What is genital dermatology?
Genital dermatology is a branch of medicine that deals with the diagnosis and treatment of skin conditions affecting the genital area. Skin problems in the genital area can be very itchy or painful, distressing and embarrassing. They can interfere with sexual functioning, self-image and interpersonal relationships. Some genital disorders are contagious, including sexually transmitted diseases.
What are the most common genital skin problems?
Common genital skin problems include genital itch, pain, and discharge in both males and females. Some of the common skin conditions affecting the genital area include:
- Lichen simplex: A dermatitis due to localised itch-scratch-itch response and resulting in thickened skin on the scrotum in males and labia majora in females.
- Atopic dermatitis: A type of eczema that can affect the genital area.
- Seborrhoeic dermatitis: A type of eczema that usually affects the scalp as well.
- Irritant contact dermatitis: A type of dermatitis caused by wetness, incontinence, and vigorous cleansing.
- Allergic contact dermatitis: A type of dermatitis caused by fragrances, preservatives, or rubber.
- Psoriasis: Persistent, well-defined, red, scaly or moist patches that tend to affect the skin of the outer labia and between the buttocks.
- Lichen sclerosus: A condition which causes itchy, white patches around the vulva, perineum, and perianal skin. It can lead to scarring.
- Genitourinary syndrome of menopause: Vulval and vaginal skin fragility, dryness, and soreness arising from low oestrogen changes around the menopause.
How are genital skin problems diagnosed?
The diagnosis of genital skin problems is based on the patient’s history, physical examination, and, sometimes, laboratory tests such as a biopsy, although this is not always required.
What treatment options are available for genital skin problems?
Treatment of genital skin problems depends on the severity of the condition. Mild conditions may not require treatment as they may improve on their own and may not cause any further problems. However, significant conditions that cause problems may require surgery or interventional procedures.
It is very important to treat genital skin carefully and gently. Some simple changes to your hygiene routines can make a big difference to symptoms (see below).
How can I prevent genital skin problems?
Preventing genital skin problems is possible by following some simple steps, including:
- Practice good hygiene: Keep the genital area clean and dry. Avoid using harsh soaps, perfumes, or powders in the genital area. Use mild, fragrance-free soaps and warm water to clean the area. After washing, pat the area dry with a clean towel.
- Wear loose-fitting clothing: Wear loose-fitting, breathable clothing, such as cotton underwear, to help keep the genital area dry and cool.
- Avoid irritants: Avoid using products that can irritate the genital area, such as scented tampons, pads, or toilet paper. Use unscented products instead.
- Use protection during sex: Use condoms or other barrier methods during sex to help prevent sexually transmitted infections.
- Get vaccinated: Get vaccinated against human papillomavirus (HPV) and hepatitis B, which can cause genital warts and other genital skin problems.
- Avoid sharing personal items: Do not share personal items, such as towels or razors, with others.
- See a doctor: If you notice any changes in the appearance or feel of your genital skin, such as itching, redness, or sores, see a doctor right away. Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent complications and improve outcomes.