Is It Genital Psoriasis or Jock Itch?

Medically Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on June 12, 2023
4 min read

If you have itchy, red skin in your crotch area, it might be genital psoriasis. Or it could be jock itch. The two conditions can look a lot alike. But there are differences, too.

Jock itch is an itchy rash or fungal infection on your groin. It’s a common condition caused by a fungus known as ringworm.

Athletes often get it because it grows well in moist conditions, like public showers and locker rooms. It often happens when warm, moist skin is trapped in tight clothes.

Jock itch is contagious. You can get it through skin-to-skin contact, infected clothing, and damp towels.

Psoriasis, on the other hand, is a lifelong disease. When you have psoriasis, your immune system goes into overdrive, causing inflammation and fast growth of skin cells. Instead of shedding the way they normally do, new skin cells build up on your skin and form lesions or sores.

You may have inverse psoriasis, which causes bright red patches on or around your genitals. Or you could have penile psoriasis, with pale red, scaly patches on your penis.

Unlike jock itch, psoriasis isn’t contagious. It can run in your family. It’s usually triggered by:

Jock itch is usually red and scaly. It’s often very itchy or painful. It may peel or ooze fluid. The edges may be scaly, raised, or red. Or they might have bumps that look like blisters.

The edges often look different from the center. The middle may be reddish-brown. Sometimes the middle clears up while the edges spread out in a ring-like pattern.

Jock itch often spreads fast. You may get it on your:

  • Groin
  • Inner thighs
  • Skin folds
  • Buttocks and the crease of your buttocks

It’s rare on the scrotum or penis. It can spread to other places, like your armpits. You may also have athlete’s foot.

Psoriasis, on the other hand, is often smooth and red.

In some places, like the creases between your thigh and in your genital area, it might be reddish-white or have cracks. You may have other symptoms, like:

  • Bleeding
  • Pain when you poop
  • Dryness

In places like your upper thighs, you may notice small, round plaques.

You can get psoriasis on your:

  • Penis
  • Scrotum
  • Anus
  • Buttocks
  • Creases between your thigh and genital area
  • Upper thighs

It can develop on your penis whether it’s circumcised or not. You may notice small, red patches on the tip of your penis or the shaft.

You might also have psoriasis on other parts of your body. It may look less scaly, but feel sore and itchy.

Jock itch is often easy to treat. It can clear up in a couple of weeks if you keep it dry and apply an over-the-counter antifungal lotion, powder or spray. These may contain ingredients such as clotrimazole, miconazole, terbinafine, or tolnaftate. But it doesn't normally go away on its own, so you should ask your doctor about treating it.

If that doesn’t work, your doctor can give you a prescription for an antifungal treatment. This can include pills, creams, and ointments – or a combination of them. Prescription medicines used to treat jock itch include oxiconazole, econazole, fluconazole, itraconazole, and terbinafine.

If you also have athlete’s foot, treat that, too. Otherwise, it can trigger a return of jock itch. Jock itch often comes back, so it’s best to stay on top of it.

Genital psoriasis is often harder to treat than jock itch. The skin in this area of the body is sensitive and thin, so you may need to treat the psoriasis there differently than how you treat it on other parts of your body. Your doctor will work with you to find the right treatment to relieve itching, burning, and pain and clear up your psoriasis.

Your doctor may recommend a treatment to put on your skin, like:

  • A corticosteroid that may or may not include calcitriol ointment, or may include a stronger corticosteroid for a short period of time
  • Mild cold tar
  • Calcipotriene cream or other topical vitamin D
  • Pimecrolimus cream
  • Tacrolimus ointment

Or they may give you a prescription for stronger medication, like a biologic like ixekizumab, cyclosporine, or methotrexate. Your doctor might also recommend phototherapy, in which your skin is exposed to ultraviolet light.

Taking good care of your skin can prevent jock itch and genital psoriasis.

To avoid jock itch:

  • Keep your body and genital area clean and dry.
  • Wear loose clothes.
  • Wash your clothes and towels often.
  • Shower right after you exercise.
  • Dry off completely after you shower.
  • Don’t leave sweaty, damp clothes in a gym bag.
  • Don’t share your clothes or towels with others.
  • Clean exercise equipment before you use it.
  • Wear flip-flops or sandals in public shower areas.

To avoid genital psoriasis flare-ups:

  • Use mild, fragrance-free, non-irritating cleansers.
  • Moisturize after you shower or take a bath.
  • Wear loose clothes.
  • Use high-quality, gentle toilet paper.
  • Keep urine and feces away from irritated skin.
  • Eat a high-fiber diet to keep bowel movements flowing easily.