Crotch itchiness sounds funny until you’re the one dealing with it. And you probably have dealt with it more often than you’d like. Virtually everyone has been there at some point or another, and likely at an inopportune time to deal with it, and/or fight the urge to scratch (which only ever makes it worse).
Unsurprisingly, your groin area is more sensitive than most parts of your body, especially your balls, so it’s key to figure out what’s behind the itching in the first place before attempting to self-treat and soothe the area yourself. We get it; it can be embarrassing to bring up with your doctor, but trust us: You’ll be glad you did once you achieve healing and sweet, sweet relief.
There are several potential causes for crotch itchiness, says dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital. Some of these can be relatively easy fixes, like switching to a less harsh laundry detergent or stepping up your shower routine, while others can be more serious infections, like psoriasis or a sexually transmitted infection that requires diagnosis and treatment by a dermatologist or other medical professional.
Either way, you don’t want to skimp, or worse, aggravate an already-uncomfortable situation. So don’t attempt to self-diagnose if you’re unsure about what you’re dealing with. Check out this cheat sheet on 11 potential causes and conditions that could be behind your itchy crotch—and what you can do to stop the scratching and promote healing, stat.
While it’s not necessary to shower every day, it is important to clean areas like the groin on a daily basis, says Dr. Zeichner.
“Sweat and moisture can create an environment that allows for overgrowth of microorganisms on the skin,” he explains. “The [term] microbiome refers to the skin‘s natural balance of organisms that live symbiotically on our body, [and] when the microbiome is disrupted, it can lead to overgrowth of harmful organisms. This translates to a variety of skin issues ranging from infections to foul odor.”
How to treat it: To keep the groin clear, Dr. Zeichner recommends using a body wash such as CLn SportWash, which contains an ingredient like sodium hypochlorite, a cousin to bleach that helps normalize microorganisms on the skin, or Dove Beauty Bars for sensitive skin, which contain the same types of hydrating ingredients found in traditional moisturizers.
“Stick to gentle cleansers that won’t disrupt the skin barrier,” he says.
If the skin becomes itchy, Dr. Zeichner recommends light lotion moisturizers that fully rub in so they don’t leave the skin feeling sticky, such as Vaseline Intensive Care Advanced Repair Lotion.
How you know you have it: You’ll likely develop a rash along with the itching, though its appearance varies depending on the type of fungus causing it. For instance, if a yeast infection is responsible, you may notice shiny, moist areas of skin on your penis, and possibly some white stuff in the skin folds, along with the red, itchy rash, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Yeast is normally present in small amounts on your skin, but an overgrowth of it can cause an infection. This tends to occur in moist places that don’t get much light, says Jason Reichenberg, M.D., director of dermatology at the University of Texas at Austin. So it usually shows up on the sides of your groin, between your genitals and thighs.
Other fungal infections look a little different: They appear dry and flaky, and usually crop up on your thighs, Dr. Reichenberg says.
One to look out for is tinea cruris, also known as jock itch. Tinea cruris affects the genitals, as well as the inner thighs and butt. Similarly, it is caused by increased moisture. To help prevent this and other types of fungal infections, avoid staying in wet clothes too long, such as after exercising. On top of that, try to avoid wearing any tightly fitting clothing if you’re planning on getting sweaty. Fungus thrives in the moist, warm environment created by tight, wet clothing.
How to treat it: For jock itch, you could reach for an OTC topical antifungal cream like Lotrimin AF. But if you really want to get rid of the itch in that awkward-to-relieve spot, try a prescription antifungal wash first, recommends Ife J. Rodney, MD, founding director of Eternal Dermatology + Aesthetics in Fulton, MD. You lather and wash with it, leave it on the skin for 10 minutes and rinse off (and then dry the area thoroughly). It doesn’t add moisture to the equation after your shower like creams can, and it gets in hard-to-reach areas. If it doesn’t go away, check in with your doctor, who can see if there’s another cause of the infection or can prescribe something else that might work better.
How you know you have it: Chafing occurs when your skin rubs together—commonly your thighs. It usually develops when you’re doing an activity that involves a lot of friction, like running.
The rubbing can disturb your skin barrier, causing tiny cracks and inflammation on your outer layers of skin. This causes a red, irritated rash that burns and itches. Your skin can also grow scaly, too, Dr. Zeichner says.
How to treat it: If you have an active lifestyle, “the best way to prevent chafing is to use a barrier ointment, like Aquaphor, on your skin just before the activity. It helps protect and reinforce the skin barrier so that there is no skin breakdown,” says Dr. Rodney.
How you know you have it: If you have this skin condition, you’ll develop a raw, red rash that itches and stings, usually in areas that contain lots of moisture from sweating, Dr. Zeichner says. It can be made worse by encouraging an overgrowth of bacteria and fungus; both like moist environments. This will appear in places like your groin, between the folds of your stomach, under your arms, or between your toes, according to the Mayo Clinic.
How to treat it: Antibacterial creams like Neosporin can take care of the bacteria, and antifungal creams, like Lotrimin, can take care of the fungus.
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If the rash persists for one to two weeks, head to your dermatologist. They will likely prescribe stronger versions of these medications to smooth over the irritation, Dr. Zeichner says.
How you know you have it: Contact dermatitis occurs when your skin comes in contact with something it’s allergic to. “This could be to a food, fabric, metal, fragrance, or other substance,” says Dr. Rodney.
You’ll likely develop a super itchy, red rash that looks bumpy. It might even ooze a clear or yellowish fluid, which shows that the top layer of your skin has been disrupted, says Dr. Reichenberg.
Contact dermatitis is likely the cause if you notice that itchy rash and you’ve recently changed something in your routine—say, you tried a new laundry detergent or fabric softener, or even bought a new couch made of a different material—right before you noticed it, says Dr. Reichenberg. You’ll usually start to notice a reaction hours or even a few days later.
You’ll also probably experience itching on other body parts that were exposed to the allergen, too, he says. Your itchy balls will likely bother you more, though, since their thin skin is more sensitive to allergens.
How to treat it: To stop the itching, apply a hydrocortisone ointment to the area twice a day, recommends Dr. Rodney. “This can calm the inflammation and ease the itching and discomfort,” she says. “Applying a thin layer of Vaseline can help to create a barrier to protect the inflamed skin from the elements.”
Then, when you’ve stopped scratching, think about what changes you’ve made in your routine recently. Once you’ve identified the possible trigger, stop using the chemical or material you think may be responsible. If it’s clothing washed in a new detergent, rewash it a few times with your previous brand, says Dr. Reichenberg.
If contact dermatitis was responsible, the reaction should disappear in about two weeks.
How you know you have it: If you start to notice intense itching, irritation, and tiny specks in your pubic hair, you might have contracted a type of parasite called pubic lice, also known as crabs.
You may see tiny white or yellowish specks near the roots of your pubic hair. Those are the lice eggs, says Dennis Fortenberry, M.D., a professor of adolescent medicine at Indiana University. You might also spot the lice themselves crawling—they’re tan or grayish-white, and if you’re brave enough to look at one through a magnifying glass, it’d resemble a mini crab, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
How to treat it: Head to your doctor—they will confirm that your problem actually is lice, and send you home with a shampoo or lotion containing either permethrin or pyrethrins with piperonyl butoxide, which will kill the lice Dr. Fortenberry says.
While pubic lice is most commonly associated with being a sexually transmitted disease, according to the Mayo Clinic, you can also contract crabs from contaminated blankets or towels. So even if you haven’t had sex recently, don’t rule out the possibility and still seek out proper treatment.
How you know you have it: For some guys, itching can be the first symptom of this sexually transmitted infection (STI), which is caused by the herpes virus, Dr. Fortenberry says. That itch will usually turn to burning, and within about a day, a blister or cluster of blisters can form. Then, the blisters can break, leading to painful sores.
If you’ve experienced those symptoms in the past and they keep cropping back up, that might point to herpes, since the infection usually causes recurrent outbreaks.
How to treat it: This is another case where you’ll head to your doctor. They will diagnose you, either by simply looking at the appearance of your blisters or by performing a blood test or culture of the lesion, reports the CDC.
There’s no cure for herpes, but your doctor can provide some treatment. Antiviral meds, like Valtrex, Zovirax, or Famvir, can shorten the outbreak or prevent one from occurring. They also may reduce the chances of passing on the virus to your partner.
If you do have herpes, condoms can also help prevent it from spreading to your partner. However, especially during an outbreak, Planned Parenthood points out that a condom may not entirely cover your sores, and your partner can still be at risk of contracting it.
Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition where your immune cells get angry at the skin, leading to inflammation, explains Dr. Zeichner.
How you know you have it: You can develop this skin condition anywhere on your body–including the genital region, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Common signs of psoriasis include dry, thick, and raised skin that appear in patches. Usually, there’s a white, scale coating, but psoriasis may look different on the genitals and have less scales than in other areas. Usually, people who have genital psoriasis also have the condition on other areas of their bodies.
“While [this condition] typically affects areas like the elbows and knees, in some cases, it can lead to a rash in the groin,” he says. “This is known as inverse psoriasis and can be itchy and uncomfortable.”
How to treat it: Make sure you’ve received an accurate diagnosis from a dermatologist before attempting to treat psoriasis, especially in less common areas like the groin. Your doctor can recommend trying certain over-the-counter moisturizers and medicated creams or lotions, or possibly prescribe something stronger if needed.
If you need a prescription to treat psoriasis on other regions of your skin, you’ll want to check with the doctor before applying to genitals. Some treatments, like Tazarotene, may irritate the area and make symptoms worse. Wearing loose-fitting underwear and using a mild fragrance-free cleanser can also help the condition.
How you know you have it: Genital warts are a common symptom of the STI human papillomavirus (HPV). Not only is HPV the the most common STI, but the CDC reports that symptoms can take years to develop, making it harder to determine when you became infected. Genital warts are typically soft to the touch and skin-colored, and some may even resemble a cauliflower. You might notice just one, or they could crop up in a cluster, Dr. Fortenberry says. But other than some itching, the warts don’t feel like anything.
How to treat it: If you think you have genital warts, check in with your doctor, Dr. Fortenberry says. They will likely prescribe a medication that contains Imiquimod, Podofilox, or Sinecatechins, which will stimulate your body’s immune system to clear up the warts.
Or, they may apply liquid nitrogen to the growth, which will freeze it off.
However, even though you can get rid of the wart, you can’t eliminate the virus from your system—meaning more warts could crop up down the road, and you can still spread it to others if you don’t have a visible wart.
How you know you have it: According to the AAD, this condition is usually marked by a rash of small, itchy bumps on the skin, which can include the genital area. If you have lichen planus on the penis or anus, it can result it red, raw batches that can itch and burn.
How to treat it: Visit a dermatologist for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan to relieve the itchiness and other symptoms.
How you know you have it: This is another dermatological condition can cause itching in the crotch area. Lichen sclerosus typically presents with white, thickened patches on areas such as the anus and penis. These patches can be sore and itchy.
How to treat it: This condition is not curable, but visiting a dermatologist to get an accurate diagnosis can also help you treat the itchiness and discomfort and keep it from worsening.
Sarah Fielding is a freelance writer based in New York who covers a range of topics for outlets including Men’s Health, Bustle, and Insider, with a special love for mental health and sex and relationships topics. She’s also spent time living in Italy and Australia, writing as she traveled.
Emilia Benton is a Houston-based freelance writer and editor. In addition to Runner’s World, she has contributed health, fitness and wellness content to Women’s Health, SELF, Prevention, Healthline, and the Houston Chronicle, among other publications. She is also an 11-time marathoner, a USATF Level 1-certified running coach, and an avid traveler.
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