You may have noticed sore, itchy, or red skin around your groin area. If the irritation hasn’t gone away after a couple of days, consider getting it checked out. You may be experiencing one of several different skin conditions, such as genital psoriasis or genital herpes.

Keep reading to learn more about these two conditions, including tips for identification, risk factors, and different treatment options.

It can be hard to distinguish between genital psoriasis and genital herpes without the help of a doctor. Here are some ways you may be able to pinpoint the cause of your symptoms.

Genital psoriasisGenital herpes
The affected area is more likely to be shiny, smooth, and flat.The affected area is more likely to have blisters and ulcers.
Psoriasis scales aren’t common in the groin area but may occur in the pubic area near the pubic hair after exposure to certain triggers, such as stress.Symptoms appear 2–12 days after exposure to a person who has the infection.
Shiny, smooth, and flat patches can appear behind the knees or under the breasts.You may experience flu-like symptoms.

Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease that can have a genetic link. It can come in many forms and ranges from mild to severe. There are also different types of psoriasis.

The most common type of the disease, plaque psoriasis, causes skin cell production to speed up dramatically. These cells collect on your skin’s surface and create areas of thickening and irritation.

Five key symptoms of plaque psoriasis can include:

Commonly affected areas typically include:

  • elbows
  • knees
  • scalp
  • lower back

Psoriasis tends to be pink or red on those with light or fair skin tones with silvery-white scale. On medium skin tones, it can appear salmon-colored with a silvery-white scale. On darker skin tones, psoriasis may look brown or violet and have a grayish scale.

You may also experience another type of psoriasis, called inverse psoriasis, on your genitals. Inverse psoriasis forms in the folds of your skin. It may appear as smooth, red, and shiny lesions. Inverse psoriasis lacks the scales associated with plaque psoriasis.

Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that may or may not cause symptoms. Sexually active people may pass this disease on to others without even knowing it. Proper diagnosis is key.

When herpes does cause symptoms, they can include pain, itching, and soreness around your genitals. These symptoms may begin as early as 2 to 12 days after exposure.

Three other symptoms to watch for include:

  • red bumps or white blisters
  • ulcers that ooze or bleed
  • scab formation as ulcers and blisters heal

During the first stage of the virus, you may have swollen lymph nodes, fever, headache, and other flu-like symptoms. While herpes is common in the genitals, it can occur in other areas, including the mouth.

There’s some variation in where people typically see the signs:

  • People with a vagina can experience irritation in their vagina, on their external genitalia, or on their cervix.
  • People with a penis tend to develop sores on their thighs, penis, scrotum, or urethra.
  • Individuals may find herpes on their buttocks, anus, or mouth.

Herpes can make you more susceptible to other STDs if it’s left untreated.

You may also develop a bladder infection, meningitis, or rectal inflammation. People with a vagina with herpes can pass the condition on to their newborn baby.

The following images can help you tell the difference between psoriasis and herpes.

Because psoriasis is an autoimmune disease, you can’t catch it from someone else.

According to a study from 2014, 3.2 percent of U.S. adults over 20 have psoriasis. You’re at higher risk of psoriasis if you have a family history of the disorder.

Other risk factors for psoriasis can include:

Genital herpes is usually caused by the virus HSV-2, but may also be caused by HSV-1. In the United States, about 1 in 8 people between the ages of 14 and 49 have genital herpes caused by HSV-2. However, this prevalence may actually be higher due to rising numbers of genital herpes from HSV-1.

You’re at risk of herpes if you have vaginal, anal, or oral sex with a person who has the infection.

People with a vagina are more likely than people with a penis to contract herpes. Your risk of herpes also increases as the number of sex partners you have increases.

Psoriasis is a lifelong condition. People with psoriasis may find relief from symptoms by using different prescribed oral and topical treatments. Due to the sensitive area of the genitals, you should see a doctor before using any of the following treatments:

Another option is phototherapy. This option involves using ultraviolet (UV) light in small doses to improve affected patches. This is a common treatment for plaque psoriasis but will be administered carefully with sensitive areas such as the genitals.

Your doctor will take your symptoms and medical history into consideration before prescribing medications.

If you’ve identified different triggers that bring about psoriasis, try to avoid them as much as possible. Triggers can be anything from alcohol to stress to certain medications.

There’s limited research on how psoriasis may differ on skin of color, but similar therapies are widely used across all skin tones to treat the condition.

Here’s the prevalence of psoriasis by race and ethnicity:

  • White people: 3.6 percent
  • Black/African American people: 1.9 percent
  • Hispanic people: 1.6 percent

But these numbers may not tell the entire story, as People of Color may be disproportionately under-treated and misdiagnosed. Psoriasis isn’t always recognized on darker skin tones.

Try keeping a diary to track your personal triggers. Discover more tips for treating psoriasis here.

There’s no cure for herpes. However, your symptoms may become less severe and heal more quickly over time.

There’s a variety of medications you can try that might shorten your outbreaks and make them less severe. Talk with your doctor about your options.

Part of your treatment involves practicing safe sex to help prevent passing herpes to others. Here are three steps to having safer sex:

  1. Tell your sexual partner(s) that you have the condition.
  2. Use condoms and other barrier methods to lower the risk of transmission.
  3. When you have flare-ups, wash your hands often and avoid touching sores. This can help prevent the virus from spreading to other parts of your body.

However, even when using barrier methods, a person may still transmit the infection. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advise avoiding sex with anyone who has a diagnosed infection or maintaining a monogamous relationship with a partner who has tested negative.

Even if you have no symptoms, you can still pass herpes on to others.

It’s a good idea to see your doctor whenever you have a skin issue that won’t go away. Proper identification is your first step toward getting better. Your primary care doctor may refer you to a dermatologist for further expertise.

Having a skin issue on your genitals or elsewhere on your body may make you feel self-conscious, but keep in mind that doctors see conditions like these often. They can help you correctly identify what’s affecting you and prescribe treatment to help you manage your symptoms.

If you’re sexually active and haven’t been screened for STDs recently, make an appointment with your doctor. Also, be sure to share any information about your herpes or other STD diagnoses with any potential sexual partners.

Here are some additional answers to common questions about psoriasis and genital herpes:

Can herpes lead to psoriasis?

Psoriasis, even when it appears on the genitals, is a different condition than genital herpes. However, researchers have found limited evidence that HSV combined with a bacterial streptococcal infection may trigger psoriasis.

Can similar symptoms be caused by something other than genital herpes or psoriasis?

If herpes causes genital sores, these may look like other conditions such as genital warts, pimples, or ingrown hairs. A doctor can make the correct diagnosis and prescribe the appropriate treatment.

Is psoriasis contagious?

Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition, which is not contagious. In contrast, the herpes virus spreads through close contact, commonly through sexual intercourse.