A number of conditions can cause the skin of the penis to become dry and irritated. This can lead to flaking, cracking, and peeling of the skin. These symptoms may be visible on one or more areas of the penis, such as the glans (head), shaft, foreskin, frenulum, or scrotum.
Read on to learn about the possible causes and what you can do to treat this symptom.
There are a number of potential causes for penis skin peeling. They include:
This autoimmune, inflammatory condition occurs in the genital area. It’s not contagious and can first occur at any age, even in babies. Genital psoriasis can cause small, shiny, red patches on the glans or shaft of the penis. These patches may also appear in the pubic area or anus, and within the skin folds between the groin and thighs.
Unlike psoriasis patches on other parts of the body, genital psoriasis tends not to be scaly. It can, however, give the appearance of peeling, raw skin.
Eczema (atopic dermatitis)
Eczema is a noncontagious skin condition. It causes intense itching, a dry, scaly rash, and inflammation. It may also cause fluid-filled blisters to form. These blisters may ooze and scab, causing the appearance of peeling skin.
Eczema can appear anywhere on the penis. It may be made worse by irritants or allergens found in products such as harsh soaps, detergents, lotions, or fabrics.
Dry, unlubricated sexual acts, including masturbation or intercourse, can cause enough friction to irritate the skin of the penis. Wearing overly tight pants or pants without underwear can also cause irritation from friction.
Friction can cause the skin to become flaky and irritated. Bleeding may also occur.
Thrush (yeast infection)
Thrush is not a sexually transmitted infection (STI), but is sometimes transmitted during sex. It can cause an itchy, flaking, red rash on the glans. It can also cause these symptoms to occur under the foreskin in uncircumcised men.
Thrush may also appear in babies if their diaper isn’t changed often enough. That’s because yeast can grow in the warm, moist environment of a wet diaper. Regularly wearing damp pants or spending a lot of time in a wet swimsuit can also lead to thrush.
Other symptoms of thrush include irritation or burning, and a discharge that has a cottage-cheese consistency. It may also cause a foul odor.
Balanitis can cause itching, irritation, and pain in the groin and genitals. The skin can become irritated enough to flake and peel. It’s not contagious.
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
STIs can cause a variety of symptoms which might cause or mimic penis skin peeling. These include blisters, ulcers, and rashes. It’s important to see a doctor if you’ve had unprotected sex and are experiencing peeling skin on the penis. STIs can cause serious complications to your health and are contagious to your sexual partners.
Herpes is an STI that can cause itching and tingling, followed by the appearance of fluid-filled blisters and skin ulcers. These can be painful and may appear anywhere on the penis and scrotum.
When the blisters burst and ooze, they can give the appearance of skin peeling. Flu-like symptoms may also occur.
In the early stages of syphilis, which is an STI, a tiny sore called a chancre may appear at the spot where infection entered the body. If it entered through the skin of the penis, the chancre will appear on the penis.
Chancres are painless, but they can cause the appearance of peeling skin. Later on, when untreated syphilis enters its secondary stage, a rash may occur everywhere on the body. The shaft of the penis may also exhibit wart-like growths. Other symptoms mimic the common cold, such as fever and sore throat.
When to seek help
See a doctor if peeling penis skin doesn’t respond to at-home treatment, or if it lasts longer than a few days.
Always check with your doctor if you think you may have contracted an STI, even if your symptoms improve.
Balanitis may be the result of an STI and should also be looked at by a doctor.
See your doctor if peeling penis skin is accompanied by other symptoms, such as:
- burning during urination
- discharge from the glans
- any other worrisome symptom
How will a doctor reach a diagnosis?
Many conditions that cause penis skin peeling can be diagnosed visually. Your doctor will do a complete physical and request information from you about your symptoms and health history.
You may be given a patch test to determine if you have skin allergies.
If your doctor suspects you have an STI, you will submit both a urine test and a blood test.
If your doctor suspects a yeast infection, your discharge may be cultured and analyzed under a microscope to help your doctor reach a diagnosis.
You can try at-home treatments as a first line of defense. These may be all you need for issues such as friction, psoriasis, and eczema:
- mild corticosteroid creams or highly emollient creams may eliminate or reduce peeling skin
- replace harsh soaps or cleaning detergents with mild, hypoallergenic products
- if you suspect a latex allergy may be causing dermatitis, switch to polyurethane condoms
- try applying an oil, such as organic coconut oil, to the area to act as a skin emollient
- use lubrication or lubricated condoms during sex or masturbation
- keep your penis clean, especially under the foreskin
- use over-the-counter antifungal medications to help eliminate thrush
If at-home treatments are not enough to do the trick, your doctor may prescribe medications, such as steroids.
If you have an STI, your doctor will prescribe the appropriate treatment for you. Treatment may vary based on the length of time you’ve been infected and your symptoms.
Peeling skin on the penis can be caused by a wide range of conditions. Most of these are not medically serious and can be successfully treated at home. This condition can also be a symptom associated with conditions requiring medical treatment, such as an STI. Tell your doctor if your symptoms do not resolve within a few days or if your symptoms appeared shortly after having unprotected sex.