What You Need to Know About Groin Eczema

And how it differs in adults and children or babies

Groin eczema can affect adults and children alike. Although eczema typically affects other areas of the body such as the hands, feet, scalp, face, inside the elbows, the neck, and behind the knees, it can flare up anywhere, including the groin area.

woman suffering from itching

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Types

Eczema, also called atopic dermatitis, is a skin condition that causes severe itching, dry skin, and scaly patches.

There are three types of eczema in the groin area:

  • Scrotal eczema: Scrotal eczema occurs in the scrotal area and can spread to the penis, buttocks, and around the anus. Research shows that scrotal eczema is common, but it's often mistaken for other skin conditions that can affect the scrotum such as a fungal infection. It is also thought to be driven by stress.
  • Vulvar eczema: In vulvar eczema, the soft folds in the skin surrounding the vagina are typically affected. The area can become itchy and red and is often accompanied by pain. It is extremely common and can also be confused with other conditions such as a yeast infection.
  • Perianal eczema: This type of eczema affects the anus and can cause oozing skin lesions and burning.

Causes

Like other types of eczema, the causes of groin eczema are unclear. It's believed that eczema may be a result of genetics and triggers.

Triggers may be different from one person to another. They may include irritation caused by beauty or cleaning products, the weather, or nutritional deficiencies.

Irritants or Allergens

Irritants or allergens may contribute to the development of eczema. Many everyday products that people use could cause skin irritation and lead to the skin condition. Products such as soap, laundry detergent, shampoo, and body wash could all cause atopic dermatitis to develop.

Other common irritants include:

  • Nickel
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Fragrances and perfumes
  • Fabrics such as polyester or wool
  • Formaldehyde, which is found in pressed wood, glue, and other household products
  • Chemicals in shampoos such as cocamidopropyl betaine
  • Leather dyes such as paraphenylenediamine
  • Antibacterial ointments such as neomycin or bacitracin

Changes In the Weather

Temperature and humidity (the amount of moisture in the air) can also trigger an eczema flare-up. Temperatures that are extremely hot or cold can set off a reaction in the body that leads to the development of eczema. In areas where the air lacks moisture, eczema can also become worse.

Genital skin can be particularly prone to irritation because of sweating, tight clothing, and friction between skin surfaces. Urine and feces are also irritating to the skin and can trigger groin eczema.

Nutritional Deficiencies

What a person eats is vital to their overall health, and that’s no different when it comes to skin conditions such as eczema. Research has shown that there is a link between immune function and eczema. Since nutrients and trace minerals play a vital role in how the immune system works, it is thought that certain deficiencies can increase the risk of or worsen eczema.

Specific nutritional deficiencies that have been investigated as possible causes of eczema include vitamins A, E, and D. A deficiency in minerals such as zinc, selenium, iron, copper, magnesium, and strontium have also been considered to be possible risk factors.

Seborrheic Dermatitis

A type of eczema, seborrheic dermatitis is typically found on areas of the body that are oilier such as the upper back and scalp. It is most commonly found in infants and adults aged 30 to 60.

There is some evidence that suggests there is a link between yeast infections and seborrheic dermatitis, but the evidence is not conclusive. Also, seborrheic dermatitis can occur in the groin in some cases, but it almost always affects the head exclusively. It is not a common cause of groin eczema.

Infants are also susceptible to seborrheic dermatitis on their scalp and buttocks. When it develops on the scalp, it is called a cradle cap. When it develops in the buttocks of infants, it can be mistaken for diaper rash.

Although eczema triggers can be different for everyone, there are some common triggers such as dry skin, irritants, and stress.

Symptoms

The symptoms of groin eczema are similar to those of eczema on other parts of the body. They can include intense itching and a red, scaly rash.

Other general symptoms of eczema include:

  • Dry skin
  • Bumps on the skin
  • Leathery patches on the skin
  • Crusting skin
  • Swelling in the affected area
  • Blisters with clear fluid

Some symptoms are specific to groin eczema, depending on the area of the groin affected and who is experiencing it. Scrotal eczema is characterized by thickening of the skin in the area to the point where it feels leathery. The skin will also be red and inflamed with severe itching.

In vulvar eczema, the symptoms will be similar to those of eczema but could also include pain in the affected area.

Children and infants with groin eczema will have symptoms similar to those in adults. They may be seen scratching their groin area excessively to help with the itch caused by the condition. This can worsen eczema and lead to further inflammation.

Eczema vs. Jock Itch

Scrotal eczema is often mistaken for jock itch. Jock itch causes similar symptoms to eczema such as a red, scaly, and itchy rash. The difference between the two is that jock itch is caused by a fungus.

It can be difficult to tell the difference between the two conditions, but there are some signs you can look out for to distinguish them. For example, eczema is likely to start in an area other than the groin, the skin in the area may thicken and have the appearance of leather, and it is not curable with treatment. Jock itch, on the other hand, begins in the groin area and can be treated effectively with antifungal medication.

Scrotal eczema can spread to other areas such as the penis and buttocks. Research has shown that scrotal eczema has a strong psychological component, and stress may be a main driver of this type of eczema.

Diagnosis

Your primary care physician can diagnose groin eczema. They may suggest that you also see a dermatologist, especially if allergic contact dermatitis is suspected or the diagnosis is uncertain.

Your doctor can sometimes diagnose groin eczema by just looking at the rash during a physical exam. They will rule out other conditions that can be causing similar symptoms, such as a yeast infection or sexually transmitted disease. A skin biopsy (skin sample) may be taken for testing in a lab. This will help to determine the source of the rash.

Treatment

Treatment for groin eczema typically begins with the removal of the trigger. For scrotal eczema, this includes stopping any over-the-counter treatments, wearing loose clothing, and stress management.

Other treatments include:

For vulvar and perianal eczema, treatment involves prescription moisturizing agents or steroid creams. The creams should be applied after you finish bathing or showering. Emollients should also be used in place of soaps and other moisturizers that may exacerbate the condition.

For children or infants with groin eczema, particularly if it is seborrheic, treatment will involve using emollients such as mineral or olive oil and petroleum jelly. This can help loosen the scales of the affected skin area. Once they have been loosened, they can be removed using a cloth. Ketoconazole 1% to 2% cream has also been shown to be safe and effective for infants with seborrheic dermatitis.

Natural Remedies

Some natural remedies may be effective at treating and managing groin dermatitis at home. They should only be used after receiving a conclusive diagnosis and instructions from your physician.

Switch Your Underwear Brand

Some fabrics can irritate the skin in the groin area. Switching underwear fabrics can be a helpful way to address your eczema and remove the possible irritant that is triggering it.

Try Wet Wrapping

Wet wrapping is used when an eczema flare-up is particularly severe. It involves using clean cotton clothing or gauze and wetting it with water. The wet wrap is then applied to the affected area under pajamas or other loose-fitted clothing. It is meant to relieve itching and inflammation.

Wet wrapping should be done after bathing and applying any topical medications for your eczema.

Use a Gentle Cream or Balm

Using creams or balms to moisturize your skin can be a great way to combat groin eczema. It’s important to choose a product that is free from any added fragrances, dyes, and other common allergens that may make the condition worse.

Some gentle ointments that can be used include petroleum jelly and mineral oil. They are often the first choice when it comes to gentle moisturizing. Creams and lotions can also be used, as well as skin barrier repair creams.

When choosing a cream or balm, you should avoid certain ingredients such as:

  • Fragrances: Although fragrances may make products smell good, they are usually common allergens.
  • Essential oils: Essential oils contain natural fragrances that can be just as harmful as artificial ones.
  • Urea: This ingredient can be good for other skin conditions such as psoriasis but can cause further irritation for those with eczema.
  • Lanolin: People with eczema may be more prone to developing an allergy to lanolin, an oil produced by sheep.
  • Retinoids: Retinoids are often used in anti-aging and anti-acne products but can trigger eczema flare-ups.
  • Cocamidopropyl betaine: This is a foaming agent used in shampoos and body washes. It is often marketed as a tear-free formula for children’s products but can lead to eczema. 
  • Propylene glycol: Propylene glycol is often included in creams and ointments as an emulsifier, which encourages two liquids to mix together. It can also be found in many eczema medications, but people who are allergic to it will experience flare-ups.
  • Ethanol: Alcohol can burn and dry out the skin, making eczema worse.

You should use home remedies once you have spoken to your doctor. This will ensure that you have a conclusive diagnosis and are free to try certain products that your physician can recommend.

Prevention

Some things you can do to help prevent eczema flare-ups include the following:

  • Do not scratch the area of skin when it becomes itchy.
  • Establish a skincare routine with your doctor’s recommendations.
  • Wear the right type of underwear.
  • Wear loose-fitted underwear and clothing when possible.
  • Wash all new clothing prior to wearing it.
  • Use mild, fragrance-free soaps and body washes.
  • Take lukewarm baths or showers.
  • Stay hydrated throughout the day by drinking at least eight glasses of water.
  • Bathe or shower and change into dry clothes as soon as possible after sweating.
  • Manage and recognize stress.
  • Limit or eliminate all allergens and irritants you know about.

Frequently Asked Questions

What causes eczema in the groin area?

The cause of groin eczema is unclear, but it can be triggered by many things such as irritants and allergens and high levels of stress.

What do you do about child eczema in the groin?

If your child has a rash that looks like groin eczema, make an appointment with your pediatrician to have it looked at as soon as possible. They can help you determine the best course of treatment for your child.

How do you treat eczema in the groin area?

Eczema in the groin is treated first by eliminating triggers and irritants, but it can also be treated with prescription and topical creams. Making certain lifestyle changes, such as changing your diet and wearing loose clothing, can also help.

Why is my groin eczema so aggressive?

If you continue to itch your eczema in the groin, it can become worse. It can also remain aggressive if you continue to have contact with the irritant that triggered it.

What does eczema on the groin look like?

Groin eczema resembles eczema on other parts of the body and presents as a scaly rash, but it can be accompanied by leathery skin or redness in the groin area.

A Word From Verywell

Eczema can be an irritating and unsightly condition. Since the condition flares up from time to time, it can be difficult to determine when and how it will affect you more severely. It can also be hard to figure out your triggers. There is no cure for eczema and treatments can vary, so finding what works for you may take some time.

The good news is that eczema is not a serious threat to your health and can be managed easily once you get the treatment you need and identify your triggers so you can avoid them.

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