How Do I Know If It is Smegma?

Medically Reviewed By Matt Coward, MD, FACS
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Smegma is a natural occurrence where skin cells, oils, and bodily fluids build up under the foreskin. It is typically harmless, and you can easily clean it. This article will discuss the discharge under your foreskin and how to tell if it is smegma. It will also define smegma and discuss the causes, how to remove it, and prevention of it.

How do you know it is smegma?

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Some people may confuse discharge from a buildup of smegma under their foreskin for pus. However, smegma has a few differences from pus and is generally not something to worry about.

Pus is typically the sign of an abscess or infection, which comes with other symptoms. Smegma is a naturally occurring lubricant found under the foreskin and on the head of the penis. It looks like white pearl-like lumps under the foreskin when it builds up.

Smegma does not typically cause any pain or other symptoms. This is one of the main ways you can distinguish smegma from something else.

What is smegma?

When a penis is uncircumcised, the foreskin will separate from the penis in the first few years of a person’s life. Once this separation occurs, the skin cells from the foreskin shed. As they shed, they can become trapped beneath the foreskin.

This buildup typically looks like small white lumps and has a cheesy-looking consistency. Smegma begins when the foreskin separates from the penis, sometimes even before. Your body produces it in generally small quantities throughout your life after that.

It is harmless and not a sign of infection or illness.

If you do not clean your penis regularly or daily, this smegma can build up. When this happens, it can cause:

  • your penis to smell
  • the foreskin to not easily move
  • an overgrowth of bacteria under your foreskin

If you do not wash your penis and too much smegma builds up, it can develop balanitis. This condition causes the head of your penis to become irritated, swollen, and typically red with inflammation. However, the color of your inflammation may vary depending on your skin tone.

Poor or infrequent hygiene is one cause of balanitis. Other causes include:

  • infection
  • skin conditions, such as psoriasis
  • irritation of the skin

Smegma is not typically a reason to see your doctor. It does not require treatment. However, if you notice redness and swelling on the head of your penis, contact your doctor.

Learn about the male yeast infection.

How do you remove smegma?

Regular cleaning underneath the foreskin is important from the time it separates from the penis. The most efficient way to clean your penis and foreskin is as follows:

  1. Pull the foreskin away from the top of the penis gently.
  2. Use soap and warm water to rinse under the foreskin.
  3. Pull the foreskin back over the penis.

How do you prevent smegma?

You cannot prevent smegma, as it is a natural occurrence. However, you can prevent it from building up. The buildup causes your penis to smell and breed bacteria that can lead to infection.

The best way to prevent a buildup of smegma is to clean your penis under your foreskin regularly. This typically means on a daily basis.

Proper hygiene is the most effective way to prevent smegma from building up under your foreskin.

Read about the pros and cons of circumcision.


Smegma is a naturally occurring lubricant under the foreskin and at the head of the penis. Skin cells from the foreskin shed, causing a white cheesy-like substance to appear under the foreskin.

This substance is not typically anything to worry about, nor is it a sign of infection. You can simply clean under the foreskin with soap and warm water. You should clean your penis and under your foreskin daily to keep the smegma from building up.

A buildup of smegma can cause your penis to smell and the foreskin to breed bacteria. This bacteria can lead to infection. One sign of severe smegma buildup is balanitis. This is when the head of your penis becomes irritated, red, and swollen.

If you have symptoms of balanitis, contact your doctor. Practice proper personal hygiene to prevent this and other issues from smegma buildup.

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Medical Reviewer: Matt Coward, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2022 Jun 30
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