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Smegma - Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

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Smegma - Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

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Smegma is typically a thick, white, cheesy natural secretion that accumulates under the foreskin of the penis. Read this article below to know more about it.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Nidhin Varghese

Published At July 29, 2022
Reviewed AtApril 13, 2024

What Is Smegma?

Smegma is a thick, white, cheesy substance that accumulates under the foreskin of the penis. It is more common in uncircumcised men who do not clean that area properly. Women can also develop under the folds of the vagina. So it is normal to have some smegma. It is not usually a sign of a sexually transmitted disease (STD), but bacteria can grow in it and cause an unpleasant odor. It can also make the head of the penis swell up and hurt. Smegma is a natural lubricant that maintains the moisture around the genitals. It can become problematic when it is built due to poor hygiene. Keeping the genitals clean is the best solution to prevent smegma build-up.

What Causes Smegma?

Having smegma does not mean a medical condition. Instead, it can occur in men and women affected due to poor hygiene. Smegma is a natural substance secreted from the oil glands around the genitals every day. It helps lubricate the genitalia and moisten the skin, preventing dryness or itching. However, if smegma is not washed away regularly, it can begin to build up. Not washing the genitals can cause the smegma to collect and harden. Therefore, washing the genitals regularly and properly is important to avoid this build-up.

What Does Smegma Look Like?

Small glands called sebaceous glands in the penis or vagina discharge smegma to lubricate these genitals. It is composed of a combination of shed skin cells, fatty oils, and moisture-like sweat. Smegma is clear or white, thick fluid. Most people do not produce much smegma before puberty. However, smegma in young boys often appears as pearl-white bumps. Smegma accumulates more commonly on men with uncircumcised penis under the foreskin (layer of skin that shields the head of the penis) of the penis, under which smegma appears and builds up. In babies, the foreskin is firmly attached to the head (glans) of the penis, protecting it completely. However, as the penis lengthens, the foreskin naturally starts retracting, allowing debris, grime, and skin cells to collect between it and the head of the penis.

What Does Smegma Smell Like?

Smegma has a distinct odor that is often unpleasant. It is an accumulation of natural body fluids and skin cells. Bacteria can grow and cause it to smell unpleasant. Washing the area with soap and water can remove the smegma and its odor.

What Are the Functions of Smegma?

The primary function of smegma is to keep the area around the genitals moist and well lubricated. The body naturally produces smegma. However, if smegma is not washed away for a prolonged time, it can collect and adhere to the skin surrounding the penis. Irregular or improper washing of the genital area can also build up smegma.

What Are the Complications of Smegma Formation?

If smegma is allowed to accumulate, it can have a strong, foul odor and a cottage cheese-like consistency. It can lead to more serious medical problems like phimosis and balanitis.

  • Phimosis - This condition occurs when the foreskin cannot be retracted from around the tip of the penis, appearing as a tight ring or rubber band of foreskin around the tip of the penis. There are two types of phimosis, depending on the situation: physiologic and pathologic. The physiologic form mainly occurs in infants and children and often resolves with age. The pathologic phimosis is associated with balanitis xerotica obliterans (BXO). It appears as a tight foreskin resulting from scarring, infection, or inflammation of the foreskin. In addition, pathologic phimosis is often associated with ballooning of the foreskin during urination, infection, or difficulty urinating. It can occur in children and adults.

  • Balanitis - Another condition that can appear due to the accumulation of smegma is balanitis, an inflammation of the head and foreskin of the penis. It is marked by a shiny red or red-orange hue, swelling, tenderness of the penis, an unpleasant odor, and painful urination. In some cases, bleeding may also occur. It is most frequent in uncircumcised men and people with phimosis. Balanitis is estimated to affect up to 11 % of men above 40 years. Balanitis can be caused by a yeast infection, sexually transmitted diseases, scabies infection, sensitivity or allergy to harsh soaps or chemicals, and skin conditions (such as psoriasis and eczema).

  • Earlier experts thought that the substances in smegma caused cancer of the penis. But now, it is clear that the irritation that smegma causes may raise the risk for cancer.

How Is Smegma Treated?

Maintaining good hygiene is the most effective way to prevent smegma build-up. The following measures can help:

  • Wash the genitals regularly with gentle soap and water. Individuals have the option to purchase hand wash.

  • Men with uncircumcised penis require more attention. Gently clean underneath the foreskin once or twice a day with warm water. Avoid scraping the foreskin.

  • Avoid scrubbing and using harsh soaps. In addition, choose fragrance-free cleansers or talcum powder, which does not irritate the skin.

  • Wear underwear made of breathable and natural fabrics such as cotton if smegma is problematic.

  • Avoid cleaning underneath the foreskin in a baby or young boy. Because in the first few years of life, the foreskin is attached to the penis head by a membrane. Retracting the foreskin too hard can cause pain and damage the penis.

  • Make a habit of checking the genitals daily for excess smegma and signs of potential infection or other problems to prevent smegma from becoming an issue. This is especially critical for people who sweat a lot, contributing to more smegma and making it easier to accumulate.

When to See a Doctor?

See a doctor if someone regularly has excess smegma collection despite maintaining good personal hygiene or if there are other changes to the genitals, such as inflammation, pain, and foul odor.

What Is the Outlook for People With Smegma?

Smegma is seldom a serious problem. However, if someone has smegma on the penis, thoroughly wash the genitalia for a few days. If, after a week, smegma remains, consider seeing a doctor. The symptoms may result from an infection, which may require additional treatment.


Smegma is a thick, white, cheesy natural substance produced by the body. It is mostly not a matter of concern unless it builds up and causes problems in the genital area. The most effective and easiest way to prevent any smegma build-up is to bathe and keep the genital area clean regularly. If smegma continues to collect despite good personal hygiene, consider seeing a doctor about whether or not it is a symptom of an infection.

Dr. Nidhin Varghese
Dr. Nidhin Varghese



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