An itchy crotch can be a bummer. But scratching only makes the situation worse. In order to soothe that sensitive skin in your groin area, you need to figure out what’s behind the itching in the first place.
There are a number of causes, says dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital. Some of these can be innocent—say, a new laundry detergent—but others, like infections, can be more serious.
Here, your cheat sheet on 7 conditions that could be behind your itchy crotch—and what you can do to stop the scratching, stat.
How you know you have it: You’ll likely develop a rash along with the itching, though its appearance varies depending on the type of fungus causing it. For instance, if a yeast infection is responsible, you may notice shiny, moist areas of skin on your penis, and possibly some white stuff in the skin folds, along with the red, itchy rash, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Yeast is normally present in small amounts on your skin, but an overgrowth of it can cause an infection. This tends to occur in moist places that don’t get much light, says Jason Reichenberg, M.D., director of dermatology at the University of Texas Austin. So it usually shows up on the sides of your groin, between your genitals and thighs.
Other fungal infections look a little different: They appear dry and flaky, and usually crop up on your thighs, Dr. Reichenberg says.
One to look out for is tinea cruris, also known as having a case of jock itch. Tinea cruris affects the genitals, as well as the inner thighs and butt. Similarly, it is caused by increased moisture. To help prevent this and other types of fungal infections, avoid staying in wet clothes too long, such as after exercising. On top of that, try to avoid wearing any tightly fitting clothing if you’re planning on getting sweaty. Fungus thrives in the moist, warm environment created by tight, wet clothing.
How to treat it: Whatever the type of fungus responsible for your itching, a topical antifungal cream like Lotrimin AF should do the trick. The cream attacks the fungal cells that cause the infection, while leaving your healthy skin cells unscathed.
Pat the region dry before rubbing on the cream. That will help get rid of moisture, keeping the fungus from growing and allowing the antifungal medication to work better, Dr. Reichenberg says.
How you know you have it: Chafing occurs when your skin rubs together—commonly your thighs. It usually develops when you’re doing an activity that involves a lot of friction, like running.
The rubbing can disturb your skin barrier, causing tiny cracks and inflammation on your outer layers of skin. This causes a red, irritated rash that burns and itches. Your skin can also grow scaly, too, Dr. Zeichner says.
How to treat it: Your goal is to protect your irritated skin and prevent any additional rubbing. A moisturizer like Aveeno Skin Relief Moisturizing Cream will help repair the skin. It also contains colloidal oatmeal, which works to soothe irritation, Dr. Zeichner says.
Pair that with a zinc cream, like Desitin, which protects your skin from future rubbing by adding a protective barrier. And then use a cream that contains petroleum, like CeraVe Healing Ointment, which helps hydrate and restore your skin.
In the future, try using an athletic supporter while working out as many are designed to prevent chafing.
How you know you have it: If you have this skin condition, you’ll develop a raw, red rash that itches and stings, usually in areas that contain lots of moisture from sweating, Dr. Zeichner says. That moisture can spur an overgrowth of bacteria and fungus. This will appear in places like your groin, between the folds of your stomach, under your arms, or between your toes, according to the Mayo Clinic. That moisture can spur an overgrowth of bacteria and fungus.
How to treat it: Antibacterial creams like Neosporin and antifungal creams, like Lotrimin, can take care of the bacteria and fungus. And a zinc cream, like Desitin, shields your skin from more rubbing.
If the rash persists for one to two weeks, head to your dermatologist. He or she will likely prescribe stronger versions of these medications to smooth over the irritation, Dr. Zeichner says.
How you know you have it: Contact dermatitis occurs when your skin comes in contact with something it’s allergic to. You’ll likely develop a super itchy, red rash that looks bumpy. It might even ooze a clear or yellowish fluid, which shows that the top layer of your skin has been disrupted, says Dr. Reichenberg.
Contact dermatitis is likely the cause if you notice that itchy rash and you’ve recently changed something in your routine—say, you tried a new laundry detergent or fabric softener, or even bought a new couch made of a different material—right before you noticed it, says Dr. Reichenberg. You’ll usually start to notice a reaction hours or even a few days later.
You’ll also probably experience itching on other body parts that were exposed to the allergen, too, he says. Your itchy balls will likely bother you more, though, since their thin skin is more sensitive to allergens.
How to treat it: Think about what changes you’ve made in your routine recently. Once you’ve identified the possible trigger, stop using the chemical or material you think may be responsible. If it’s clothing washed in a new detergent, rewash it a few times with your previous brand, says Dr. Reichenberg.
If contact dermatitis was responsible, the reaction should disappear in about two weeks.
How you know you have it: If you start to notice intense itching, irritation, and tiny specks in your pubic hair, you might have contracted a type of parasite called pubic lice, also known as crabs.
You may see tiny white or yellowish specks near the roots of your pubic hair. Those are the lice eggs, says Dennis Fortenberry, M.D., a professor of adolescent medicine at Indiana University. You might also spot the lice themselves crawling—they’re tan or grayish-white, and if you’re brave enough to look at one through a magnifying glass, it’d resemble a mini crab, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
How to treat it: Head to your doctor—he or she will confirm that your problem actually is lice, and send you home with a shampoo or lotion containing either permethrin or pyrethrins with piperonyl butoxide, which will kill the lice Dr. Fortenberry says.
While pubic lice is most commonly associated with being a sexually transmitted disease, according to the Mayo Clinic, you can also contract crabs from contaminated blankets or towels. So even if you haven’t had sex recently, don’t rule out the possibility and still seek out proper treatment.
How you know you have it: For some guys, itching can be the first symptom of this sexually transmitted infection (STI), which is caused by the herpes virus, Dr. Fortenberry says. That itch will usually turn to burning, and within about a day, a blister or cluster of blisters can form. Then, the blisters can break, leading to painful sores.
If you’ve experienced those symptoms in the past and they keep cropping back up, that might point to herpes, since the infection usually causes recurrent outbreaks.
How to treat it: This is another case where you’ll head to your doctor. He or she will diagnose you, either by simply looking at the appearance of your blisters or by performing a blood test or culture of the lesion, reports the CDC.
There’s no cure for herpes, but your doctor can provide some treatment. Antiviral meds, like Valtrex, Zovirax, or Famvir, can shorten the outbreak or prevent one from occurring. They also may reduce the chances of passing on the virus to your partner.
If you do have herpes, condoms can also help prevent it from spreading to your partner. However, especially during an outbreak, Planned Parenthood points out that a condom may not entirely cover your sores, and your partner can still be at risk of contracting it.
How you know you have it: You can develop this skin condition anywhere on your body–including the genital region, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Common signs of psoriasis include dry, thick, and raised skin that appear in patches. Usually, there’s a white, scale coating, but psoriasis may look different on the genitals and have less scales than in other areas. Usually, people who have genital psoriasis also have the condition on other areas of their bodies.
How to treat it: If you use a prescription to treat psoriasis on other regions of your skin, you’ll want to check with the doctor before applying to genitals. Some treatments, like Tazarotene, may irritate the area and make symptoms worse. Wearing loose-fitting underwear and using a mild fragrance-free cleanser can help the condition.
How you know you have it: Genital warts are a common symptom of the STI human papillomavirus (HPV). Not only is HPV the the most common STI, but the CDC reports that symptoms can take years to develop, making it harder to determine when you became infected. Genital warts are typically soft to the touch and skin colored, and some may even resemble a cauliflower. You might notice just one, or they could crop up in a cluster, Dr. Fortenberry says. But other than some itching, the warts don’t feel like anything.
How to treat it: If you think you have genital warts, check in with your doctor, Dr. Fortenberry says. He or she will likely prescribe a medication that contains Imiquimod, Podofilox, or Sinecatechins, which will stimulate your body’s immune system to clear up the warts.
Or, he or she may apply liquid nitrogen to the growth, which will freeze it off.
However, even though you can get rid of the wart, you can’t eliminate the virus from your system—meaning more warts could crop up down the road, and you can still spread it to others if you don’t have a visible wart.
While HPV has the potential to cause a variety of cancers, the CDC reports that the types that form genital warts are different than the HPV that can lead to cancer.