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The Super Common Foreskin Problem You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

To avoid it, you need to find the perfect balance between too much soap and too little

Whoever named balanitis really screwed up. It doesn’t even have anything to do with balls! It does, however, have to do with the penis. Specifically, balanitis refers to swelling or inflammation of the foreskin or the head of the penis. 

Ever heard of it? Me neither. That said, it actually impacts around 1 in 20 men, so it should probably enter more of our vocabularies. 

While it sounds like a highly specific condition, balanitis is actually a broad term for most types of inflammation caused by infections or other skin problems in the penile area. This inflammation can often be itchy, red and painful, and is usually paired with discharge. There are three varieties of balanitis, though the majority of cases qualify as Zoon’s balanitis. Because the foreskin is such a prime region for it, uncircumcised people are more likely to experience it. Often, it occurs from an overgrowth of bacteria, yeast or moisture trapped around the head of the penis. As such, not cleansing oneself enough is a common cause — yet according to Healthline, washing too much can cause it, as well.

This is largely because it turns out that soap, while obviously a pretty nice invention, isn’t that great for the skin. Too much of it can strip the skin of protective moisture, and soap itself can also get trapped within the foreskin causing irritation. Even worse are scented soaps and lotions, which can often cause rashes in the more sensitive regions of the body. Your best bet to avoid any problems while still keeping clean is to shower with a mild, unscented body wash (not bar soap, which can be extra drying) around and inside the foreskin region while taking care to rinse entirely. Don’t let any soap get stuck there, and dry it thoroughly afterwards. 

Other types of balanitis, Pseudoepitheliomatous keratotic and micaceous balanitis and Circinate balanitis, are usually symptoms of other conditions. Circinate balanitis is caused by reactive arthritis, a type of arthritis that itself is caused by an underlying infection. Pseudoepitheliomatous keratotic and micaceous balanitis, meanwhile, only impacts uncircumcised men over 60. It can occur on its own for essentially no reason, but it can also be a symptom of Verrucous carcinoma, a particular type of cancer growth. Regardless, it tends to manifest as thick, scaly warts covering the head of the penis. 

There isn’t much that can be done to entirely avoid these varieties of balanitis, or even Zoon’s balanitis to an extent. Sometimes, infections just happen. That said, at least with Zoon’s, you can try your best to maintain proper hygiene without overdoing it. 

Better yet, most cases of Zoon’s are pretty simple to treat. You may want a doctor to take a look at it, as they can typically help diagnose whether an infection is causing it. If so, you’ll likely need an antibiotic or antifungal medication. Some over-the-counter antifungal and anti-itch creams can also help remedy it. But as with most situations pertaining to your genitals doing something different, consulting with a doctor is a solid first move. At least now you might know the proper word to describe it!