Most men tend to not pay regular attention to their general skin condition, but when it comes to matters of the penis, it is almost always a cause for immediate concern; after all, it is the source of our manhood. More often than not, any unusual appearance such as discolouration, dry skin, red spots or bumps may result in considerable anxiety.
It is not uncommon for men, especially those with darker skin, to have slight variations in the colour of the penis. In fact, for men of all races, it is normal for the penis to be slightly darker than the skin on the rest of the body. This applies also to the labia of women.
When an adolescent male or female undergoes puberty, the body produces the sex hormones, testosterone and oestrogen, which results in the development of secondary sexual characteristics. Excess levels of these hormones in the genitals respond to melanocytes, the skin cells that cause pigmentation. These physiological changes are responsible for darker genitalia in both men and women.
Mild penile discolouration is generally nothing to worry about. In fact, during sexual arousal, the penis can take on a reddish, sometimes almost purplish colour, due to increased blood flow to the organ. However, there are other causes of penile discolouration that may be more severe and require treatment.
6 Common Causes of Penile Discolouration
1. Contact Dermatitis
Contact dermatitis is a skin reaction to contact with an irritant. This can happen anywhere on the body, including the penis. When this happens, it is usually caused by latex condom usage. The skin of the penis can turn red and itchy. Sometimes the skin can break causing serous discharge, and bacterial infection can occur. Mild cases can be treated with a corticosteroid cream. Non-latex condoms can be used if you have a latex allergy.
2. Penile Injury
A penile injury can lead to rapid discolouration due to bruising, in the form of purple, dark brown or even greenish hues. Sometimes, a red patch with prominent blood vessels just under the surface of the skin can occur due to a hematoma. This usually fades after several days and treatment is typically not necessary.
However, if there is severe pain along with the discolouration after a traumatic episode, immediate medical attention is required as this could be due to a penile fracture, which is a more severe issue.
3. Lichen Sclerosus
Lichen sclerosus is a lifelong condition that can go through periods of remission and flare-ups, and is characterised by white patches on the penis. It is more common in those who are uncircumcised. In addition to blotchy white spots, the skin of the penis can also become itchy, fragile and tear or bleed easily. Other symptoms include painful sex and an inability to retract the foreskin fully.
The cause of lichen sclerosus is unknown, but an overactive immune system or an imbalance of hormones may play a role. It is not contagious and cannot be transmitted through sexual intercourse. Treatment usually includes a strong steroid ointment applied directly to the affected skin. If only the foreskin is affected, circumcision may be advised.
4. Penile Melanosis or Post Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation (PIH)
Penile melanosis, or PIH, is a benign condition simply caused by overproduction of melanin, in which the skin can appear in a wide variety of colors including different shades of brown, grey or even blue.
Overproduction usually occurs after an injury to the skin of the penis, the most common being excessive rubbing of the penis from vigorous sex or self-pleasuring. It will fade over time, or if a man is bothered by it, possible treatments such as topical retinol (vitamin A) every night before bed, laser therapy, or microdermabrasion can help to reduce the discolouration.
5. Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)
Purple sores on the penis can occur as a result of genital herpes or syphilis. These STDs can be accompanied by other symptoms such as pain, fever, itchiness, burning, and fatigue. If STD is suspected, it is imperative to head to a clinic to see a physician as soon as possible to be tested and get treated.
6. Penile Cancer
Penile cancer tends to start on the skin of the penis and spreads towards the deeper tissues. 95% are squamous cell carcinomas, while penile melanoma accounts for 0.7%. Penile cancer is rare and the cause is not entirely known, but risk factors include smoking, HIV and high risk strains of Human Papillomavirus (HPV) infection. Symptoms include changes in the colour and thickness of the skin of the penis, foul smelling discharge under the foreskin, and abnormal non-resolving growths or ulceration of the penis. A diagnosis of penile cancer requires an urgent biopsy.
There are other conditions that can cause penile discolouration. It is important to determine the exact cause as treatment varies according to the cause. It is always best to visit a doctor for a physical examination and proper evaluation.
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