Smegma. It’s an unappealing name for an unappealing penis health issue. Guys have heard of it, but many don’t really know what it is. In the United States, that’s not surprising, for smegma is really only an issue for guys with an intact penis. (However, it should be noted that women can also produce smegma, so a circumcised man could theoretically have encountered it with a female partner.) Therefore, some basic information on smegma follows.

What is it, exactly?

When a man talks about smegma on his penis, he is generally referring to a foul-smelling, pale white or yellowish substance that is rather thick and clumpy. It is sometimes referred to as "head cheese" because it does have something of a cheese-like density. Although there may be other ingredients in it, most of smegma is made up of dead skin cells and oily secretions from the sebaceous glands.

However, that physical description of smegma is not entirely accurate. In its initial state, the dead skin cells and oily secretions are not thickened and clumpy. Instead, they are more fluid-like, and in fact before it thickens, smegma is actually an effective natural lubricant. It also helps the foreskin to retract more smoothly and easily. (The word smegma, by the way, is derived from a Greek word that means soap.)

Intact penis

It was mentioned that smegma in males is associated only with those with an intact penis. That is because the dead skin cells involved tend to come from the foreskin. That’s not to say that a circumcised man has no dead skin cells, of course; everybody does, as skin cells are constantly dying and being replaced with new skin cells. But with an intact penis, often the dead skin cells get trapped beneath the foreskin. Over time, if they are not removed, they mix with the oily secretions and eventually thicken into what is typically what is meant by the word smegma.

As mentioned, before it thickens, smegma is a fine natural lubricant. In its early form, it is sterile and odorless and can make penetration much easier. However, after this early-stage form, it is no longer sterile. Trapped between the foreskin and the penis, it is in a very warm, very moist environment - which is just the circumstances for bacteria to grow. This can result in balanitis (in which the glans of the penis becomes inflamed) or balanoposthitis (in which the foreskin itself becomes inflamed), both of which can be painful conditions.


In order to avoid smegma becoming a penis health issue, intact men need to be sure to thoroughly clean the penis and beneath the foreskin regularly. For most men with an intact penis, this means once a day; however, men with skin that is typically oilier than most may need to wash more often. It is very important to include cleaning underneath the foreskin, not just the outer surface. Avoid using harsh soaps or cleansers, which may irritate the penis. It’s also important to be gentle when pulling back and washing under the foreskin, in order to avoid any potential damage.

Although practicing proper hygiene to prevent or get rid of smegma is important at almost any age, it is most important starting in puberty and continuing through middle age. Smegma production does tend to start decreasing the older a man gets.

Smegma can be an issue for the intact penis, but every penis has health issues to attend to. That’s why daily application of a superior penis health oil (health professionals recommend Man 1 Man Oil, which is clinically proven mild and safe for skin) is valuable. Seek out an oil that contains important penis health vitamins like A, B5, C, D, and E. Also look at ingredients such as alpha lipoic acid, an antioxidant that strengthens penis skin by fighting oxidative stress.