Tips for Treating Skin Irritation From Diarrhea

Most healthy adults experience diarrhea a few times a year. People with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) may have diarrhea for a prolonged period of time. Sometimes diarrhea can burn the skin, especially if the stool is very loose and acidic. Having surgery such as j-pouch (ileal pouch-anal anastomosis) or an ileoanal anastomosis, in which the colon is removed, can result in acidic, burning stools. This can be very irritating to the skin and difficult to treat.

Here are some tips on how to reduce the skin irritation, including what foods can make diarrhea worse and what foods can help.

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

Keep the Area Clean

After a bowel movement, clean the area gently with wet wipes or baby wipes. At times, however, even gentle wiping can be painful. Another tactic is to rinse your bottom in a ​sitz bath or use a shower head to spray off. Let the area air-dry or use a blow dryer on the cool setting.


Apply a Barrier Cream

"Barrier cream" means anything that will coat the skin and protect it from stool and moisture. Diaper rash cream that contains zinc oxide work very well when applied to clean, dry skin. Reapply after a bowel movement. Petroleum jelly or vitamin A and D cream also work to protect skin from diarrhea.


Avoid Hot Baths and Showers

It may seem as though a soak in a hot bath would be the best thing for your sore and broken skin. However, hot baths and showers can actually dry skin out. A soak in lukewarm water may be helpful. Use a barrier cream after a bath or shower to lock moisture in.


Drink Plenty of Liquids

If you have diarrhea, and especially if it's chronic, you run the risk of becoming dehydrated. Drinking water and other hydrating liquids can help you prevent dehydration and also work to keep your skin from drying out. Steer clear of caffeine and alcohol, which have a dehydrating effect.


Avoid Problem Foods

Some foods may trigger or contribute to diarrhea or make your stool more acidic. A few foods to avoid include:

  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Citrus fruits and drinks
  • Fatty foods
  • Fried foods
  • Greasy foods
  • Spicy foods

Be Wary of Supplements

Many people take various supplements along with medications, and people with IBD are no exception. Some types of supplements can cause stool to become more irritating to your skin. This includes:

  • Cayenne
  • Ginseng
  • Glucosamine
  • Milk Thistle
  • Saw Palmetto

Avoid Dairy

Dairy products such as milk, ice cream, and cheese can worsen diarrhea, especially if you have lactose intolerance. Be sure to get enough calcium in your diet from other sources such as green, leafy vegetables and salmon or shrimp.


Avoid Prolonged Sitting

Sitting for a long period of time is not easy on your bottom, especially if you also have hemorrhoids. Avoid sitting too much if possible—lying down will be easier on your bottom.


Sit on a Cushion

Avoiding sitting for long periods of time is a great idea, but in reality, ​most of us must sit for part of the day to go to work or attend school. If you are unable to take a few days off to deal with your diarrhea and your irritated skin, try sitting on a cushion. It does not need to be anything special—even a bed pillow will do in a pinch.


Treat the Diarrhea

Ultimately, the best way to help your skin heal is to get to the source and slow down your diarrhea. Aside from treating your IBD or other condition that is causing diarrhea, the following foods may be helpful:

  • Fish (broiled or baked, not fried)
  • Fruit, such as bananas or peeled apples
  • Canned fruit
  • Refined pastas
  • White rice or bread
  • Smooth peanut butter
  • Well-cooked vegetables
  • Cheese (if not lactose-intolerant)
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Article Sources

  • Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America. (May 2012). Diet and IBD.