Penis Eczema: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Penis Eczema
Medically approved by
Dr Earim Chaudry
Last updated
26th August 2020

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In 30 Seconds

Eczema is the broad medical term for a range of dry skin conditions. Each type of eczema has a different appearance, however, they are all similar in that they are painful and itchy.
There are four main types of eczema that may affect the penis: atopic dermatitis, irritant contact dermatitis, seborrheic dermatitis, and dyshidrotic eczema. Each type can form on the shaft or head of the penis, as well as the surrounding genital area.
Eczema can be caused by your genetics or certain lifestyle factors, like the climate you live in or the washing powder you use. 
Getting the correct diagnosis for your penis eczema means you can get the right treatment — whether that means a simple change of household items or medication.

Most of us have heard of eczema, whether we have it or not. It’s one of the most common skin conditions around, with over 1.5 million people in the UK said to suffer from atopic dermatitis (the most common form of eczema) alone. 

And it’s really not just a skin condition. A bad flare-up of eczema can be seriously debilitating, and trying to deal with it can cause depression and anxiety. But can you really get eczema on your penis? Sadly, yes. It’s a difficult — and sore — situation all round.

So, what do you need to look out for, and how can you help your skin get back to its former glory if you’re suffering an eczema flare-up? Here’s what you need to know about penis eczema.

What Are the Symptoms of Penis Eczema? 

Eczema is a medical condition which is typified by dry patches of skin which are sensitive and feel itchy or burn. Eczema can appear on skin anywhere on your body, but penis eczema can be particularly uncomfortable thanks to the already sensitive nature of the skin and difficulty in treating such an awkward area.

On the appearance of a rash on your penis, you may be concerned that you have contracted some kind of sexually transmitted infection that has similar symptoms, like genital herpes. However, if it’s an STI, you’ll probably experience other symptoms too, such as unusual penile discharge, a fever, headaches, or swollen lymph nodes.

If it’s a rash, and a rash alone, you’re most likely experiencing a flare-up of penis eczema.

There are four types of eczema that may affect your penis.

  • Atopic Dermatitis (AD) is the most common and considered the most severe form of eczema. It’s typified by an intensely itchy red rash of dry skin. Most people who suffer from AD as an adult probably had the condition as a child, although over 50s are most at risk for adult-onset atopic dermatitis
  • Irritant Contact Dermatitis can come on at any point in life and presents as a rash which feels extremely itchy along with a burning sensation. The area can also feel tight like the skin is stiff, and the skin may crack and blister. Sometimes this form of eczema can cause swelling, which is especially common when in the groin area. 
  • Seborrheic Dermatitis occurs on parts of your body where there are lots of oil glands — typically either the scalp (where it’s commonly known as dandruff) or penis. This type of eczema causes rough and scaly patches of skin which can be white or a greenish-yellow. The patches usually look dry, but they may actually be quite greasy and easy to remove if scratched. This type of eczema is rarely sore, but it can be uncomfortable and, well, not great to look at down there.
  • Dyshidrotic Eczema is typified by small blisters forming on the skin which may ooze pale-coloured pus, which will be extremely itchy. The blisters may not last long, but the skin underneath will be red and tight. It may also feel sore and have a burning sensation for some weeks. 

So, all in all, if the skin on the shaft or head of your penis is dry, red, sore, bumpy, rough, or blistered, it’s probably penis eczema. Sorry. We wouldn’t wish penis eczema on our worst enemy, but here’s what may have caused it, and how you can treat it.

What Causes Eczema On Your Penis?

The causes of penis eczema are divided into either genetic tendency or environmental factors. 

Genetic Causes of Eczema

A genetic tendency is, unfortunately, a common cause of eczema. “Atopic” actually means “allergy”, so if you, or your close family members, are prone to allergies, hay fever, or asthma, you are more likely to have eczema too. The connection is so strong between the conditions that a study has linked asthma and eczema to such an extent to say that 50-70% of children who have eczema will develop asthma later in life

People who suffer from allergies and eczema are known to have an overactive immune system which causes inflammation when triggered. Eczema sufferers may also be missing a certain protein called filaggrin which helps our skin form a protective barrier. With this altered skin barrier — and the aforementioned tendency towards inflammation — you are more prone to dry skin and eczema in general.

Environmental Causes of Eczema

The environmental factors which may trigger penis eczema vary from weather conditions and latex to soaps, perfumes, chemicals, and stress.

In the UK, many more people experience an atopic dermatitis flare-up in the winter. This is due to cold weather, dry winds, and heavily layered clothing worsening already dry skin and chafing. However, excessive sweating and close-fitting clothing in the Summer can cause skin irritation too, especially if you’re carrying an extra few pounds around the midsection. 

Irritant contact dermatitis, meanwhile, is caused by your skin coming into contact with an allergen or chemical which causes irritation. The most common causes of contact dermatitis on the penis are fairly mundane sounding items. Washing detergents, soaps, shampoos, perfumes, clothing fibres like polyester or wool, for example. You wouldn’t look at these everyday items in horror usually, but they can all be just enough to rub your skin up the wrong way and cause eczema. 

Certain chemicals, like formaldehyde, cigarette smoke, metals (especially nickel), and cleaning products are also enough to trigger an eczema flare-up too — although they are less likely to make contact with your penis (you would think)! 

With that in mind, a widespread trigger for irritant contact dermatitis of the penis is from latex condoms. Despite latex being a rare allergen, the most common form of reaction to a latex allergy is contact dermatitis.

The cause of seborrheic dermatitis is still disputed, but the majority of experts tend to believe it has something to do with a type of fungus that usually lives happily in our skin’s oils (also known as sebum). The type of fungus is called Malassezia, and abnormal growth of this fungus can trigger an overproduction of oil, which can lead to seborrheic eczema. 

Scientists also believe that this type of eczema may be attributed to the by-products of the fungal growth, which is a certain type of fatty acid. Too much of this in our sebum, and you could be headed straight for a flare-up. 

Lastly, dyshidrotic eczema hasn’t been linked to a specific cause. However, it is thought to be a symptom in itself of other conditions, such as stress and depression. It may also be a progression or worsening of another skin condition — often atopic eczema. People aged 20 – 40 are more likely to develop this kind of eczema than any other age group, and while it’s more common to occur on the hands and feet, hot, humid conditions can provide the perfect environment for dyshidrotic eczema on the penis.

The Best Treatments For Penis Eczema

Eczema on your penis can be tricky to treat, as being tucked into your undies means it’s hard to avoid chafing. Unless you’re a naturist, it’s unlikely there’s a lot of air circulation around the groin area, encouraging a sweaty environment which can worsen the condition.

To make matters worse, your penis head contains the highest concentration of nerve endings of all the genital area, meaning it can be a particularly painful location for an eczema flare-up. It also means it’s even more important to seek the proper treatment to ensure no lasting damage is done.

If it’s your first eczema flare-up, it may be a good idea to get a clinician’s opinion on what type of eczema you have, and the best course of action. While it may be embarrassing, it will be a lot easier down the line to know what you’re dealing with, rather than just hoping for the best and risk your condition worsening. 

A doctor may prescribe steroid creams, or oral steroids, to reduce the itch, or antibiotics if your rash has become infected. If you think your eczema is due to an allergy, they may be able to perform an allergy test to confirm this and help you develop a long-term treatment plan which may involve a dietary change or change in household items. 

Treating Penis Eczema at Home

While penis eczema is not contagious like an STI is, a flare-up of penis eczema will certainly get in the way of your sex life, so getting the right treatment first time is key. We want you to get back to your normal self as quickly as possible, so these home remedies might provide some relief too:

  • Using fragrance-free and hypoallergenic skincare products like body wash, shampoos, soaps and lotions to cleanse and moisturise the skin daily will help keep your skin in good condition. It also lessens the chance of a flare-up due to dryness and will help you to avoid a reaction due to allergens.
  • Wearing loose clothing made of natural fibres such as cotton underwear — and going commando while you’re at home — will keep the area as dry and airy as possible. Minimising chafing and sweating will help, whichever type of penis eczema you have.
  • Using a cold compress on a burning itchy rash will provide temporary relief. Use a cool damp towel and hold on the area for around 20 minutes, as often as you need to.
  • Treating yourself to a lukewarm colloidal oatmeal bath might help too. A 2009 study showed that a regular routine of oatmeal baths over the course of 4 weeks vastly improved skin condition and quality of life of its subjects. Colloidal oatmeal contains certain proteins, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, and antioxidants which help replenish the skin’s protective barrier. 
  • Finally, over-the-counter medicated ointments, such as mild steroid and antifungal creams may clear up minor eczema flare-ups, although you may need a prescription for stronger medications if the eczema is more serious. Antihistamines might help reduce swelling and itching if you think the eczema is due to an allergy or irritant.

Key Takeaways

As you can see, penis eczema is a very real issue, so don’t be embarrassed if you think you’re having a flare-up. No one wants an itchy penis, but if you’re experiencing one, don’t worry. 

Simple steps in your daily routine can make the world of difference, and medications are available if you need them. Remember to seek medical advice if your condition worsens, or if you’re not sure how to deal with your penis eczema, to avoid lasting damage.

References

  1. Allergy UK – Getting under the skin of severe Eczema: https://www.allergyuk.org/about/latest-news/520-getting-under-the-skin-of-severe-eczema

  2. Healthline – Genital Herpes: https://www.healthline.com/health/std/genital-herpes

  3. American Academy of Dermatology – Can you get eczema as an adult?: https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/eczema/adult/can-get

  4. NHS – How eczema might lead to asthma: https://www.nhs.uk/news/medical-practice/how-eczema-might-lead-to-asthma/

  5. National Eczema Association – Eczema Causes and Triggers: https://nationaleczema.org/eczema/causes-and-triggers-of-eczema/

  6. Medical News Today – What to know about latex allergy: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/247168

  7. Skindrone – What causes seborrheic dermatitis flare ups? https://skindrone.com/questions/what-causes-seborrheic-dermatitis-flare-ups/

  8. American Academy of Dermatology  – Dyshidrotic Eczema: Causes: https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/eczema/types/dyshidrotic-eczema/causes

  9. M. Catherine Mack Correa and Judith Nebus (2012). Management of Patients with Atopic Dermatitis: The Role of Emollient Therapy: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3449106/#B12

While we've ensured that everything you read on the Health Centre is medically reviewed and approved, information presented here is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.

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