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Penile smegma is an accumulation of dead skin cells and oils that settles under the foreskin. It's also known as a smelly penis or dick cheese. Penile smegma is more common than you think, here are the facts about it:

  • It’s normal to have some smegma.
  • The problem only comes in when you let it build up.

If the smegma is left to build up you’ll start to develop an unpleasant odor—and if you let it go untreated for long, the smegma will harden and cause irritation in the genitals.

In the worst cases, this buildup may cause the head of your penis to swell up and hurt. But we won’t let it get to that.

What Is Penile Smegma?

Penile smegma is a thick, white (or yellow), cheesy substance composed of oils, dead skin cells, and sweat. It collects underneath the foreskin or underneath the head of the penis and can become problematic if left unwashed. 

 

However, smegma doesn't start out as the bad guy. Believe it or not, this substance plays a significant biological role.

Fresh smegma—a natural lubricant produced by the sebaceous glands in your genitalia—is moist and smooth. Its purpose is to make it easier for the foreskin to retract over the glans, or head of the penis. This is helpful when you’re having sexual intercourse or need to urinate.

Smegma also reduces dryness in your genitalia and prevents itching.

But you need to wash it away regularly. Stale and accumulated smegma is not a friend to your penis, and it can pose a health risk.

 One of the main and most noticeable features of excess penile smegma is bad smell in the genitals. 

Smegma in Circumcised vs Uncircumcised Penises

The foreskin makes it easier for smegma to build up because it traps fluids, skin cells, and oils. But is smegma just a problem for uncircumcised penises? Well, not exactly.

Circumcised penises can still develop smegma—it just won’t be as problematic because there’s no foreskin to house the buildup.

Any natural oils and dead skin cells will probably rub off on your clothing.

However, this will depend on how you’ve been circumcised.

If you still have folds of skin beneath your glans, smegma can accumulate there. But this shouldn't worry you because from a medical standpoint, smegma is rather harmless.

After all, it’s just a combination of natural oils and dead skin cells. How problematic can it be?

Smegma and Health

Give smegma some time in a warm moist environment and bacteria will start to thrive. We’re talking about foul-smelling bacteria—sulfur or swiss cheese smelling bacteria.

Give it more time and this bacteria can cause inflammation in both the foreskin and the glans penis, resulting in a condition known as balanitis.

Yes, it’s painful. And yes, you might require medical treatment if it comes to that.

Eventually, smegma can cause your foreskin to become stuck over the glans penis, unable to retract. So while smegma is harmless in and of itself, its effects are not.

Leaving it to accumulate and harden can cause skin irritations and breakage which can facilitate infections (including STIs).

Common Causes of Penile Smegma

Bad hygiene is the main cause of penile smegma.

However, having penile smegma doesn’t mean that you’re dirty. It just means that you should wash your genitals more thoroughly, and maybe more often.

As we mentioned earlier, smegma is normal, and everyone has it.

Who is more prone to developing excess smegma buildup?

Some groups of people are more prone to developing a penile smegma buildup than others, including:

  • People with a foreskin
  • Those who don’t wash their genitals regularly
  • People who don’t wash underneath the foreskin thoroughly
  • Those who don’t dry beneath the foreskin well after washing or urinating
  • People with oily skin or acne
  • Boys under the age of 4 (this is normal but you should consult a doctor if it leads to inflammation)
  • Athletes and people who exercise regularly (and sweat a lot)

One in ten men attends a sexual health clinic because of complications caused by penile smegma.

Again, it doesn’t mean they're unclean, only that they need to pay more attention to how they clean and dry their genitalia.

Myths and facts about penile smegma

 

Penile Smegma Myths and Facts

Myth

Fact

Smegma causes penile cancer

Hardened smegma causes irritation which can increase the risk of cancer

Smegma is an STI

It’s harmless, but hardened smegma can cause skin breakage and facilitate STIs

Smegma only occurs in uncircumcised penises

Smegma can develop in circumcised males as well, but it won’t build up as much 

Smegma is pure dirt and has no biological function

Fresh smegma is smooth and helps to facilitate the retraction of the foreskin

How to Treat Penile Smegma

Treating penile smegma is as easy as adjusting your personal hygiene routine.

Either clean more thoroughly (under and around your foreskin), or clean more regularly (at least once a day).

Follow this guide:

  1. Gently pull back your foreskin.
  2. Use a washcloth and warm water (or your fingers) to clean underneath the glans penis.
  3. If you’ve accumulated quite a bit of smegma and want to use soap, pick a mild, non-scented variety.
  4. Rinse away any soap and smegma thoroughly.
  5. Pat the area dry with a towel to avoid trapping moisture underneath the foreskin.
  6. Pull your foreskin back to cover your glans.

It’s crucial to treat penile smegma as soon as possible because, over time, it can compromise your foreskin and lead to infections.

If you have an especially tight foreskin that causes recurring smegma, your physician may recommend circumcision as a treatment.

Tips for treating smegma

Finally, when treating penile smegma, avoid doing any of the following:

  • Do not scrape hardened smegma with cotton swabs or any pointed devices.
  • Do not use harsh soaps, perfumed cleaners, or deodorants to clean under the foreskin as the area is extremely sensitive.
  • Only use a mild soap if you have to, but never apply the soap under your foreskin more than once a day.
  • If your smegma has caused an infection, swelling, or irritation, we advise that you see a dermatologist.
  • If you’ve been washing every day and the smegma won’t go away, consult your doctor.
  • Avoid prolonged retraction of the foreskin.

How to Prevent Smegma

What you can do is prevent the buildup of these substances by washing your genitals at least once a day. That’s it. It’s the only way.

You can’t prevent the body from secreting natural oils and shedding dead skin cells.

What you can do is prevent the buildup of these substances by washing your genitals at least once a day. That’s it.

What you can do is prevent the buildup of these substances by washing your genitals at least once a day. That’s it.

And while this condition is more likely to occur in uncircumcised penises, it doesn’t mean that circumcised penises can’t develop a build up of smegma. They can.

The presence of the foreskin simply provides a warm and moist environment for the smegma to grow. To prevent this, gently pull the foreskin back and clean underneath it each time you wash your genitals.

Always clean lube off your penis after sex or masturbation

Leaving it there can lead it to build up into smegma. It’s best to use lubes that wash off easily (such as water based lubricants).

If you use silicone-based or oil-based lubes, clean your penis with warm water and if necessary, use mild soap.

Childrens / Infants and Smegma

Note that children and teenagers can also develop penile smegma.

In uncircumcised infants, smegma appears as pearls or white dots under the foreskin, but this is completely normal.

At birth, the foreskin is attached to the glans penis by a membrane and can’t fully retract. It’s not until age 5 that full retraction happens in about 90% of boys. Some may not experience full retraction until puberty. So, if you’re wondering how to prevent penile smegma in an uncircumcised infant, you can’t.

If you’re wondering how to prevent penile smegma in an uncircumcised infant, you can’t.

Dead skin cells and oils that become trapped beneath the glans form preputial cysts. With time, these cysts rupture and allow the progressive separation of the foreskin from the glans.

All you can do is clean your child’s genitals externally until full retraction occurs.

Don’t attempt to force back their foreskin. Doing so could damage the skin or cause bleeding. Only after full retraction occurs can you occasionally clean under the foreskin.

Remember:

  • Avoid using soap or baby wipes to clean the penis.
  • If you have to, use a mild soap and rinse well to prevent irritation.
  • Always dry the glans before pulling back the foreskin to prevent any moisture from being trapped under the foreskin.

Most importantly, teach your child how to clean their genitals because the production of smegma will increase as they grow into teenagers.

Its production is most prominent in adolescence, and it can remain constant for years before reducing in middle age. As you age into your later years, the production of smegma reduces to almost zero.

Frequently Asked Questions

After how long does it take for smegma to start to build up?

It’s different for everyone. It can take a day or five days for smegma to accumulate beneath the foreskin.

Just because you have a slow buildup doesn’t mean you shouldn’t clean regularly.

Can smegma cause cancer?

It’s a common misconception that smegma may contain cancer-causing cells, but this claim has never been proven.

However, the American Cancer Society believes that while smegma itself cannot cause penile cancer, it can cause irritation and inflammation which can increase the risk of cancer.

Keep in mind that penile cancer is rare both in circumcised and uncircumcised males.

Is there a way to permanently get rid of smegma?

No. All you can do is regularly wash it away, and you’ll never see smegma build up under your foreskin.

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