Any time you break the skin on your body, platelets rush to the site to form a clot and limit blood loss. This clot can harden into a scab, which acts as a protective layer on the surface of the skin and allows new skin cells to form beneath it.
When a scab forms on a scraped knee, you understand it’s part of the healing process. When a scab appears on your penis, it can be a much more puzzling and possibly alarming experience.
There are several reasons why a scab might form on your penis. It could be a sign of a common skin condition, such as psoriasis. Or it could be a more serious symptom of a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
See pictures and learn about the possible causes for a scab on your penis, as well as treatment and prevention options.
A scab may form on your penis because you have a skin condition that’s causing blisters, rashes, or scabs to form anywhere on your body. No doubt, a skin problem forming on your penis can be more painful than other areas.
A skin condition affecting the penis may require different treatment from what is used for the same issue affecting a less sensitive part of the body.
Some common skin problems that may affect the penis include:
Psoriasis is a skin condition characterized by an abnormally rapid skin cell cycle. New skin cells are produced faster than necessary, resulting in the accumulation of dead skin cells on the surface. These areas can look like dry, scaly patches or scabs.
Because the skin of the penis is so sensitive, treatment of genital psoriasis can be more complicated than treating psoriasis on other parts of the body.
Some topical medicines can help slow down skin cell production and relieve the pain and itch that often accompany psoriasis. Low doses of ultraviolet B (UVB) phototherapy may also be effective.
Triggered by a virus, molluscum contagiosum appears as whitish bumps on the skin. The bumps can appear anywhere, including the penis. Picking at them can cause a scab to form, and more easily cause the infection to spread.
Skin-to-skin contact with someone who has the virus can lead to molluscum contagiosum, as can contact with towels or other surfaces containing the virus.
Scabs or dry skin on your penis can also result from allergies to a new detergent, the latex on a condom, or any of several allergens. In addition to dry skin, you may also experience watery eyes and sinus congestion.
If latex is the cause, try latex-free condoms, such as those made from silicone or polyurethane.
Not all STIs cause sores or other noticeable changes to your penis. But bumps, sores, rashes, and scabs are among the common signs of a sexually transmitted disease (STD) — a commonly used, but less accurate, term for STI.
To help identify which, if any, STI you may have developed, it’s helpful to understand what the scab looks like and what other symptoms may be present.
Here’s a rundown on some of the more common STIs that can cause penis scabs.
When symptoms of genital herpes start to appear — two days to two weeks after exposure to the virus — they’re usually in the form of small bumps or blisters on the penis.
The blisters can soon become oozing or bleeding ulcers, and then they form scabs as the ulcers heal.
These same symptoms may also develop elsewhere in the genital area and be accompanied by pain and itching.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a virus that causes genital warts. However, you can have an HPV infection and not develop genital warts.
In some cases, genital warts are barely visible. You can also have larger flesh-colored bumps on and around your penis.
Genital warts may be itchy, but they’re usually painless. Scratching them can cause scabs to form and prolong the healing process.
Your body’s own immune system may fight off the infection, so the warts could disappear without any treatment. If not, your doctor may prescribe topical cream or ointment specifically made for genital warts.
You shouldn’t use over-the-counter wart-removal products on your penis.
Last-resort treatments include cryotherapy (freezing the warts off) and surgery.
Syphilis can be a life-threatening disease if not diagnosed and treated properly. This bacterial infection can cause one or more sores to form on the penis.
This sore, called a chancre, is usually painless and may go unnoticed. A scab may soon form over the sore, and it may fade within a few weeks, even without antibiotic treatment.
However, with infection still present, a rash can then develop on the trunk and later affect the rest of the body. Accompanying symptoms include fatigue, muscle aches, and swollen lymph nodes.
Syphilis is easy to treat in its early stages. An injection of the antibiotic penicillin is often enough. However, if the infection has lingered for over a year, additional injections may be needed.
Chancroid is another bacterial infection that’s usually transmitted through sexual contact. It can cause an ulcer and then a scab to form on or near the penis. These sores may be quite painful.
The lymph nodes in the groin may also become swollen and painful on one or both sides.
Antibiotics are usually effective at treating chancroid. In severe cases, though, a scar may remain.
Lymphogranuloma venereum is caused by a type of chlamydia, a common sexually transmitted bacterial infection. The first symptom is usually one or more sores on the penis that may be painless. The sores may scab over even as you remain contagious.
Swelling and pain in nearby lymph nodes may follow.
Antibiotics, such as tetracycline, are usually enough to treat the condition and keep you from transmitting the virus to others.
The appearance of bumps, scabs, or other changes to the skin of your penis should prompt a visit to a doctor or other healthcare professional.
You may be advised to see a dermatologist, urologist, or even an infectious disease specialist if it appears that an infection has triggered your symptoms.
In some cases, a small tissue sample from a bump or scab may be sent to a lab for analysis. The results can confirm a diagnosis.
If the scabs or sores are painful, or you notice pain and swelling in the lymph nodes near your groin, seek a medical evaluation as soon as possible. You may want to visit an emergency room or an urgent care center.
If you’re prescribed antibiotic or antiviral medication therapy, you may still be contagious while taking the medication. Be sure to discuss with your healthcare provider when it’s safe for you to resume sexual activity.
To help prevent an STI, you and your sexual partner should be screened for potential infections by a healthcare professional. Be aware that a condition such as syphilis can lie dormant without any obvious symptoms for years.
Regular STI screening is a good idea for anyone who is sexually active, especially for those with a new partner or multiple partners.
Wearing a condom during vaginal and anal sex can provide effective protection against many STIs.
Dental dams can also provide protection during oral sex.
However, remember that any type of skin-to-skin contact with someone who has a contagious skin condition can put you at risk.
Good personal hygiene is also essential. In addition to showering regularly and wearing clean underclothes, you should also avoid sharing towels with others who may have a contagious skin condition.
There are plenty of reasons why a scab might form on your penis. But because many conditions produce similar symptoms, it’s important to get a proper diagnosis as soon as possible.
Some of the conditions that cause a scab on your penis can lead to very serious health conditions, and they can be contagious.
Whether it’s an STI or a more benign condition, early diagnosis and treatment gives you a better chance at healing with fewer health complications.
Early treatment helps prevent the spread of contagious infections.