cold as you can stand, for as long as you can stand. It will help the swelling for sure.

When you are done showering, don't put any kind of rash cream on the rash at all. Dry your penis gently with a soft towel and put on some pants that are silky feeling, like basketball shorts, board shorts with a lining -- whatever. (If you're just at home and can wear no pants, do that. Avoid any extra irritation.) You just don't want anything rough touching your skin either, I don't think.

I recommend you take a shower about every four hours – not even the whole body -- just my scrotum and penis to cool them. I do not use soap. I started using gold Dial soap, but it eventually will dry your skin out too much. Just use water for the most part.

Go to an urgent care clinic or a doctor and get a prescription for prednisone. He may have chosen that drug because I was already on Benadryl oral tablets, two pills every four hours (little pink pills). He said to continue taking the Benadryl.

I took the first prednisone pill about 5 p.m. At midnight, I took another. By that time, I had already noticed an improvement in the swelling and itching.

I have not put anything else on it and the swelling is going down more and more, it seems.

Contact dermatitis – cause. I had contact dermatitis. I think it has shown up before on my scrotum at times when I had been bitten by a tick or something like that, in small places in most instances for me.

This time was the worst ever. I think the reason for mine was because my girlfriend decided to stimulate me by hand, which was awesome, but I didn't know she had a handful of lotion until it was too late. So everything was cool but one or two days later, I started with a small patch on my scrotum and it spread to my penis as well.

Treatment: I was first seen by a doctor to get a professional opinion. Once I told him about the lotion incident, he said he was 98 percent sure that was what had caused it. He prescribed me 20 mg tablets of prednisone, three tabs daily for five days, and one tab daily for five days.

He did not recommend any of this but I found: running cold water on the affected area helped. He said I could use over the counter only 1 percent hydrocortisone cream.

anon924578
Post 30

I had found a remedy that worked for me but couldn't remember what it was until I started searching for help and ran across these posts. Try soaking in a bathtub of warm water with a large amount of Epsom Salt added. It worked for me at least four out of five times and I was able to feel some relief almost immediately. I don't know the science behind it but it worked.

anon357769
Post 29

Guys usually get very anxious when their penis is out of order and start putting all kinds of things on their penis and make things worse. Been there done that.

It is important to rule out STDs/ get tested, while keeping the penis clean, washing often with just warm water. Doctors can easily tell if it is yeast infection of not. Tell the doctor everything you have done to your penis!

This is very important. Try just taking antihistamines and keep penis clean for one week and see if it gets better, No creams of any kind. Creams can have a greenhouse effect and harbor bacteria. Keep it aired out as much as possible. If it gets better, then it is just contact dermatitis.

A doctor can prescribe oral steroid pills and strong antihistamines and you will be healed in no time at all. Just leave your penis alone and let it heal naturally.

anon348626
Post 28

@post 18: I have same condition. Can you please let me know what whether the grapeseed oil worked for you or if you were able to clear things up any other way. Thanks.

anon347385
Post 27

There's been a lot of good advice dispensed already. As mentioned, often crotch dermatitis can be a result of either using a body soap against which your skin reacts or a laundry detergent that is simply too harsh. It may take some trial and error to find a soap or detergent that works for you.

Another thing you can try is rubbing on a penis health cream (health professionals recommend Man1 Man Oil). The soothing ingredients in a good penis cream can moisturize dry skin and can help protect against the harshness of strong soaps and cleansers.

anon334121
Post 26

Update to post 25. My itching is gone completely. I am using lotion to moisturize the area. Again, I used Medicated Selsun Blue to treat what was a serious case of jock itch. No other creams or sprays worked. I'ts been five days. Don't waste your money or time with anything else.

anon333589
Post 25

Year ago I had a bad case of athlete's foot. The doctor told me to use Selsun Blue on the infected area. It cleared in a couple of days. Recently (after sex with my wife) I developed jock itch (including the base of the penis and scrotum).

In two months, I have tried jock itch sprays, creams, etc. No luck. Tried the medicated Selsun Blue, and the itching stopped. It has been three days now and the skin seems to be healing. There is no itch unless I scratch the infected area. It's the only thing that has worked for me.

For overnight, I apply the shampoo at night as a cream after showering. It smells like, well, Selsun Blue, but it works. Shower in the morning washing the infected area with the shampoo. Use baby powder to keep the area dry during the day. If you sweat at all during the day, take another shower if possible or just use baby powder. Change underwear often. I'll keep everyone posted on the long-term results.

anon331839
Post 24

I've suffered from this for 12 years, and I'm 24 now. I didn't see a doctor for the first five years!

Steroid creams do work well, but don't abuse them. I find after time however, it takes more steroid cream and longer treatment times for the same result. So I have tried to go as long as I can without using them. I'm more likely to suffer broken skin after steroid use due to the thinning of the already thin skin!

Doctors have advised trying different emollients, and there are two types: creams and ointments. Creams work well for mildly dry skin, and ointments for severe eczema.

Baggy cotton boxers definitely help, as do using fragrance free soaps. I like sanex. I find it the best option. Stay airy, sleep naked and cut your nails regularly!

Find what makes it worse and cut it down or stop it if possible. For me, it's going hot to cold, like in showers, or going indoors after a long, cold motorcycle ride! Also doing night shifts, excess coffee/red bulls/other unneeded drugs, etc. Excess stress also worsens my condition (arguing with the missus!)

Recently I've found that going as long as possible without putting any creams/ointments on the affected skin has had a marked difference on how bad it gets! I now only apply emollients when the skin is irritated from being dry. Putting the emollients on as a "just-in-case" after showers, twice daily, or whatever, just seemed to be an extra irritant!

Good luck to all sufferers, and try not to let it get you down.

anon319549
Post 23

I am 12 years old and I have rough skin under my scrotum and on the sides. It itches and I scratched it one night and I peeled off some skin and now it is stinging and burning. I'm putting vaseline on it to help it, but does anyone know why the rash is here? I don't think I have dermatitis.

anon316501
Post 22

Put bacatracin on. Wait two minutes, then put on halobetanol propriante (prescription) over the bacatracin. Do this twice a a day for three days. The redness will be gone, then use baby lotion on the penis twice a day for three days to fix dry skin. It's eczema, not some fungus or VD. You probably have this on your fingers or eyelids or somewhere else also.

anon314800
Post 21

Stopping masturbation and leaving the infected area dry could be helpful. It was in my case, so I would recommend it to you, too.

anon308098
Post 20

All this can be treated if you reduce the moisture around your genitalia. You need to keep the respective area bit airy. I would suggest not wearing underwear for few days. This will surely work.

anon307635
Post 19

Nothing has worked for me either. I've tried the Bragg vinegar, creams, yeast creams, baths, alcohol, peroxide and yogurt! And every time I get an erection, it cracks the skin. The skin flakes off and itches. The doctor told me not to use anything on it and that didn't help. I scratched myself to sleep.

It's been over a month of using nothing, and I'm still having this problem. No sex or masturbation either.

anon305565
Post 18

I'm 25 and have had this problem on and off since I was 19. When it first happened, my girlfriend at the time had recently had a checkup which was clear and she was my first unprotected sexual partner. That turned out to be a candida infection which cleared up after using antifungal creams.

However, since then I have had a tendency to get this red rash again. I've had about three STD checks and all are negative. Since thenm the creams don't seem to work, and doctors have given me antifungals, steroid creams, etc.

After searching the internet, I came across tea tree oil. This stuff is potent and anyone else here probably wouldn't recommend this, but it works. I tried applying a couple of drops underneath the foreskin. It burns for a while and can be a bit uncomfortable. I apply it for one or two days, which I think must kill anything in there! The skin peels off in a couple of days with new skin underneath and I'm back to normal. It's not fun, but I've done it a few times.

I've had a couple of unprotected sexual partners over the last two years and had not got the rash until this week with a new partner. I have no idea why it has come back with her and not with my previous two partners. One thing I have noticed also is if I have sex at night before going to bed and don't shower, then this would increase the likelihood of getting the rash. Maybe I have to shower straight away. I hope this helps. I might try the grapeseed extract that someone mentioned above, too.

anon304709
Post 17

Update from post no. 13.

I saw a doctor and have been prescribed a steroid and antifungal cream called daktacort. The doctor said it could be an STD, which I said is not possible as my last partner recently had a blood check up and the results returned negative. He mentioned it because of a white lace pattern he saw. I told him I was protected, and have had similar problems in the past.

He also checked my scrotum and found no swelling or abnormalities same with my lymph nodes. He said if things do not change in two weeks to come back at the end of the month to do STD testing. I did that after four weeks of this and it came back negative.

Also, the foreskin is a bit red with a white ring around it. I have seen some pics online and it seems to be balanitis. I have also been having today a bit of pain which is associated with balanitis/fungal infections of the penis.

anon304039
Post 16

Most of these cases are probably related to a fungal infection. it might respond to the same antifungal creams or sprays you can buy for athlete's foot (terbinafine, miconazole, etc). But you are also prone to re-infection if it is growing on your underwear, your sex partner has a yeast or other fungal infection (they might not be symptomatic). It might be necessary to take an oral antifungal like fluconazole (Diflucan) for a week to a month. Your partner should probably take it also, since you may be passing it back and forth. You need to get this as a prescription from your doctor since it can interact with certain other medications.

anon302777
Post 15

For the dermatitis sufferers try bathing/showering with sorbelene. Use it as a soap replacement rather than moisturiser. Also, pinetarsol may help.

anon301273
Post 14

I am mid 40s. Never had skin conditions until recently which is surprising considering I have very fair skin. I developed penile dermatitis about six weeks ago. The redness really stood out because of my fair skin. My penis and testicles actually looked sunburned. It felt like the skin was burning too, and at times felt like the skin was splitting.

After having no luck with Vaseline or Sorbolene cream, I went to the doctor, worried it might be an STD. He did tests and confirmed it wasn't. He asked if I did a lot of exercise which I do. My job is also very manually intensive and it is not always possible to shower straight after I finish. He felt this may be the cause: too much sweating below and not showering as soon as possible. He put me onto a anti-fungal steroid cream for a week. No luck. He then put me onto a non anti-fungal cream Daktarin which made the burning feel worse. I stopped this after about seven days as it was actually making my penis more itchy and it would peel. After that initial visit to the doctor, I began wearing looser underwear like pure cotton boxers, and have continued this since. For a short time, the redness started to disappear on its own, but after I had ceased all creams. The creams all made it much worse.

The redness is back and like before, looks like someone has got a red texture and coloured the penis and testicles. The body around my penis is my normal skin colour.

Using lubricant actually makes the condition worse, I've noticed. I have used lubricant for years and never had the redness before, yet now it is now helping the current situation. It aggravates it.

I've seen two doctors now and they just put it down to sweat rash or dermatitis condition. They encourage me to take cooler showers to stop the inflammation. Another suggestion they have is to put cool packs on the penis area. I've also been advised that if the steroid creams won't get rid of it, nothing will. It could very well now be a recurring problem. Unfortunately for me, changing to boxer shorts has not solved the problem at all.

Please be wary of steroid cream as overuse will thin the skin out which can then make it prone to infection.

All the best to everyone. It is comforting to know that I am not alone with this annoying condition.

anon300485
Post 13

A bit of an update. I had a reaction to a lubricant a few weeks back and it seems mine has definitely turned into a yeast infection. It seemed like the skin was a bit cracked but no peeling or anything and the rim of the head was deep purple and the head still has a red patch and a blister.

After using boots antifungal cream, I'm definitely seeing some slight improvement. The crack has gone, and the rim of the head is slightly less purple. It still itches but not as much says on the tube to use up to four weeks two or three times a day. I've been using it twice a day since Friday and it also says on the tube if you see no improvement within one week or symptoms continue, but definitely seeing a slight improvement.

And before you ask, I have done a lot of research and all signs point to a yeast infection. All my partners have been clean and for the most part, I have used a condom. This was the first time I used lubricant so I must have had a reaction to it. Sad times, but I don't want any sex until I am healed.

anon298193
Post 12

I'm having the same problem, but my left testicle hurts and the aches come and go. I have the skin turn lighter on one side, too. I've been to docs and have been told it was an STD, but then not an STD. I used all the hydro cream and neo cream and it feels raw some and the pain on the left side of my penis comes and goes. Please help.

anon297510
Post 11

I have been having this problem for slightly over two weeks or so now, and that's only because I have not yet used any treatment. I tried to let it go on its own but it's still there.

I have redness and a small blister and it's slightly itchy. I must have caught it from a lubricant. I plan on getting it checked out but this site and NHS have said the same thing, and have given me a much better understanding and peace of mind.

anon295656
Post 10

Western docs are clueless on this. I saw a homeopath in Tucson, AZ but has moved back to Denmark. The cure for me was Grapefruit Seed Extract (GSE). It can be found in health food stores. Nutribiotic is one supplier. My practitioner recommended taking it for five weeks. I started to see results after two weeks of use.

anon289169
Post 9

i started with a fungal infection as well, and later on had a biopsy done that came up as chronic dermatitis. However, the only thing that has worked for me is an antifungal cream called nystatin.

anon282523
Post 8

I have had the same problem described for seven months now, with trips to the doctor, hospital and many creams tried. However, may I suggest that you avoid any steroids trying to treat your penis! I discovered only this weekend from another doctor that the steroids seriously weaken the skin and can cause long-term problems! My latest attempt to cure the problem is using Protopic cream in the day and Sudocrem at night - both are steroid free and there is definite improvement!

anon278133
Post 7

I also have a problem. For me it feels like two or three rubber bands are wrapped around my penis.

anon259859
Post 6

I have the same problem. I have had this issue for three years and it's still ongoing. I have tried every cream under the sun, and am current using steroid ointment, however this only keeps it at bay as it never clears. I am thinking of getting the chop as I have a foreskin.

anon256636
Post 5

Same thing here. My doctor thinks mine began as dermatitis and then went to a yeast infection. The yeast has been treated (I believe) but the dermatitis remains. It's been very unpleasant -- no sex for months and honestly I don't want to until it's gone, which from the looks of it may be never as it seems to resist any and all treatments.

Desitin seems to help (40 percent zinc), and Cortizone 2 percent may or may not be helping. I'll be looking to change detergent soap as well.

Best advice is not to get it, wash and dry your penis after you have sex and use a lubricant when you masturbate.

poppyseed
Post 4

@tlcJPC - I couldn’t swear to it, but I’d be willing to bet that your laundry detergent or fabric softener might be to blame. It sounds like the only thing that you didn’t name.

I’ve had similar problem with a different area of the body, and apparently that was the main issue.

I thought that since I used a detergent that was a name brand, and had been using it for years, that that couldn’t be it. But, as soon as I changed brands to something else my dermatitis went away.

Mine was under my arms – it’s not good manners to go around scratching your pits in public either, so I get it.

tlcJPC
Post 3

I have been having some problems with this. It is incredibly uncomfortable as well as incredibly embarrassing. Scratching in public is generally frowned upon in today’s society, if I am correct.

I have tried everything I can think of. I’ve changed soap, and even shampoo. I’ve even went from briefs to boxers in an attempt to get plenty of air down there. I don’t normally make a habit of peeing outside, so I wouldn’t see that as a problem. My wife and I have no need of condoms because her tubes are tied.

I just can’t figure out what the problem is. I’ve even been to the doctor, and he can’t seem to find a reason for it either, although he's the one who informed me it is dermatitis on the penis. Help would be much appreciated.

anon172119
Post 2

Thought I might add to this list. I have penile dermatitis, but it was caused from a fungal infection. The fungal infection cleared in a week or two from anti-fungal cream, but the dermatitis continued. Currently using prescribed steroid cream that my dermatologist recommended.

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