Tips for Treating Skin Irritation From Diarrhea

Most healthy adults have occasional diarrhea. People with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) may have diarrhea more often and for longer periods of time.

Sometimes, diarrhea can inflame and burn the skin. This is especially true if the stool is very loose and acidic.

Some surgeries can result in acidic, burning stools. This includes J-pouch surgery, which is also called ileoanal anastomosis. During this surgery, the colon is either altered or removed.

This article will look at how to avoid and treat skin irritation caused by frequent or long-term diarrhea.

how to treat skin irritation from diarrhea

Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin

1

Keep the Anal Area Clean

After a bowel movement, gently clean the anal area, using a soft paper towel moistened with water. If showering is possible, that is ideal.

Wipes with ingredients like witch hazel or aloe vera can be helpful. These ingredients are said to soothe inflamed skin.

If gentle wiping is still painful, try sitting in a ​sitz bath. A sitz bath is a shallow, warm-water bath.

You can also use a handheld shower head to clean your anus. Let your skin air dry or use a blow dryer set on the coolest temperature.

2

Apply a Barrier Cream

A barrier cream is any cream or ointment that coats the skin. This can give you some protection from watery diarrhea.

Look for diaper rash cream containing zinc oxide. This works 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 inflammation is severe, you may want to apply a layer right before a bowel movement, if possible.

See a gastroenterologist if you have anal fissures or spasms. A rectal spasm is a sharp pain or cramping in your rectum.

Ask your gastroenterologist about prescription medications like topical nitroglycerin. This medicine can ease spasms and help you heal.

Recap

Keep the anus clean and apply a barrier cream to help soothe inflamed skin.

3

Avoid Hot Baths and Showers

Hot baths and showers can dry your skin and make your condition worse. This is especially true if you have cuts or fissures. Soaking these wounds too much can slow the healing process.

An occasional soak in a lukewarm bath can be helpful. If you don't have fissures, you can add Epsom salts or colloidal oatmeal, which is a finely ground oatmeal used for medicinal purposes. These may be soothing.

Avoid bubble baths or fragranced bath oils or salts. These can irritate the skin.

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

4

Avoid Prolonged Sitting

Sitting for long periods of time can be hard on your bottom. This is especially true if you have hemorrhoids. Hemorrhoids are swollen blood vessels in the rectum.

Sitting for long periods stresses tissues and creates moisture. This can make infection more likely.

Even if you have a desk job, you should avoid sitting for long stretches. Try alternating between sitting and standing every 30 minutes or so.

Specially designed cushions can also help. These cushions help ease pressure and prevent moisture build-up. An inflatable, donut-shaped hemorrhoid cushion is a good choice.

Gel or grid foam cushions that are not designed specifically for hemorrhoids can work just as well. Look for any cushion that reduces pressure on your bottom.

Recap

Avoid taking hot baths or showers or sitting for long periods of time. Both these activities can make irritation worse.

5

Drink Plenty of Liquids

Diarrhea can cause dehydration. This is especially true if it is chronic or explosive. 

Drink lots of water and other hydrating fluids. Being well-hydrated can also keep your skin from drying out.

You should always drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day. If you have diarrhea, you will need to drink more.

In addition to water, you can sip electrolyte-rich sports drinks. This can help replace lost sodium, potassium, and other important minerals. Don't drink too much of these, though. Sports drinks are often high in sugar. 

6

Avoid Foods That Trigger Diarrhea

Some foods can trigger diarrhea. Some may also make your stool more acidic. Foods people with diarrhea should avoid or limit are:

  • Alcohol
  • Artificial sweeteners, including sorbitol and mannitol
  • Coffee and other caffeinated drinks
  • Citrus fruits and juices
  • Dairy products, especially if you have trouble digesting dairy
  • Fatty foods, including red meat, cream sauces, and chicken skin
  • Fried foods
  • High-FODMAP foods like garlic, onions, and artichokes
  • Spicy foods

If you believe you have celiac disease or gluten intolerance, you may also need to avoid foods containing gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat and other grains.

Supplements and herbal remedies may also cause watery or acidic stools. Some examples include:

Recap

What you eat and drink can make a difference. Drink plenty of fluids and avoid foods and supplements that trigger diarrhea.

7

Seek Treatment For Your Diarrhea

The best way to help your skin heal is to treat the cause of your diarrhea. Ask your healthcare provider about anti-diarrheal medications like Imodium (loperamide).

Imodium doesn't cause constipation, so you may be able to use it long-term.

If you have moderate to severe IBS, your healthcare provider may prescribe stronger drugs. Examples include:

Some foods can help stop diarrhea. These include bland, binding foods, like:

  • 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. It is not meant for long-term use, though. If you have long-lasting diarrhea, it is important to eat a healthy, balanced diet. This will help ensure you're getting proper nutrition.

If your diarrhea doesn't go away, seek help. See your healthcare provider or ask for a referral to a gastroenterologist.

Summary

Diarrhea can cause burning and inflammation around the anus. There are a few things you can do to treat or stop this from happening.

Keep the area clean and apply a barrier cream. Avoid sitting for long periods of time. Don't take hot baths or showers.

What you eat and drink can also make a difference. Drink plenty of liquids. Avoid foods and supplements that may trigger diarrhea. 

Finally, see a healthcare provider. The best way to avoid burning and irritation is to treat the cause of your diarrhea.

3 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.

  2. Hill P, Muir JG, Gibson PR. Controversies and recent developments of the low-FODMAP diet. Gastroenterol Hepatol. 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

Additional Reading

By Amber J. Tresca
Amber J. Tresca is a freelance writer and speaker who covers digestive conditions, including IBD. She was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at age 16.