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Eczema on the Penis: Symptoms, Treatments, and Causes

Posted on February 03, 2022
Medically reviewed by
Kevin Berman, M.D., Ph.D.
Article written by
Victoria Menard

Penile eczema refers to eczema (atopic dermatitis) that affects the penis. This type of eczema can be particularly uncomfortable, causing discoloration, soreness, skin texture changes, and intense itching. To add to this discomfort, some people feel embarrassed about bringing the condition up to their doctors. However, eczema on the penis is more common than you might think. In fact, more than 750 MyEczemaTeam members report that eczema has affected their penis or genitals.

Although there is currently no cure for eczema, you don’t have to suffer through burning, itching, or general discomfort. Penile eczema can be treated, and its symptoms can be managed. It is important to talk to your doctor or a dermatology specialist if you notice any new symptoms or changes in the appearance of the skin on your penis. Not only will they be able to manage your symptoms, but they will also be able to rule out any other potential causes, such as fungal infections or sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Symptoms of Eczema on the Penis

Eczema that affects the penis is one type of genital eczema — a form of atopic dermatitis that can develop on the genitals. Gential eczema can affect the penis, as well as the scrotum (the skin around the testicles), groin (the area where the upper thigh creases against the abdomen), and the skin between the buttocks and around the anus.

One of the most difficult symptoms of penile eczema is persistent itching. As one MyEczemaTeam member shared, “My 6-year-old boy has an itchy penis. The doctor says it is eczema, and we have been treating it with hydrocortisone, Elidel, and, recently, Eucrisa. We have not noticed much of a difference.” The itching was so severe that “he told me a couple of nights ago that the only thing he wants for Christmas is that the itch goes away,” the member said.

Aside from intense itching, eczema may also cause the penis to become discolored and inflamed. This rash-like irritation may affect the shaft of the penis, the foreskin, or the scrotum. In severe cases, open sores (ulcers) may also develop on the skin of the penis. This can lead to permanent changes in the color or texture of the genital skin.

What Causes Eczema on the Penis?

Several types of eczema may affect the penis. Some forms of eczema that can affect the penis are triggered by environmental factors, such as soaps, detergents, or allergens (such as pollen or animal dander). It is also possible for a person who has atopic dermatitis on other parts of the body to develop eczema rashes on the skin of the penis.

There are three main types of eczema that can affect the skin of the penis: atopic dermatitis, seborrheic dermatitis, and contact dermatitis. Both atopic dermatitis and seborrheic dermatitis are considered endogenous forms of the disease — they result from internal causes (as opposed to external irritants or triggers).

Atopic Dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis (AD or atopic eczema), the most common form of eczema, develops when an overactive immune system and a compromised skin barrier set off inflammatory processes that attack the skin. AD most frequently affects the cheeks, arms, legs, and behind the ears. However, the condition can also develop on the penis, causing persistent itchy, dry, and scaly skin.

AD on the genitals tends to affect the scrotum and the base of the penis. Chronic (long-term) AD on the penis causes the skin to peel, ooze, and darken. When acute, penile AD typically causes the skin to thicken and toughen (lichenification) and peel.

Seborrheic Dermatitis

Seborrheic dermatitis is a chronic form of eczema that occurs on areas of the skin with high concentrations of oil glands. It seems to involve hormones, the immune system, and yeast and other microorganisms that occur naturally on the skin. This condition is commonly called dandruff when it appears on the scalp.

Genital seborrheic dermatitis can affect just one area, such as the pubic region or the area around the anus or buttocks. This form of eczema causes the skin of the penis to become discolored, swollen, and greasy. Yellowy-white flakes or scales may also develop in the groin area.

Contact Dermatitis

Contact dermatitis occurs when bare skin comes into contact with an irritating substance. With penile eczema, this can happen if there is an irritant on the hands and the hands are not washed before urinating. Contact dermatitis typically causes burning and itching where the contact has occurred. Blisters may also form.

Two types of contact dermatitis may affect the penis: irritant contact dermatitis and allergic contact dermatitis.

Irritant Contact Dermatitis

Irritant contact dermatitis is common on the genitals due to the sensitivity of the skin, combined with sweat and friction from clothes and skin surfaces. Soaps, body washes, moist towelettes, toilet paper, and other products that come into contact with the genitals can also trigger irritant contact dermatitis.

Allergic Contact Dermatitis

More rarely, the skin of the penis may have an allergic reaction to a substance it comes into contact with, resulting in allergic contact dermatitis. The main symptoms of allergic contact dermatitis are pruritus (itching) and a burning sensation. Personal lubricants, latex condoms, and spermicidal products have all been found to cause allergic contact dermatitis on the genitals.

Other Possible Causes of Skin Symptoms on the Penis

There are many possible causes of an itchy, inflamed, irritated penis. Because other conditions can complicate diagnosis, a doctor will typically perform a patch test when allergic contact dermatitis is suspected as the cause of your symptoms.

Skin conditions that can cause symptoms similar to penile eczema include STIs, fungal infections, psoriasis, and lichen planus.

STIs

While many STIs have no symptoms, STIs like genital herpes and syphilis can cause sores to develop on the penis that may resemble eczema lesions. Like eczema, some STIs can also cause the penis to burn or itch.

Fungal Infections

Fungal infections with candida or dermatophytes frequently affect the genitals. A candida infection, more commonly known as thrush or a yeast infection, can lead to balanitis — a condition in which the head of the penis (glans) becomes inflamed. Those who are not circumcised are more likely to develop balanitis than those who are circumcised. Yeast and fungus often grow where skin rubs against skin, so these rashes commonly appear on the inner thighs as well.

Psoriasis

Psoriasis, like eczema, is a chronic autoimmune disease that affects the skin. While psoriasis is less likely to affect the penis than eczema, it is possible for dry, scaly psoriatic lesions to develop on the shaft and glans of the penis.

Lichen Planus

Lichen planus is an inflammatory disease that affects the skin and mucous membranes. It causes swollen, irritated patches of flat, itchy, purplish bumps. An estimated 20 percent of people with lichen planus develop the condition solely on their genitals. The main symptom of genital lichen planus is itching.

Additionally, pruritus scroti is a condition in which the scrotum gets very itchy without any identifiable cause.

Treating Eczema on the Penis

If your penis is intensely itchy or develops dry, discolored, or scaly patches, talk to your health care provider or a dermatologist. Do not try to treat eczema yourself. Some remedies or treatments may further irritate the sensitive skin of the penis and worsen your symptoms.

Topical Medications

Treating penile eczema often begins with a topical medication, like a corticosteroid. Corticosteroids reduce inflammation, helping to alleviate skin irritation, itching, and other symptoms of eczema. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, your doctor may recommend an over-the-counter steroid cream like hydrocortisone or prescribe a stronger medication.

It is important to use steroid creams only as directed, as the skin of the penis tends to absorb these medications more easily than other areas of the body. Also, steroid creams can thin the skin. The skin on the genitals is already thin, so only use weak steroids on and near the genitals unless otherwise directed by your doctor. Do not apply steroid creams to the penis right before having sex, as this may irritate your partner’s skin. Make sure the medication has had enough time to absorb completely into the skin of the penis before engaging in sex (including oral sex).

Topical immunomodulators, such as Protopic (tacrolimus) or Elidel (pimecrolimus), reduce inflammation and itch without the use of steroids. These are safe to use on and near the genitals. Eucrisa (crisaborole) and topical JAK inhibitors are other steroid-free options to reduce itch and inflammation.

Emollients

Emollients (moisturizers or lotions) can help relieve itchy, dry skin on the penis. It is recommended to wait at least 30 minutes after using a topical steroid cream before applying an emollient to the penis.

Avoiding Triggers

Part of managing penile eczema involves reducing or eliminating contact with irritants.

One MyEczemaTeam offered the following advice to a member whose son was dealing with eczema on the penis: “If you haven’t already, eliminate all fragranced cleansing products from the bath, and use fragrance-free laundry detergents and no dryer sheets. Make sure his undergarments do not contain synthetic fibers. Cotton only! There are so many things out there that can help. It just requires a lot of research and trying various products, as each person’s reactions to treatment are unique.”

Clothing

Friction and tight clothing can aggravate eczema on the penis. Wearing loose, comfortable clothing made from cotton can help alleviate irritation. As the above member advised, you may also want to try fragrance-free laundry detergents or fabric softeners.

Physical Contraceptives and Spermicides

Some people with eczema find that physical contraceptives — such as condoms and diaphragms — cause irritation on their penis. This is particularly true if you have a sensitivity or allergy to latex. Spermicidal creams or gels, which help prevent pregnancy by killing the sperm, can also cause the penis to become irritated.

Talk to your doctor about the best method of birth control that will not irritate your penis or result in eczema flare-ups. If preventing pregnancy is a concern and you find that physical contraceptives are particularly irritating, hormonal birth control may be a better option. This is especially important if you're using topical steroids or emollients, as both can make physical contraceptives like condoms less effective.

Managing Itch

Intense itching is one of the most prominent symptoms of eczema on the penis. Some over-the-counter anti-itch products can help relieve this uncomfortable symptom. If these do not help, your doctor may recommend other treatment options, like antihistamines. They may also perform further testing. Other conditions — like iron deficiency anemia, or low iron levels — can also cause itchiness.

Cutting your fingernails as short as possible may also be helpful if scratching itchy skin has led to injury or irritation.

Hygiene

Keeping the genitals clean is an important part of managing penile eczema, but overwashing or using irritating soaps can worsen symptoms. It’s recommended that people with eczema on the penis wash the affected areas with warm water and a nondetergent cleanser. If your shampoo is worsening irritation, apply an emollient to the penis before shampooing to protect it. It’s also important to wash your hands before urinating or touching your penis to prevent the spread of irritating substances to the skin of the genitals.

MyEczemaTeam members have shared their tips for bathing with penile eczema. As one member recommended to a parent whose child was struggling with itching, “Only bathe your baby in lukewarm water. Use cleanser only on private parts or on highly soiled body parts. Try Aveeno Fragrance-Free Baby Cleanser for Sensitive Skin (available at Walmart and other drugstores). Use a soft towel and gentle patting to towel off, then apply fragrance-free moisturizer and/or Vaseline within three minutes.”

Other members have found success with soaks and baths to relieve eczema on the penis. As one member advised another whose son has penile eczema, “Bathe him with Aveeno Baby Soothing Relief cleanser. It contains many emollients for healing and subduing itching. Consider colloidal oatmeal baths, followed by application of Gold Bond cream with 2 percent colloidal oatmeal after drying off. If this does not help, consider ‘wet wrap’ therapy. It’s kind of a chore but can really help.”

Another member found that their son found success with bleach baths for eczema on the penis. As they cautioned, however, “Please be careful with this and see your doctor beforehand, as it may not be great for everyone.”

It Takes a Team

Managing the symptoms of eczema can be challenging. The good news is that you’re not in it alone. MyEczemaTeam is the social network for people living with eczema and their loved ones. Here, more than 40,000 members from across the world come together to ask questions, offer advice and support, and meet others who understand life with eczema.

How have you dealt with eczema on the penis? Share your experience and tips in the comments below or by posting on MyEczemaTeam.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Kevin Berman, M.D., Ph.D. is a dermatologist at the Atlanta Center for Dermatologic Disease, Atlanta, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Victoria Menard is a writer at MyHealthTeam. Learn more about her here.

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