Tips for Treating Skin Irritation From Diarrhea

While most healthy adults will experience occasional diarrhea, people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) may have diarrhea repeatedly and for an extended period of time.

Sometimes, diarrhea can inflame and burn the skin, especially if the stool is very loose and acidic. Having surgery such as a J-pouch or ileoanal anastomosis procedure, in which the colon is either altered or removed, can also result in acidic, burning stools. This can be irritating to the skin and difficult to treat.

You have several options for reducing skin irritation due to persistent diarrhea, though, including dietary changes that can help you have less diarrhea in the first place.

how to treat skin irritation from diarrhea
Illustration by Brianna Gilmartin, Verywell

Keep the Anal Area Clean

After a bowel movement, clean the anal area with wet wipes or baby wipes instead of toilet paper. There are even medicated wipes you can buy online that have ingredients like witch hazel or aloe vera said to soothe inflamed skin.

At times, however, even gentle wiping can be painful. One tactic that may help is to rinse your anus and surrounding tissue in a ​sitz bath or to use a hand shower to flush fecal residue from the skin. Allow the skin to air dry or use a blow dryer set on the coolest temperature.


Apply a Barrier Cream

A barrier cream is any topical lotion or gel coats the skin and provides a modicum of protection from watery diarrhea. Diaper rash cream containing zinc oxide works very well when applied to clean, dry skin. Petroleum jelly or vitamin A or vitamin D cream can also be effective.

Reapply a thin layer of cream after each bowel movement. If the anal inflammation is severe, you may want to apply a layer right before a bowel movement, if possible.

If spasms develop or you have anal fissures, meet with a gastroenterologist and ask about prescription medications such as topical nitroglycerin that can help ease spasms and promote healing.


Avoid Hot Baths and Showers

It may seem reasonable to treat inflamed anal and rectal tissues with a long soak in a hot bath. However, hot baths and showers can actually dry skin out and make your condition worse. This is especially true if you have cuts or fissures; soaking these wounds can actually slow the healing process.

An occasional soak in a lukewarm bath can be helpful. If you don't have fissures, you can even add Epsom salt or colloidal oatmeal, which may be soothing. Avoid bubble baths or any fragranced bath oils or salts which can irritate the skin, though.

After bathing or showering, apply some barrier cream to the anus and surrounding tissues to help lock in moisture.


Drink Plenty of Liquids

If you have diarrhea, especially if it is chronic or explosive, you run the risk of dehydration. Drinking water and other hydrating fluids can help prevent dehydration and keep your skin from drying out.

As a rule of thumb, you should drink no less than eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day. If you have diarrhea, you will likely need to drink more. In addition to water, you can sip an electrolyte-rich sports drink to help replace lost sodium, potassium, and other important electrolytes, but do not go overboard.


Avoid Prolonged Sitting

Sitting for a long period of time is not easy on your bottom, especially if you have hemorrhoids. As such, you need to avoid sitting for hours on end, which not only stresses tissues but creates moisture that saturates the skin and promotes infection. Even if you have a desk job, try alternating between sitting and standing every 30 minutes or so.

You can also try sitting on a cushion designed to alleviate pressure and moisture build-up. An inflatable, donut-shaped hemorrhoid cushion is one of the better options (but one that most of us would loathe bringing to work).

There are also gel or grid foam cushions you can buy that don't read "hemorrhoid" but work just as efficiently. In the end, any cushion that reduces pressure on your bottom will be useful.


Avoid Problem Foods

Some foods can trigger diarrhea or increase stools acidity. Among the 10 types of foods people with diarrhea should avoid or limit are:

  • Alcohol
  • Artificial sweeteners (including sorbitol and mannitol)
  • Coffee and caffeinated drinks
  • Citrus fruits and juices
  • Dairy products (especially if lactose intolerant)
  • Fatty foods (including red meat, cream sauces, and chicken skin)
  • Fried foods
  • High-fiber foods (like whole grains and cruciferous vegetables)
  • High-FODMAP foods (like garlic, onions, and artichoke)
  • Spicy foods

Gluten may also need to be avoided if you believe you have celiac disease or gluten intolerance.

Supplements and herbal remedies can also be problematic. Among those that can promote watery or acidic stools are:

  • Cayenne
  • Ginseng
  • Glucosamine
  • Milk thistle
  • Saw palmetto

Seek Treatment

Ultimately, the best way to help your skin heal is to get to treat diarrhea at its source. You can start by asking your doctor about anti-diarrheal medications like Imodium (loperamide) that you can use on an ongoing basis so long as it doesn't cause constipation.

Stronger drugs, such as Lotronex (alosetron), Viberzi (eluxadoline), or Xifaxan (rifaximin), may be prescribed to treat moderate to severe IBS.

Another key strategy is to eat foods that can bring symptoms of diarrhea under control. These include bland, binding foods, such as:

  • Applesauce
  • Bananas
  • Boiled or steamed potatoes
  • Bread or toast
  • Hot cereal, such as oatmeal or cream of wheat
  • Soda crackers
  • White rice

A bland diet can help ease diarrhea, but it is not intended for ongoing use. If anything, a healthy, balanced diet is even more important if you have diarrhea to ensure proper nutrition.

If diarrhea persists despite these interventions, do not suffer in silence. See your doctor or ask for a referral to a specialist gastroenterologist.

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Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Michigan Medicine, University of Michigan. Anal Fissure. Updated November 7, 2018.

  2. Hill P, Muir JG, Gibson PR. Controversies and recent developments of the low-FODMAP diet. Gastroenterol Hepatol (NY). 2017;13(1):36-45.

  3. Saha L. Irritable bowel syndrome: Pathogenesis, diagnosis, treatment, and evidence-based medicine. World J Gastroenterol. 2014;20(22):6759-73. doi:10.3748/wjg.v20.i22.6759

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