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Psoriasis is an inflammatory autoimmune condition that can affect the skin anywhere on your body. Genital psoriasis develops around your genital area. It can flare up on the vulva or the penis. It can also appear on your upper thighs, the folds of skin between your thigh and groin, or between your buttocks. It rarely affects the inside of the vagina.
Anyone can get psoriasis, but researchers don’t know the precise cause. It’s not clear why some people with psoriasis get it around their genitals.
If you have psoriasis, you might go a long time without a problem and then have a flare-up. Flare-ups may be triggered by factors such as stress or illness, but it can be hard to determine those factors and avoid them.
Psoriasis tends to run in families, but it isn’t contagious. The condition can be managed effectively, but there’s currently no cure.
In general, psoriasis looks like patches of red skin with thick, shiny scales. When it develops in the genital area, the patches may be a brighter red, but you usually won’t see the classic scales of psoriasis.
When it occurs within the folds of your skin, also known as inverse psoriasis, the color may be more of a reddish-white or reddish-grey. Your skin can become cracked and sore and may bleed. When it occurs in the skin folds, psoriasis can also look a lot like a yeast infection. Learn more about what inverse psoriasis looks like.
The genitals are a sensitive area, so your skin is likely to be tender. Genital psoriasis can cause itching, burning, and discomfort. It can even become painful.
Many items can aggravate symptoms, including:
- tight clothes
- rough toilet paper
- sanitary products
- anything that rubs against your skin or causes friction, including sexual activity
It can be hard to tell the difference between genital psoriasis and contact dermatitis or some types of infection. Even if you have psoriasis, it’s not a given that a genital rash is due to psoriasis. Learn more about the various causes of genital rash.
If your skin cracks, you’re more susceptible to bacterial or fungal infections. It’s possible to have both genital psoriasis and an infection at the same time, which may require a combination of treatments.
The skin around your genitals is delicate. If you develop a rash on or around your genitals, see a doctor for a diagnosis before you try to treat it.
Treating the condition sooner than later will give you a better chance of finding relief.
The causes of genital psoriasis are the same as the causes of psoriasis elsewhere on the body. Although it isn’t clear what causes psoriasis, it is generally believed that your immune system and genetics can play a role. Other factors include:
- heavy alcohol consumption
- some medications
The short answer is yes if it feels good. It all depends on the severity of your flare-up and personal preference. Genital psoriasis doesn’t spread by sexual contact, nor does it affect fertility.
If you’re having a genital psoriasis flare-up, friction from sexual contact can be painful and might worsen your symptoms. Ask your doctor if condoms or lubricants are advisable and which kinds are best. After having sex, gently clean and pat dry the area completely.
If you notice a rash forming in your genital areas, these tips may help keep your rash from getting worse:
- avoid personal hygiene products with fragrances or other harsh ingredients
- keep the area clean
- after bathing or showering, use a soft towel and gently pat yourself dry
- avoid rubbing
- use soft, absorbent toilet paper
- minimize friction by wearing cotton underwear or boxers, and avoid tight thongs
- choose loose-fitting, breathable clothing
Modifying your diet may also help prevent flare-ups of genital psoriasis:
- reduce alcohol consumption
- eat lean proteins like salmon, shrimp, walnuts, and soybeans
- avoid trigger foods like dairy, red meat, and foods high in saturated fat
- lose weight if you are overweight
If your doctor confirms that you have genital psoriasis, there are a variety of treatments.
Prescription-strength topical ointments and creams can ease itching and discomfort. In some cases, your doctor may recommend topical steroid creams.
Some over-the-counter medications or moisturizers may be helpful. Ask your doctor for a recommendation before using them.
Treating general psoriasis with a systemic oral or injectable treatment may alleviate symptoms of genital psoriasis. Finding the right treatment may require a period of trial and error but with your doctor’s help you may be able to find the best management solution.
Most of the time, your doctor can make a diagnosis just by looking at your skin. Sometimes, further testing may be needed to rule out bacterial or fungal infections. Your doctor may recommend taking a biopsy if they are unsure of your diagnosis from a physical exam alone.
While there is currently no cure for psoriasis, it can be managed with treatments and lifestyle changes. Talk to your doctor if you think you may have genital psoriasis. They will be able to help guide you through the diagnosis and treatment process.