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Everything You Need to Know About Smegma

by Dr. Jed Kaminetsky 9 min read

Dr. Jed Kaminetsky
Board Certified Urologist, expert in male sexual dysfunction
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Board Certified Urologist, expert in male sexual dysfunction


Have you ever heard the term"dick cheese" in the locker room?

Smegma is one of the few things in existence that is named so appropriately for what it truly is. Our bodies secrete a tremendous amount of fluids, and your genitals are no different.

So while your skin creates oils to keep it protected and soft, when your hygiene isn't quite up to par, it can build up.

This build up traps dead skin cells and whatever else is around and creates a thick, white, cheesy paste around the foreskin of the penis.

The resulting buildup smells bad, is unpleasant to behold, and can actually have some health repercussions if it's not dealt with properly.

Pro Tip: You can discreetly use Promescent Before and After Wipes to stay clean while on the go.

While you might not want smegma for obvious sexual and social reasons, the potential negative health effects are probably the best reason to start taking back your personal hygiene and learning how to deal with smegma once and for all.

Yes, although the condition largely occurs in uncircumcised men, circumcised men and women can also suffer from smegma

Smegma is caused from poor hygiene so make sure to wash your genitals thoroughly with soap and water everyday. If you are not circumcised make sure you take extra time to clean the folds of extra foreskin around the head of your penis.

No, it will only get worse and can cause an infection. What's worse is it could get into the males urethra or the females vagina and cause problems inside the body.

Yes, but there is no one and done solution. This requires constant cleaning and maintenance as your body is constantly producing oils and shedding dead skin cells that will always need to be washed away.

What is Smegma?

Your sebaceous glands in your skin secrete oil that helps keep your skin protected, hydrated, and soft. This oil can build up and on most of your body, it's something that is a nuisance but isn't overly problematic.

Sure, your hair might look oily after not washing it for a few days, but it might not smell bad or cause you any concern.

Smegma occurs when the oil secretions on your genitals aren't dealt with through washing for long enough of a period that they trap dead skin cells, urine, and whatever other fluids are in the area.

The result is a foul-smelling substance that harbors bacteria.

It develops most typically in uncircumcised men, under the foreskin around the head of the penis, and is due to poor hygiene of that area.

For women, it can occur in the vulva and around the clitoris.

Chart showing the percentages of what smegma is comprised of

Having some is common - it's going to happen naturally as we sweat and go about our day, and it will typically be washed away during our next bath or shower.

It's when it builds up that smegma can cause health issues.

What Causes Smegma?

Your skin will always secrete oil that can bind up with whatever is around, including dead skin or other fluids.

For some men, smegma is caused by an overproduction of oil in the genital skin. This can be due to an underlying condition, overactive sebum glands, or it can simply be their default oil production.

What causes smegma

For the vast majority of people, however, smegma is caused by a combination of oil production and poor hygiene.

Typically when we wash our genitals during normal bathing, it's enough to remove accumulated oil and skin cells and prevent smegma from forming.

For men who cannot bathe themselves for one reason or another, this accumulation occurs unchecked and smegma develops.

Typical causes of the lack of hygiene needed to create smegma are:

  • Physical disability
  • Mental health disorders that make bathing difficult or unimportant
  • Lack of clear understanding as to how one should clean uncircumcised penises

For those with a physical disability and who have people that can help bathe them, everyone must understand how critical it is to clean the foreskin each time.

Depression can make bathing less of a priority, but regular bathing can prevent yeast infections in the skin from buildups like smegma or bacterial overgrowth.

What Does Smegma Look Like?

Smegma build up really does look like white cheese, and the smell is not too far off, either. It will appear as a paste between the foreskin and penis head, or the folds of the labia and vulva.

This buildup is thick and paste-like but wipes off reasonably easily.

It occurs most commonly in uncircumcised men, but because of the common rate of circumcision among men in the US, women are more likely to develop smegma.

For men, it occurs most commonly around the underside of the penis head under the foreskin. For women, it accumulates mostly in the vulva and around the clitoris.

How to Get Rid of Smegma for Men

The biggest thing to understand with smegma is that once it develops, it needs to be rigorously and regularly cleaned until it's gone.

After that point, you need to improve your hygiene so it doesn't come back, and the best way to do that is to bathe frequently.

Particularly in the summer when you're sweating a lot, or if you're very overweight, regular bathing can prevent a lot of skin-related conditions, including smegma.

How to get rid of smegma

1. Thoroughly Clean Your Genitals

Use a mild, unscented soap - fragrances and colors commonly found in body washes can irritate the sensitive skin of your penis.

Wash well, soap up, and then wash again.

Ensure that you're completely drying your genitals as well, as remaining moisture can further increase the incidence of smegma on your penis.

2. Clean the Foreskin

Gently pull back the foreskin to reveal your whole penis head, using your fingers to wipe down every nook and cranny.

Try to avoid spreading anything into your urethra, but ensure you're gently cleaning each space between the foreskin and penis head so that there is no remaining smegma.

As smegma sits for longer periods, it can harden or become tacky, both of which will cause pain and discomfort.

Ensure you're drying your penis head as well when you're done showering.

If you are having trouble properly cleaning your smegma because of a narrowing of the foreskin, making retraction and cleaning difficult, then you may have a condition known as Phimosis.

If this is the case then you should see a urologist, you may need a circumcision.

You could also have a condition known as Balanitis.

This is different than smegma, it is generally a yeast infection of the glans in uncircumcised men, seen more commonly in diabetics but can also be associated with poor hygiene and/or phimosis

3. Keep up a Regular Hygiene Schedule

If you thoroughly wash your genitals at least twice a week, regular bathing and a quick clean should be enough to maintain smegma-free genitals from that point forward.

4. Consider Getting Cleaning Wipes

PH-balanced cleaning wipes that are widely commercially available can be a great tool to use to keep your most sensitive skin clean and smelling fresh.

They're also a good reminder of how important hygiene practice is while keeping your genital skin PH-balanced to prevent bacterial overgrowth.

How to Get Rid of Smegma Build Up for Women

Women have more skin surfaces that are folded in which smegma can develop, so regular hygiene is even more imperative to prevent this from occurring.

1. Regular Bathing

 Woman bathing to prevent smegma

While there are many products and substances on the market specifically targeting women to "balance the PH of their vaginas", your vagina is very good at doing that itself.

These products also will not help with smegma build up in most cases, since the incidence is topical, not intervaginal.

Bathing regularly is the best way to resolve smegma, requiring you to gently pull apart the folds of your genitals and cleaning with mild soap and warm water.

Pat dry and keep up a regular bathing schedule afterward.

2 . Clean Your Genitals Thoroughly for the First 7 Days

Paying specific attention to your labia and vulva for the first week after you notice and want to resolve smegma will ensure you get all of it.

After that, it's best to make sure you're cleaning your genitals thoroughly, but you don't have to every day - a few times a week is enough.

Once you've resolved the smegma build up, a quick wash each time you bathe should be sufficient to get rid of it all.

Smegma Prevention Tips

Man in bathtub cleaning to prevent smegma

For both men and women, the easiest thing you can do to prevent smegma build up is to wash thoroughly and regularly.

Once you have resolved the initial problematic build up of smegma, you can create a hygiene routine that keeps it from accumulating:

  • Start showering or bathing at least once every few days, and more often if you sweat a lot and/or during the summer months.
  • Cleaning your genitals well a few times a week, and give them a cursory wash and rinse on each of your other bath times.
  • Consider using cleansing wipes during the day. Products like Promescent's Before And After Wipes are specifically formulated to use on sensitive skin, like around the vagina and penis. They're Ph-balanced to keep your skin fresh and clean and prevent bacterial build-up. Though these wipes are designed to be used before and after a sexual encounter, they're gentle and safe enough to use every day when you need refreshing.

The diligence of a cleaning routine is the easiest and fastest way to get rid of and prevent smegma for both men and women.

Cleansing wipes in particular are a great stand-in for bathing when you're coming home from the gym, or doing other physical activity that makes you sweat and potentially chafe. As skin rubs against itself, it releases dead skin

Will Smegma Go Away Without Treatment?

Unfortunately, smegma will only get worse if you don't address it. Not only will the smell become overwhelming and embarrassing, but smegma will also harden and become very sticky over time. 

Will smegma go away on it's own? No it will only get worse

This can lead to your vaginal folds or foreskin sticking to your body and causing pain, discomfort, and potentially damage to the surface of your skin.

If your skin is damaged in this way, especially with smegma build up, it can lead to an infection.

Smegma can also enter your urethra or vagina, and cause problems inside. Not only will it be highly uncomfortable, but it can introduce bacteria into your body that can take antibiotics and cleaning to resolve.

The only way to ensure smegma goes away is to clean it up and use the prevention methods we outlined to keep it from recurring.

Additionally, smegma - or rather the bacteria that feed on it - can attack and inflame the skin of the vagina and penis.

This can cause discomfort and itching at first, but serious infections can cause severe irritation, pain, and can require you to see a doctor.

If regular hygiene doesn't tackle your smegma issue, that is also an indication you should see your general practitioner or a dermatologist to prevent complications.

Why Does Smegma Smell So Bad?

Bacteria love dead skin cells and the other components of smegma.

The term "penis cheese" not only refers to the look of the substance but also the pungent, sour smell it releases.

Since the waxy build up is comprised of dead skin cells, sweat, and other secretions, there are plenty of opportunities for bacteria to develop.

The smells that bacteria create are the primary reason smegma has such an offensive odor, and why regular hygiene is so critically important to fixing and preventing it.

Smegma is Unpleasant but Highly Treatable

If you're asking "is smegma bad", don't worry too much. It's simply a build-up of dead skin, oil, and other secretions around your genitals.

These substances are typically present in small quantities and have their purpose, but when you neglect hygiene for one reason or another for long periods of time, they build up and form smegma.

Since controlling smegma is largely a matter of hygiene, you simply need to inform yourself on the best methods for keeping your genitals clean.

Banana poking through a pair of shorts

Work regularly to stay in a bathing routine, thoroughly wash your penis or vagina, and use cleansing wipes for when you're not feeling exceptionally clean but not able to bathe.

Smegma is embarrassing but it doesn't have to ruin your life if you take proper care of your body. 

Especially for people who are obese or who sweat a lot, there is a greater risk of smegma developing.

If you have trouble bathing or have assistance to help you bathe, your caretaker must understand the need to thoroughly wash your foreskin and vulva.

Practicing good hygiene not only makes you less likely to develop a problem with smegma, you'll feel cleaner and better in general.

Hygiene is one simple daily task that can make you feel more in control of your life and for those who are depressed or suffer from other mental health problems, a daily routine that includes bathing can help their overall confidence.

It's important to understand that smegma won't go away without effort, but that it's not terribly threatening and doesn't take much effort to prevent.

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Dr. Jed Kaminetsky
Dr. Jed Kaminetsky

Dr. Jed Kaminetsky M.D. is an American Board Certified Urologist and earned his Medical Degree at New York University. In his tenure he became a member of the American Urological Association and the American College of Surgeons. Dr. Kaminetsky pioneered the minimally invasive Rezum BPH treatment and is an expert in male and female dysfunction.