Penile eczema is a skin condition that affects the penis and the surrounding genital area. It causes symptoms such as dry skin, itchiness, and pain. Home care and medical treatments may help.

In this article, we explore symptoms, causes, and treatments for penile eczema, and when to see a doctor.

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Eczema is a skin condition that triggers itching and inflammation of the skin. It is a prevalent condition, affecting more than 31 million people in the United States.

There is no known cause for eczema. However, scientists know that genetics play a role, while environmental factors can also trigger flare-ups.

Eczema is a term for a group of conditions. Different types of eczema can occur on the penis, including:

  • atopic eczema, the most common type, causes itchy rashes
  • seborrheic eczema, which causes dry, flaky skin, and swelling
  • allergic contact eczema occurs due to a delayed allergic reaction to a substance
  • irritant contact eczema develops when the skin comes into contact with an irritating substance

Penile eczema can occur on the penis and around the scrotum, groin, between the buttocks, and around the anus.

Penile eczema can look similar to other conditions, including:

If people are unsure whether they have penile eczema, consulting with a doctor may help rule out other conditions.

Although researchers are not certain what causes eczema, they believe genetics and an overactive immune system could be involved.

According to the National Eczema Association, an overactive immune system can cause an inflammatory response to specific triggers. This inflammation can then bring on eczema symptoms.

Researchers also note a link between eczema and a particular gene mutation. Some people with the condition do not have a specific protein called filaggrin, which helps create a protective layer on the skin.

A lack of filaggrin can cause the skin to become drier and more susceptible to infection.

A combination of the above factors and environmental triggers may cause eczema.

Irritation of the penis can also contribute to the condition. Various environmental factors can irritate the penis, including:

  • tight clothing
  • sweating
  • friction from skin rubbing together
  • soaps and body washes
  • talcum powder
  • body wipes
  • hemorrhoid creams
  • deodorants
  • antiseptics, such as Dettol
  • urine and feces
  • a metal allergy, such as nickel
  • a latex allergy
  • spermicides
  • waxing and shaving products
  • prolonged time in water

If the skin becomes too dry, it can also trigger an eczema flare-up. The skin may feel rough and tight with a scaly, flaky appearance.

Stress could also trigger or worsen symptoms of eczema.

Symptoms of penile eczema include:

  • itching
  • painful or sore skin
  • rash
  • brown, purple, gray, or ashen skin in darker skin tones
  • red skin in lighter skin tones
  • tight-feeling skin
  • scaly, dry skin

To diagnose penile eczema and rule out other underlying conditions, a doctor will take a person’s medical history, carry out a physical examination, and assess symptoms.

This may be enough for a diagnosis, but a healthcare professional may carry out additional tests for confirmation, such as testing for any allergies.

Eczema is not contagious, meaning people cannot transmit or contract the condition to or from another person.

However, if people have broken skin on the penis, it can lead to a greater risk of infection.

There are many creams and substances available that claim to be effective in treating eczema symptoms. However, these products may cause further skin irritation in some people who use them without medical guidance.

People can help ease the symptoms of penile eczema at home by:

  • applying petroleum jelly (Vaseline) to the skin
  • wearing loose clothing and underwear
  • wearing natural fibers, such as cotton and silk, as these are less irritating
  • using a nonbiological washing powder for clothes
  • using a gentle anti-itch cream formulated for eczema, such as E45 Itch
  • chilling creams so that they have a cooling effect on the skin
  • avoiding products that may irritate the penis, such as soaps and fragrances
  • using warm water and an emollient to gently clean the genital area while avoiding overwashing

A person with penile eczema may consider seeing a doctor to discuss the right treatment.

A healthcare professional may suggest any of the following treatment options:

  • an emollient, which people can apply after bathing and use instead of soap or body washes
  • antihistamines to help ease itching
  • topical steroids, which people may apply 1–2 times per day, or as a doctor prescribes

People may want to wash their hands before and after applying topical treatments to help prevent infections.

Avoid using topical steroids on the genital area just before having sex. This is to allow these treatments to absorb into the skin, minimizing the transfer of the substance to a partner.

People should also note that certain topical treatments, such as emollients and steroid creams, could affect how well condoms and diaphragms work. The oils in some products may damage the latex within these contraceptive devices.

Broken skin or a compromised skin barrier can increase the risk of bacterial, viral, or fungal infections.

Atopic dermatitis can increase the risk of viral infections. A severe complication is eczema herpeticum, a disease that can be life threatening. This condition is due to herpes simplex virus 1. Symptoms include:

Eczema coxsackium is another serious viral infection, triggering widespread blisters and a rash.

Both of these infections require immediate medical treatment.

People with certain types of eczema are also more likely to have asthma and allergic rhinitis, also known as hay fever.

In people with severe atopic eczema, 50% will develop asthma, while 75% will develop allergic rhinitis.

If a person suspects they have penile eczema, they should see a doctor. The condition can appear similar to other conditions, such as STIs or other infections.

A healthcare professional can investigate whether people have eczema or another condition, and prescribe an appropriate treatment.

Seeing a doctor can also help prevent or minimize further penis irritation with certain home treatments.

Penile eczema is a skin condition that can cause itching and inflammation of the penis and surrounding area. People with this issue may experience dry, sore skin.

Wearing loose, comfortable clothing, avoiding using irritating products around the genitals, and using certain topical treatments can help treat eczema symptoms.

Being aware of any triggers, such as irritating substances or stress, may also help minimize recurring flare-ups.