Phimosis (tight foreskin) 

  • Overview


Penis hygiene

It's important to clean your penis regularly to avoid problems developing. You should:

  • gently wash your penis with warm water each day while having a bath or showering
  • gently pull back your foreskin (if you have one) and wash underneath; don't pull back the foreskin of a baby or young boy because it could be painful and cause harm
  • use a mild or non-perfumed soap (if you choose to use soap) to reduce the risk of skin irritation
  • avoid using talc and deodorants on your penis because they may cause irritation

Circumcised men should also regularly clean their penis with warm water and a mild soap (if you choose to use soap).

Read more about how to wash a penis.

Phimosis is a condition where the foreskin is too tight to be pulled back over the head of the penis (glans).

Phimosis is normal in babies and toddlers, but in older children it may be the result of a skin condition that has caused scarring. It isn't usually a problem unless it causes symptoms.

Immediate treatment is needed in cases where phimosis causes problems such as difficulty urinating.

Normal development

Most uncircumcised baby boys have a foreskin that won't pull back (retract) because it's still attached to the glans.

This is perfectly normal for about the first two to six years. By around the age of two, the foreskin should start to separate naturally from the glans.

The foreskin of some boys can take longer to separate, but this doesn't mean there's a problem – it will just detach at a later stage.

Never try to force your child's foreskin back before it's ready, because it may be painful and damage the foreskin.

When phimosis is a problem

Phimosis isn't usually a problem unless it's associated with symptoms such as redness, soreness or swelling.

If your child's glans is sore and inflamed they may have balanitis. There may also be a thick discharge underneath the foreskin. If both the glans and foreskin are inflamed it's known as balanoposthitis.

Take your child to see your GP if they have these type of symptoms. They will be able to recommend appropriate treatment.

Most cases of balanitis can be easily managed using a combination of good hygiene, creams or ointments, and avoiding substances that irritate the penis. Read more about treating balanitis.

Balanoposthitis can also sometimes be treated by following simple hygiene measures, such as keeping the penis clean by regularly washing it with water and a mild soap or moisturiser. If it's caused by a fungal or bacterial infection, an anti-fungal cream or a course of antibiotics may be needed.

In adults, phimosis can occasionally be associated with sexually transmitted infections (STIs). It can also be caused by a number of different skin conditions including:

  • eczema
  • psoriasis – a skin condition that causes red, flaky, crusty patches of skin covered with silvery scales
  • lichen planus – a non-infectious itchy rash that can affect many areas of the body
  • lichen sclerosus – a scarring condition of the foreskin (and sometimes glans) that's probably caused by urinary irritation in susceptible men and boys

Topical steroids (a cream, gel or ointment that contains corticosteroids) are sometimes prescribed to treat a tight foreskin. They help soften the skin of the foreskin, making it easier to retract.

When surgery may be needed

Surgery may be needed in cases where a child or adult has severe or persistent balanitis or balanoposthitis that causes their foreskin to be painfully tight.

Circumcision (surgically removing the foreskin) may be considered if other treatments have failed, but it carries risks such as bleeding and infection. Therefore, it's not recommended as a first line treatment but is sometimes the best and only option. 

Alternatively, surgery to release the adhesions (areas where the foreskin is stuck to the glans) may be possible. This will preserve the foreskin but may not always prevent the problem recurring.


Paraphimosis is where the foreskin can't be returned to its original position after being retracted.

It causes the glans to become painful and swollen and requires emergency medical treatment to avoid serious complications, such as increased pain, swelling and restricted blood flow to the penis.

It may be possible to reduce the pain and inflammation by applying a local anaesthetic gel to the penis, and pressing on the glans while pushing the foreskin forward. In difficult cases, a small slit may need to be made in the foreskin to relieve the pressure.

In severe cases of paraphimosis, circumcision may be recommended. In very severe cases, a lack of blood flow to the penis can cause tissue death (gangrene) and surgical removal of the penis may be necessary.

Page last reviewed: 12/11/2013

Next review due: 12/11/2015


How helpful is this page?

Average rating

Based on 186 ratings

All ratings

Add your rating


The 2 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Brisinger987 said on 16 December 2013

It explains the detail, but doesn't go on to explain that it can persist into the teenage years, either as a primary condition, or the knock on effect of another condition.

I am one such example of such a person, and find it upsetting that I cannot find reliable information regarding my conditions, that is applicable to me as a teenager.

If the page was to cover how it can persist into the teenage years, then it would be much more helpful and less distressing to people like me.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

tflis007 said on 14 July 2013

My son is 7 year old and have phimosis. Sometimes hi complain about eaching but doctor in Darlington Memoria Hospital said that is nothing to worry about but skin is so tight that i can't see glans at all. Should i change a doctor ?

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

Penis health

All you need to know to keep your penis clean, healthy and fit for purpose

Men's health 18-39

Health for men aged 18 to 39, including eating well, exercise, how to lose the gut and secrets of a sex doctor

Men's health 40-60

Health and fitness tips for men aged 40 to 60, including dealing with a midlife crisis and how to lose weight

Men's health 60-plus

Healthy lifestyle information for men aged 60 and over