What Causes a Rash on Your Penis?

Medically Reviewed By Debra Sullivan, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., CNE, COI

There are many reasons you may have a rash on your penis. The rash may appear as red or discolored, itchy patches on the tip of your penis or down the shaft. How long a rash on your penis lasts and how serious it is depends on the underlying cause. This article lists and explains some common causes of a rash on the penis. It also goes over treatment options, when to contact a doctor, and how to prevent penile rash.

An eggplant against a pink background
J Studios/Getty Images

Balanitis

Balanitis causes the head of your penis to become itchy, sore, and swollen. It is a skin irritation that is more common in those who have not been circumcised.

Symptoms of balanitis include:

  • itchiness and soreness
  • unpleasant smell coming from the penis
  • redness or discoloration
  • swelling
  • small, itchy spots or plaques
  • thick, white, cheese-like discharge coming from under the foreskin
  • discomfort or pain when urinating
  • difficulty pulling back your foreskin

Treatment for balanitis includes proper hygiene habits. Washing your penis thoroughly every day, including under the foreskin, can help treat balanitis. If there is an underlying cause, like infection, of the balanitis, your doctor may recommend:

  • a mild steroid cream or ointment
  • antibiotics
  • antifungal cream or ointment

Read more about balanitis.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)

Certain sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can cause a rash on your penis. STIs are contracted by having sex without a condom or other barrier methods with someone who already has the infection.

Read more about sexually transmitted infections.

Scabies

Scabies is a skin condition due to mites or tiny insect-like parasites that infect the top layer of your skin. They are spread by skin-to-skin contact, often during sex.

Symptoms of scabies can be mistaken for other conditions, like allergic reactions. These symptoms include:

  • a rash that has:
    • pimple-like bumps
    • scales
    • small blisters
  • intense itching that worsens at night
  • small, raised lines on your skin that are caused by the mites burrowing under the skin

Treatment for scabies involves prescription medication called “scabicide.”

Read more about scabies.

Genital herpes

Genital herpes is a common Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Governmental authority Go to source STI. You can contract genital herpes in various ways. These include:

  • coming into contact with a herpes sore
  • having contact with the saliva of someone with oral herpes
  • having contact with the oral area of someone with oral herpes
  • coming into contact with the genital area of someone with genital herpes

Many people with genital herpes do not experience any symptoms. Those who do experience symptoms only have mild ones. Symptoms of genital herpes include:

  • one or more blisters around your genitals, rectum, or mouth
  • painful sores that take a week or more to heal
  • flu-like symptoms, such as:
  • smelly discharge from your genitals

There is not a cure for herpes. However, your doctor can recommend medications to help prevent or shorten outbreaks of the condition.

Read more about herpes.

Syphilis

Syphilis is a curable STI. However, it can cause Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Governmental authority Go to source serious health issues if it is left untreated. Like other STIs, syphilis can be spread through vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

Syphilis occurs in stages. Each stage has different symptoms.

Primary stage symptoms include a single or multiple sores. These sores can be found in the area of your body where syphilis entered your body. These sores typically occur in or around the following areas:

  • penis
  • vagina
  • anus
  • rectum
  • lips or mouth

In the secondary stage, you may experience a rash or sores in your mouth, genitals, or anus. This rash is typically not itchy. Other symptoms of the secondary stage include:

The latent stage is when you experience no visible signs or symptoms. This can be followed by the tertiary stage. Not everyone with untreated syphilis will experience this stage. However, for those who do, it can affect different organ systems, including:

  • heart
  • blood vessels
  • brain
  • nerves

This stage can occur 10-30 years after the initial infection. It can damage your internal organs and can be fatal.

Treatment for syphilis includes antibiotics.

Read more about syphilis.

Jock itch

Jock itch is a skin infection caused by a fungus commonly found in locker rooms and gyms. It causes a rash that typically appears around the groin. However, it can also appear in the following areas:

  • penis
  • scrotum
  • anus
  • upper thigh

The rash caused by jock itch is typically itchy. It also generally has the following characteristics:

  • redness or discoloration
  • scaly around the edges
  • raised
  • a reddish-brown center
  • oozing

Treatment includes antifungal cream, ointment, or powder.

Read more about jock itch.

Contact dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is a reaction that occurs when your skin touches something that you are sensitive or allergic to. Common irritants include:

  • cleaners
  • perfumes
  • poison oak or ivy
  • fragrant soaps
  • hand sanitizer
  • rubber

Symptoms of contact dermatitis include:

  • irritation
  • red or discolored skin
  • itching
  • swelling
  • bumps or blisters
  • hot or tender skin

Treatment includes creams or oral medication to treat the irritation. This is combined with determining what caused the reaction so you can avoid the irritant in the future.

Read more about contact dermatitis.

Genital psoriasis

Approximately two-thirds of people with psoriasis will also experience it in their genital area. Genital psoriasis can affect the following areas:

  • penis, scrotum, or vulva
  • crease between the thigh and genital area
  • crease between the buttocks
  • inner and upper thigh
  • skin above the genitals or the pubis

Genital psoriasis requires special treatment. It is common and manageable. Treatments include:

  • topicals
  • biologicals
  • oral treatments

Read more about genital psoriasis.

When to see a doctor

If you notice any rashes or changes to your penis, consider contacting your doctor. Many of the causes of a rash on your penis require prescription treatment.

Even if the cause of the penile rash can be treated with over-the-counter medication, your doctor is the only one that can give you a definitive diagnosis.

How to prevent a rash on your penis

A rash on your penis cannot always be prevented. However, there are ways you can reduce your risk of developing a penile rash. These include:

  • Wash your penis daily.
  • Wear clean underwear.
  • Wear loose clothing.
  • Avoid irritants.
  • Keep the area clean and dry.
  • Use a condom or other barrier method properly each time you have sex, especially if you have multiple partners.

Summary

There are many different reasons that you may experience a rash on your penis. These include balanitis, STIs, and contact dermatitis.

Most of the causes of a penile rash are treatable. Contact your doctor if you notice any kind of rash or changes to your penis.

Was this helpful?
350
Medical Reviewer: Debra Sullivan, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., CNE, COI
Last Review Date: 2022 Dec 6
View All Men's Health Articles
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.