Smegma is a naturally occurring substance found on the genitals. It is the result of a buildup of skin cells, oil secretions, and moisture. Cleaning the area regularly can help remove and prevent smegma.

If left to build up, smegma can become smelly or lead to an infection. As a result, people should regularly clean the parts of the body where smegma occurs.

This article explains how to identify smegma, the best ways to remove it, and how to prevent smegma from developing.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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Smegma may appear as a cheese-like substance, which may concern some people. However, it is typically nothing to worry about. However, if left to buildup, it can increase the risk of developing an infection.

If a male is uncircumcised, they have a foreskin that covers the head of the penis. Sweat, oil, and skin cells can remain under the foreskin if the area is not cleaned properly.

At times, smegma may develop into white, pearl-shaped lumps called smegma pearls, under the foreskin. Unless a person experiences pain or other symptoms are present, this is also generally not a cause for concern.

In males, smegma most commonly develops in those who are not circumcised but can occur in all males. In females, smegma may build up between the labia and around the hood of the clitoris.

In adult males, smegma is formed of a combination of skin cells and oil originally thought to be produced by Tyson’s glands under the foreskin. However, some research has shown that these glands may not be where they were originally believed to be.

The purpose of smegma is to provide protection and lubrication to the penis.

Both male and female infants can develop an excess buildup of smegma, and it is important to speak to the child’s pediatrician before cleaning.

When a male infant develops smegma under the foreskin, parents or caregivers may be tempted to pull back the foreskin and clean the head of the penis. This is not routinely recommended.

In most young males, the foreskin is attached to the head of the penis from birth and starts to separate as they age. This natural separation allows for the foreskin to be pulled back and cleaned. If the foreskin is forcibly retracted, it can lead to severe pain, bleeding, skin tears, and scarring.

It is important to speak with a pediatrician to determine if a child’s foreskin is ready to be pulled back. Most boys are around the age of 5 when they can retract their foreskin on their own.

Some males may experience redness or discoloration, and swelling of the head of the penis. This is called balanitis. Males of any age who develop this condition should be seen by a healthcare professional to make sure it is not being caused by one of the following:

  • infection
  • thrush
  • psoriasis or other skin condition
  • irritation, such as from the use of soaps, detergents, or condoms


If the penis is not cleaned regularly, smegma can build up and may become smelly, infected, or prevent foreskin movement.

Males with a foreskin should take the following steps when cleaning the penis to remove smegma:

  1. Gently retract the foreskin back toward the shaft of the penis.
  2. Clean the head of the penis under the foreskin with gentle soap and rinse with warm water.
  3. Dry beneath the foreskin with a soft towel.
  4. Pull the foreskin back over the head of the penis — never leave it retracted.

Remember to speak with a healthcare professional if there is difficulty with pulling back the foreskin. Never force the foreskin back, as this can lead to both immediate and long-term problems.

Learn more about discharge in males.

In females, smegma may build up between the labia and around the hood of the clitoris. In most cases, it is not cause for concern, and good hygiene practices should take care of the buildup.

In female infants, smegma may develop in the vulva (sex organs outside of the vaginal area), where it acts as a protective barrier. A pediatrician will be able to explain whether, how, and when to clean.

It is important to keep an infant’s vulva clean, but caregivers should keep in mind that they should use only mild soap and water or a baby wipe when cleaning.


Females should take the following steps when cleaning the vulva to remove smegma:

  1. Gently wash the vulva with warm water and a mild soap.
  2. Avoid scented washes, powders, and sprays.
  3. Dry with a soft towel.

With infants, it is best to speak with a pediatrician about their recommendations on hygiene practices, including the management of smegma.

While smegma is natural, it can lead to problems if it is left to build up. For both males and females, practicing proper genital hygiene as mentioned above is essential.

Females may also want to consider the following preventive steps:

  • wearing cotton underwear
  • avoiding thongs, nylon, acetate, or other synthetic fabric types
  • avoiding wearing nylon pantyhose, leggings, or girdles that do not let the vagina breathe, leading to trapped moisture and heat
  • avoid using feminine hygiene products, such as deodorants, feminine sprays, oils, and greasy substances
  • avoiding vaginal douching, as it can change the pH of the vagina and lead to bacterial overgrowth

The following are answers to some questions people frequently ask about smegma.

Can smegma make you smell?

Yes. Smegma typically includes a characteristically slimy and unpleasant odor.

What STD can cause smegma?

While smegma is not generally a sign of a sexually transmitted infection (STI), discharge from in and around the genitals can indicate certain infections. These include chlamydia, gonorrhea, and herpes.

Is it normal to keep getting smegma?

Smegma is a natural accumulation that can occur in both males and females around the genitals. It can be easily cleaned with gentle soap and warm water. However, a buildup of smegma can lead to an increased risk of infection.

Smegma is normal in both males and females. It is due to the buildup of skin cells, oil secretions, and moisture. Practicing proper genital hygiene may help prevent or reduce smegma buildup in both sexes.

It is important for parents and caregivers to teach children proper hygiene. This is especially important in uncircumcised males.

Caregivers should teach young males to pull back their foreskin, after it naturally detaches from the head of the penis, and clean underneath it.