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Foreskin Care Questions


  • Foreskin and penis care questions in boys not circumcised
  • Includes questions about foreskin retraction
  • Smegma questions are covered

Types of Foreskin Retraction Problems

  • The foreskin usually causes no problems.
  • Paraphimosis. Forceful retraction can cause the foreskin to get stuck behind the glans. The glans is the head of the penis. This can cause severe pain and swelling and is a medical emergency.
  • Cut. If retraction is forceful, it can cause a small cut. This cut may cause a small amount of bleeding and pain.
  • Infection. Sometimes, the cut causes the space under the foreskin to become infected. The main symptom is a red and tender foreskin. Pus may also come out to the foreskin opening.

When To Call

Go to ER Now

  • Foreskin pulled back and stuck
  • Can't pass urine or can only pass a few drops

Call Doctor or Seek Care Now

  • Severe pain
  • Red foreskin with fever
  • Your child looks or acts very sick
  • You think your child needs to be seen, and the problem is urgent

Contact Doctor Within 24 Hours

  • Red foreskin, but no fever
  • Swollen foreskin
  • Pus from end of foreskin
  • Painful foreskin
  • You think your child needs to be seen, but the problem is not urgent

Contact Doctor During Office Hours

  • Urine stream looks abnormal
  • You have other questions or concerns

Self Care at Home

  • Questions about normal foreskin care
  • Questions about foreskin retraction
  • Questions about smegma (whitish material) under the foreskin

Care Advice

What You Should Know About the Foreskin:

  • At birth, the foreskin is attached to the head of the penis (glans). It is attached by a layer of cells.
  • Over time, the foreskin will separate from the head of the penis. This is a natural process and occurs over 5 to 10 years. It slowly loosens up (retracts) a little at a time.
  • Normal erections during childhood cause most of the change by stretching the foreskin.
  • If your boy has a normal urine stream, any foreskin movement is normal.
  • There should be no rush to achieve full retraction. This always occurs on its own by puberty.
  • Here is some care advice that should help.

Before Age 1 Year - How to Clean:

  • During the first year of life, only clean the outside of the foreskin.
  • Don't make any attempts at retraction.
  • Don't put any cotton swabs into the opening.

After Age 1 Year - How to Clean:

  • As the foreskin becomes able to retract on its own, cleanse beneath it. This helps to prevent infections. Exception: your child's doctor has told you not to retract the foreskin until child is older.
  • Wash the exposed part of the glans gently with warm water. Then, dry it.
  • Do not use soap or leave soapy water under the foreskin. This can cause redness and swelling.
  • Wipe away any whitish material (smegma) that you find there.
  • It can be done once per week during bathing.

Foreskin Partial Retraction - How to:

  • Begin gentle partial retraction at 1 to 2 years of age.
  • Gently pull the skin on the shaft of the penis backward towards the stomach.
  • This will make the foreskin open up. You will be able to see part of the glans. The glans is the tip of the penis.
  • Be gentle. Retraction should never cause pain or crying.

Reposition the Foreskin:

  • After cleansing, always pull the foreskin forward to its normal position.

Avoid Forceful Retraction:

  • This can cause bleeding or tears of the tissue.
  • It also may cause the foreskin to become stuck behind the penis head.
  • Retraction is too hard if it causes any pain or crying.

Teach Child to Retract (Age 6):

  • By age 6, teach your son to retract his own foreskin.
  • Teach him to clean beneath it once a week during bathing.
  • This will help to prevent poor hygiene and infection.

Pain Following Recent Attempt at Retraction:

  • The attempt to retract the foreskin has probably caused a small cut or tear. Raw surfaces are painful.
  • Cover the raw area with a layer of antibiotic ointment (such as Polysporin).
  • If you don't have one, use petroleum jelly (such as Vaseline).
  • Once the raw surface is protected from the air, the pain should go away. The pain should slowly improve over a few hours.
  • Continue twice a day until healed. This takes about 1 or 2 days.

The No-Retraction Approach to the Foreskin:

  • Some doctors advise that a parent should never attempt to retract the foreskin. They also say never clean under the foreskin.
  • They teach that only the boy himself should ever retract his foreskin. This teaching should occur after puberty or about age 12.
  • They teach that the foreskin will naturally retract on its own during puberty. This is usually true.
  • The advice against parent retraction is more common in Europe.
  • It is a safe option. It prevents too much or forceful retraction.
  • But, the gentle partial retraction for cleansing (described in this guide) is also safe.
  • Ask your child's doctor for his or her thoughts.

Smegma - General Information:

  • Smegma is the small pieces of whitish material found under the foreskin.
  • Smegma is made up of dead skin cells. These cells are shed from the lining of the foreskin and the penis. It becomes trapped under the foreskin.
  • Smegma is normal and harmless. It is not a sign of an infection. It is produced in small amounts throughout life.
  • Smegma can build up under the foreskin. This happens if the foreskin is not pulled back and cleaned regularly.
  • Smegma also can occur before the foreskin becomes retractable. It looks like small white lumps. It lies under the foreskin that is still stuck to the penis head. It can't be removed at this stage.
  • If it lies beyond the level of foreskin retraction, it should be left alone. Wait until normal separation exposes it. Then, gently wipe it away.
  • Caution. During the first year of life, do not make any attempts at foreskin retraction. Leave the smegma alone.

Call Your Doctor If:

  • Pain lasts more than 24 hours
  • Foreskin looks infected
  • Other foreskin problems occur
  • You think your child needs to be seen


Barton Schmitt MD, FAAP
Disclaimer: this health information is for educational purposes only. You, the reader, assume full responsibility for how you choose to use it.
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