Genital Skin Irritation

Genital skin irritation can be caused by perfumed soaps and powders, laundry detergents, poor hygiene, or underwear made of fabric that is rough or contains dyes. Genital skin irritation in preschool-aged girls usually is caused by poor hygiene.

Irritation of the skin around the vagina or the urethra may cause a burning pain when urine touches the irritated skin. Pain from genital skin irritation occurs more frequently in women and girls than it does in men and boys. Half of all girls with pain during urination have genital skin irritation rather than a urinary tract infection. Pain during urination along with a frequent need to urinate may occur when the foreskin of an uncircumcised boy becomes inflamed.

To help prevent genital skin irritation:

  • Wash the genital area once a day with plain water or mild soap. Rinse well and dry thoroughly. Do not use perfumed soaps or powders, which can irritate skin. Avoid bubble baths, which can irritate and dry the skin.
  • Wear cotton underwear, cotton-lined panty hose, and loose clothing. This helps promote the circulation of air to the vaginal area.
  • Change a child's diaper when it is wet and immediately after a bowel movement. Wash your hands before and after each diaper change.

Women who have a history of urinary problems may find it helpful to not use a diaphragm or spermicide creams, foams, or gels.

Other causes of genital skin irritation include sexual intercourse, bike riding, not urinating often enough, injury, or an infection in the vaginal or rectal area, such as herpes, vaginitis, or human papillomavirus (HPV).

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
Last Revised March 10, 2013

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