Dry skin on your arms or legs is a nuisance. Having it on your junk adds a whole new level of discomfort. You can’t scratch your penis in public (trust us). Plus, there’s the niggling worry that maybe it’s not just dry skin—maybe there’s something more troubling happening under your boxers.
In many cases, below-the-belt itching is caused by something innocuous and easy to fix, says board-certified dermatologist Michael Gowen, M.D. Chafing, chemical fragrances in soaps and detergents, and not using enough lube during sex can all dry out the skin on your penis and make it red, cracked, and itchy, especially since the skin on your penis is thin and easily prone to dryness.
But irritation from skin conditions or infections can also irritate your member—you’ll need to see a dermatologist or M.D. to clear it up. Here’s what might be causing dry, itchy, red skin on your penis, and what to do about them.
8 Reasons You Have Dry Skin on Your Penis
Your Underwear is Too Tight
Repeatedly rubbing against too-tight clothes can leave your junk dry and rashy—and you doing an embarrassing penguin-shuffle.
Add in some extra moisture from your sweaty workout and you might also have a fungal infection on your penis, says Gowen.
Spot it: Red rash, raised bumps, itching, irritation, and flaky, dry skin.
Avoid the itch: Wear loose clothing that is 100 percent cotton to lessen friction and chafing.
If you’re already red and rashy, rub on a moisturizing cream or ointment (Gowen likes Aquaphor). Avoid simple alcohol-based lotions which can further dry your delicate skin.
You’re Using the Wrong Soap
The chemicals in heavily fragranced soaps like Irish Spring can dry out your penis says Gowen. Same goes for those sweet-scented laundry detergents (bye bye lavender coconut sunrise).
“If you don’t wash soap off properly, you can develop irritant contact dermatitis, or itchy dry skin,” says Gowen. Uncircumcised members are even more prone because the soap settles in between your foreskin and the head of your penis, making it harder to wash away all the residue, he says.
Spot it: Red, swollen, or blistering skin. Your penis may also be itchy, flaky, or scaly.
Avoid the itch: Gowen’s solution? Choose fragrance-free soaps and detergents, like Dove Body Wash.
Then, post-shower, follow his three-minute rule. “If you can dry off and moisturize within three minutes of being wet, this helps trap moisture and helps alleviate dry skin,” he says.
On laundry day, find a fragrance-free option like All Free and Clear Laundry Detergent, says Gowen. And don’t forget your dryer sheets and fabric softeners, which distribute fragrance—and drying chemicals—on your underwear which can rub off on your penis skin.
You’re Allergic to Latex
If you’re in the 1 to 6 percent of people in the general population with a latex allergy, safe sex can be a struggle.
If you’re just sensitive to latex your member can become dry with red bumps after sex. But in rare cases, you can have a severe allergic reaction that can cause difficulty breathing, hives, swelling, nausea and a rapid pulse. If this happens, seek immediate medical attention.
Spot it: Dry, cracked, or scaly skin that swells or feels like it’s burning.
Avoid the itch: If you suspect a latex allergy, see a dermatologist, says Gowen. You may need oral steroids or a topical medication.
As for what really matters, yes, you can still have sex with non-latex condoms. Polyurethane (plastic), polyisoprene (synthetic rubber), or lambskin condoms offer similar levels of protection against STDs and pregnancy without irritation.
You’re Not Using Enough Lube
Friction, due to not enough lubrication during sex, can lead to dryness and irritation, says Gowen.
Plus, some lubes contain chemicals like spermicides, which can further dry the skin on your penis, says Nick Dahl, D.O.
Spot it: Red, flaking skin on your shaft. The head of your penis may be sore and red.
Avoid the itch: Avoid water-based lubes, which can become sticky as they’re absorbed and cause friction.
“Oil-based lubes are better than water-based ones because oil provides more moisture to your skin and is less likely to dry you out,” Gowen says.
You Have Eczema
Just because your penis isn’t exposed to the elements all day (we hope), it’s not immune to skin conditions like eczema, especially if you’re already prone to the condition.
Genital eczema can be triggered by chafing or irritation from chemicals in soaps, shower gels and deodorants.
It might be hard to tell the difference between eczema and general irritation, so you may need a dermatologist to ID the issue and determine the best course of treatment, says Gowen.
Spot it: Dryness, itching, cracked, and soreness.
Avoid the itch: If baggier boxers and fragrance-free products don’t soothe the skin on your member, see a dermatologist, says Gowen. You may need prescription steroids or other meds to clear up the problem.
You Have Genital Psoriasis
Psoriasis is another skin condition that can leave your penis dry and irritated. Unlike eczema, psoriasis is an autoimmune disease, which means your own immune system becomes overactive and attacks normal tissues. Infections or injury to the skin on your penis can cause psoriasis to appear on your genitals.
Spot it: Small red patches on the tip of your penis or shaft. Your skin may be shiny. You may notice plaque-like lesions that are red, with a silvery, white build-up of dead skin cells, says Gowen.
Avoid the itch: See a doctor or dermatologist for treatment that will target specific parts of your immune system to treat the issue, says Gowen.
You Might Have a Yeast Infection
Yeast infections on your penis are caused by a yeast called Candida that thrives in warm and moist environments. “A yeast infection is more common in men who are uncircumcised, overweight, or have type 2 diabetes, says Gowen. Being uncut or carrying excess weight can create moist conditions where yeast can thrive, while elevated glucose levels can impair your immune response and make you more prone to any infections, including those caused by yeast.
Spot it: Redness and swelling in your groin. Burning, itching, and irritation on the head of your penis.
Avoid the itch: Keep your genitals as dry as possible to minimize moisture, says Gowen. If you already suspect an infection, see a dermatologist who can confirm the problem and prescribe an antifungal cream or lotion to get rid of the infection.
You’ve Got Jock Itch
You don’t have to be an all-state wrestler to get jock itch. This fungal infection–known as tinea–is more common in athletes or people who constantly sweat, but it can affect anyone.
Spot it: A flaky and scaly shaft with a reddened area in the crease of your groin. This can spread to your upper thigh and the rash may be ring-shaped with a line of small blisters around it.
Avoid the itch: Wear loose fitting underwear and keep your junk dry and clean. Bonus points for channeling your inner Shaq and using Gold Bond post-shower.
If that doesn’t clear up the problem, your doctor can recommend an over-the-counter or prescription anti-fungal cream or ointment.
The Bottom Line
Having dry skin on your penis is uncomfortable, but not always cause for alarm. Making lifestyle changes can help eradicate the itch, but you may need medical treatment if your dry penis symptoms persist.
Sexually transmitted infections can manifest as dry skin on your penis early on, Dahl says. “Herpes can show dry skin before blisters, and syphilis can start as soreness and you may notice dry skin,” he says.
You may also mistake a flat genital wart for dry skin at first, he adds.
His advice: if dry skin on your penis doesn’t resolve with the changes suggested above, see your doctor to get tested for a possible STI.