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What causes penis skin to peel?

Peeling skin on the penis often occurs as a result of friction, chafing, or an allergic reaction, but other possible causes include infections and skin conditions.

Skin peeling may be the only symptom that a person experiences, or they may also have itching, burning, or redness.

Most cases of penis skin peeling are not serious and respond well to home remedies. However, in some cases, a person may need topical or oral medications to treat the underlying issue.

In this article, we discuss the leading causes of penis skin peeling and list possible treatments and home remedies.

Friction and chafing

Man looking anxious
Causes of penis skin peeling may include friction, chafing, allergic reactions, and eczema.

Irritation from repeated rubbing may cause peeling, flaking skin, along with pain and sensitivity.

Common causes of friction in the genital area include:

  • chafing from tight clothing or underwear
  • masturbation without lubrication
  • sex without lubrication

Using a lubricant during intercourse and masturbation can reduce friction and the likelihood of penis skin peeling. Choosing loose, cotton clothing to wear around the genital region will also reduce the occurrence of chafing.


An allergic reaction

Contact dermatitis is a skin reaction to an allergen or irritant. It can affect any area of the body, including the penis.

The symptoms of contact dermatitis include:

  • peeling or cracked skin
  • pain and irritation
  • itching
  • swelling
  • blistering
  • dryness
  • redness

Common causes of contact dermatitis on the penis include:

  • latex condoms, in the case of a latex allergy
  • ingredients in soaps and shower gels
  • laundry detergents

Yeast infection

A Candida infection, also known as genital thrush, is a common yeast infection that occurs in both women and men.

In men, thrush affects the head of the penis and the foreskin.

As well as peeling skin, symptoms include:

  • itching
  • irritation
  • a lumpy discharge under the foreskin
  • pain when urinating
  • painful intercourse
  • redness
  • swelling

People are more likely to develop a Candida infection after using antibiotics or steroid medications. People who have a suppressed immune system (immunosuppression) or diabetes that they are not managing also have a higher risk.

Although a yeast infection is not technically a sexually transmitted infection (STI), it can pass from one person to another during sexual activity.


Atopic dermatitis (eczema)

Atopic dermatitis is the most common form of eczema. It affects more than 18 million adults in the United States, according to the National Eczema Association.

Atopic dermatitis is most common on the hands, face, and elbow creases, but it can affect any part of the body, including the penis.

Symptoms of atopic dermatitis include:

  • dry, cracked, peeling, or flaking skin
  • itching
  • red or brown patches on the skin
  • small bumps on the skin that leak and become crusty

The symptoms of atopic dermatitis can come and go, and people with the condition may also experience asthma and seasonal allergies.

Genital herpes

Genital herpes is an STI that affects approximately one in eight people aged 14–49 years in the U.S., according to the American Sexual Health Association.

The majority of these people are unaware that they have the infection because their symptoms are so mild. When herpes symptoms do appear, they include sores on the penis, scrotum, anus, and buttocks. Other symptoms include:

  • peeling skin after the sores burst
  • pain
  • itching
  • tenderness
  • flu-like symptoms


Syphilis

Syphilis is another STI. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that people reported over 30,000 cases of syphilis in the U.S. in 2017.

The condition begins as a painless sore called a chancre on the part of the body where the infection first entered. If the chancre occurs on the penis, it may cause skin peeling in this area.

The chancre typically heals within 3–6 weeks, but a rash appears a few weeks later. The rash begins on the trunk before spreading to cover the whole body. Other symptoms include:

It is important to seek treatment for syphilis as soon as possible. In the early stages, medications can cure the disease. Without treatment, it can cause severe organ damage.

Balanitis

Balanitis is inflammation of the head of the penis and the foreskin. The condition is much more common in those who are uncircumcised, according to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology.

Symptoms include:

  • ulcerated or scaly sores
  • peeling skin on the head of the penis
  • an unpleasant odor from the penis
  • pain
  • itchiness
  • redness
  • swelling
  • painful urination
  • a buildup of fluid around the affected area

Several conditions and factors can contribute to the development of balanitis, including:

  • poor hygiene
  • allergies
  • drug reactions
  • bacterial, viral, or fungal infections
  • some skin conditions, such as psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis
  • reactive arthritis, which can cause eye and joint inflammation
  • Bowen’s disease, a very early form of skin cancer


Genital psoriasis

Psoriasis is a lifelong autoimmune disorder that causes scaly, red, and peeling skin that is itchy and painful. It can affect the skin on any area of the body. When it affects the genital region, it is called genital psoriasis.

The National Psoriasis Foundation estimate that between one-third and two-thirds of people with psoriasis experience genital psoriasis at some point.

Other psoriasis symptoms include:

  • dry, cracked skin
  • joint swelling and stiffness
  • thick, ridged nails

Home remedies

Sometimes, home treatments can successfully resolve skin peeling or help manage the symptoms of chronic conditions, such as psoriasis and eczema. These treatments include:

  • Practicing good hygiene and keeping the penis clean and dry.
  • Switching to natural, hypoallergenic soaps and laundry detergents.
  • Using personal lubricants during sex and masturbation.
  • Using polyurethane condoms instead of latex ones, if the person has a latex allergy.
  • Avoiding skin irritants, such as perfumed products.
  • Applying emollient creams or natural oils, such as coconut, to lubricate and moisturize dry skin.
  • Wearing loose, cotton underwear and clothing.
  • Avoiding sharing towels or underwear as this can increase the risk of fungal infections.
  • Practicing safe sex to prevent the transmission of STIs and fungal infections.
  • Considering circumcision in cases of chronic or recurrent balanitis.

Medical treatment

The medical treatment options for dry or peeling skin on the penis will depend on its underlying cause.

Sometimes, fungal infections will clear up with home treatment, but at other times, medication will be necessary. Both over-the-counter and prescription antifungals are available to treat yeast infections and some types of balanitis.

People who suspect that they have an STI should always seek medical attention to prevent complications and avoid passing the infection to others. The type of treatment that they receive will depend on the stage and severity of the infection.


When to see a doctor

If peeling skin on the penis persists for more than a few days or does not respond to home remedies, it is important to see a doctor for assessment and treatment.

Penis skin peeling requires prompt medical attention if it occurs alongside:

  • penile discharge
  • painful urination
  • severe or worsening pain

A person should see a doctor if they think that they have an STI, even if the symptoms seem to disappear, as they could still pass the infection on to other people, and it may cause complications in the future.

Outlook

Peeling skin on the penis does not usually indicate a serious medical condition. Often, it is a sign of an allergy, a fungal infection, or a skin condition, such as eczema.

Occasionally, however, it may indicate the presence of an STI that requires treatment.

In most cases, the underlying cause of peeling skin will resolve with either home remedies or prescription medications.

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