Foreskin care and penis care

You don’t need to do anything special to care for your boy’s foreskin when he’s a baby or during childhood. You don’t need to pull it back for cleaning. If your son does pull back his foreskin while he’s having a bath or shower, that’s fine – but he doesn’t need to do this.

Once your son goes through puberty and he can easily pull back his foreskin, you should encourage him to do so for cleaning while in the bath or shower.

If your son can’t pull back his foreskin or has concerns about it, you should take him to see the GP.

Foreskins: what to expect

In most boys, the foreskin won’t pull back at all at birth, so you can’t see the glans of the penis. This is because the underside of the foreskin hasn’t yet separated from the surface of the glans and the opening at the end of the foreskin is too tight. It’s normal.

During childhood, many boys can begin to pull back their foreskin as it separates gradually from the glans. But even at 10 years, many boys still can’t fully pull back their foreskins because the opening at the end is too tight. This is still normal.

The foreskin might not fully separate from the glans until after puberty. Again, this is normal.

In the years before the foreskin separates fully from the glans, skin cells can build up under the foreskin as a whitish substance called smegma. It might even cause firm lumps under the foreskin. This happens in about 10% of older boys, and it’s also normal.

Your son can wash smegma away with water, but it can also be left for years without problems. By puberty, regular showering will clean it away.

Most boys regularly play with their penises and foreskins during early childhood. This is normal.

Foreskins vary considerably in length. When unfolded, the foreskin is about 40-70% of the skin along the penis.

Medical experts agree that the risks of circumcision for boys for non-medical reasons outweigh the benefits.

Foreskin irritation and inflammation

Foreskins can get caught in hastily pulled up zips. This can be painful and distressing. If your son’s foreskin gets stuck in a zip, he’ll probably need to go to a hospital emergency department.

Other problems include the tip of the foreskin getting red and irritated, which is common. This might be caused by wet nappies, forcing the foreskin back, or from a build-up of soap residue.

Treatment for this problem involves avoiding whatever causes the irritation. You could try:

  • giving your son some nappy-free time
  • putting nappy barrier cream or nappy rash ointment on the tip of your son’s foreskin
  • adding some salt to your son’s bathwater instead of using soap for a few days.

Balanitis is an inflammation of the foreskin and penis, with swelling and redness. There might be a discharge, and it might be painful for your son to do a wee. Try salt baths for a day or two. If the problem doesn’t go away, see your GP, who might prescribe a corticosteroid cream (cortisone) or antibiotics.

Tight foreskin

In some boys, the end of the foreskin might be tight – this is called phimosis. Sometimes phimosis can cause the foreskin to balloon when weeing.

Phimosis is very common in younger boys and usually settles without any treatment as they get older. But if you or your son has concerns about phimosis, check with your GP. The GP might prescribe a corticosteroid cream to help phimosis settle.

If an older boy still has a tight foreskin after puberty, he should have it checked by a doctor.

If a boy’s foreskin gets pulled back when it’s still tight, it might get stuck and act like a rubber band around the shaft of the penis. This is called paraphimosis and is rare. It causes considerable swelling but it’s often not painful. It does need to be treated urgently though. With firm pressure, the foreskin can usually be brought back to its normal position. It doesn’t usually need circumcision, either at the time or later.