Genital and anal itching is a common, but often not talked about skin problem. I've treated it for over 30+ years in my dermatology practice. I was asked about it by a reader and I wanted to share my answer.
Hi Dr. Bailey,
I have an ongoing problem. My scrotum and groin on both sides are very itchy. It's worse at night. I have already seen a dermatologist. She recommended Zeasorb. I do not want to use this powder because it contains a carcinogen: acrylamide. Any suggestions for a substitute powder or gel? ~ Steve
Itching of the genital and anal skin is really common, but people don't often talk about it. Thanks for sending in this question. It brings up an interesting topic that was presented at the Itch Forum at the American Academy of Dermatology's annual meeting last month and that I want to discuss. This discussion covers general information, and I'm not saying that it pertains to your situation, but it's interesting and would be worth bringing into your dermatologist and letting them decide if it might be relevant to your problem.
Genital and Anal Itching
What causes itching in the private parts and pubic area?
The condition is scrotal and genital pruritus (pruritus means itch). When there is no rash on the skin, it's now well accepted that this problem is usually due to spinal nerve root impingement in the lumbar or sacral part of the spine. The lumbosacral nerve impingement causes the itch because nerves from this part of the spine supply the skin of the genital area. They go to the anal area too, so impingement of these nerves may instead manifest as itch around the anus. Nerves from the same spinal area also supply the feet, so the itch could instead be there.
When skin itches due to a nerve that isn't actually in the skin, the itch is called neuropathic pruritus.
This term means that the sensation of itch is actually due to the nerve, not the skin.
The common skin sites at risk for neuropathic skin itch are:
I've covered the back and arm itch in prior posts, and your question inspires me to complete the information for these final sites.
The standard treatment for neuropathic itch in the genitalia is an oral medicine that works on the nerve signals. This medicine does have side effects, so any person interested in this medicine needs to be under the care of their treating physician. Because the nerve root impingement is potentially chronic, the treatment could go on indefinitely.
With my patients I tend to want to exhaust all non-oral treatments first. Another speaker at the same lecture series was a dermatologist expert in natural/alternative therapies. He advocated using acupuncture and biofeedback for chronic itch syndromes. Over the years my patients have had good responses to both therapies for both neuropathic pain (e.g. shingles) and neuropathic itch. My patients have also had some relief with deep tissue massage of the low back and hip and buttocks muscles.
How do I treat the skin that suffers from genital and anal pruritus in my dermatology practice?
I treat a lot of patients who suffer with genital and anal pruritus and my main approach is two-fold:
- I always have them bathe the affected skin twice a day and use hypoallergenic skin care.
- I also have them use hypoallergenic washing care for their undergarments.
This alone often gives them complete relief from the itch. It doesn't change the nerve root impingement, but it works anyway, and it's sure harmless.
Specifically, I have them take twice daily showers or baths with warm, not hot, water and use a gentle, non-allergenic soap, such as my Naturally Best Bar Soap, All Natural Shower Gel, or Vanicream Cleansing Bar. They use one of these hypoallergenic and unscented products to clean their skin and then rinse all soap residue off entirely. Rinsing entirely is very important.
To soothe skin, I have them apply a hypoallergenic and totally unscented moisturizer right after toweling skin dry. My top choice is my Natural Body Lotion.
Use Unscented Laundry Detergent to Wash Undergarments for Genital and Anal Itching
Hypoallergenic care of undergarments is really important because itching in around the genitals and anus can be due to retained laundry soap residue and fragrance in laundry care products such as detergent and antistatic drier sheets. It can also happen from rough fabric in undergarments. I recommend wearing only soft cotton underwear and washing them in hypoallergenic unscented laundry detergent or non-detergent soap. Avoid antistatic drier sheets when you launder your undergarments.
Laundry care options include Cheer Free or All Free and Clear laundry detergents. Natural laundry soaps without botanical fragrance and essences are also good.
Laundry care tips for genital and anal itching in the groin:
- Use fragrance free soap or detergent
- It is also important to rinse your laundry twice to remove detergent residue if you are using a laundry detergent.
- Also, do NOT use antistatic products (fabric softener or dryer sheets) because they leave a potentially allergenic residue on fabric.
Please remember, that I'm not making a diagnosis and not saying that any of this information pertains to your specific problem. Your question inspired this discussion and the information may be interesting for you and your treating dermatologist to discuss. There are many diagnoses that can cause genital itching, including but not limited to, fungal infection, allergic contact allergy, psoriasis, seborrheic dermatitis, etc. All treatment starts with an accurate diagnosis, so you need to find a dermatologist where you live who can diagnosis and treat you in a way that you are comfortable with.
Stay 'in the know' and sign up for my FREE Newsletter to get more of my practical skin health information and articles - written for you by me - a dermatologist who has done over 200,000 skin exams over her 35 year career.
Cynthia Bailey MD, Dermatologist
Disclaimer: Please realize that availing yourself of the opportunity to submit and receive answers to your questions from Dr. Bailey does not confer a doctor/patient relationship with Dr. Bailey. The information provided by Dr. Bailey is general health information inspired by your question. It should not be a substitute for obtaining medical advice from your physician and is not intended to diagnose or treat any specific medical problem (and is not an extension of the care Dr. Bailey has provided in her office for existing patients of her practice). Never ignore your own doctor’s advice because of something you read here; this information is for general informational purpose only.
If You Found This Helpful, You Might Want to Also Read: