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Skin care and incontinence


People who have problems controlling their urine or bowels (called incontinence) are at greater risk for skin problems around the buttocks, hips, genitals, and the area between the pelvis and rectum (perineum).

Excess moisture in these areas makes skin problems such as redness, peeling, irritation, and yeast infections more likely.

Bedsores (pressure sores ) may also develop if you:

  • Have not been eating well (are malnourished )
  • Have received radiation therapy to the area
  • Spend most or all of the day in a wheelchair, regular chair, or bed


Using diapers and other products may actually make skin problems worse. Although they may keep bedding and clothing cleaner, these products tend to keep the urine or stool in constant contact with the skin. Over time, the skin can break down. Special care must be taken to keep the skin clean and dry.

  • After urinating or having a bowel movement, clean and dry the area right away.
  • Clean the skin with mild, dilute soap and water. Rinse well, and gently pat dry.

Look for soap-free skin cleansers that do not cause dryness or irritation. Be sure to follow the product's instructions. Some of the products do not require rinsing. Some people may have allergies to the fragrances used in these cleansers, which can cause skin irritation.

Moisturizing creams can help keep the skin moist. Avoid products that contain alcohol, which may irritate the skin. If you are receiving radiation therapy, ask your health care provider if it is okay to use any creams or lotions.

Consider using a skin sealant or moisture barrier. Creams or ointments that contain zinc oxide, lanolin, or petrolatum form a protective barrier on the skin. Some skin care products (often in the form of a spray or a towelette) can create a clear, protective film over the skin. A doctor or nurse can recommend barrier creams to help protect the skin.

Even if you use these products, you must still clean the skin after each episode of incontinence. Reapply the cream or ointment after cleaning and drying the skin.

People who often have incontinence problems may develop a yeast infection on the skin. An itchy, red, pimple-like rash appears. The skin may feel raw. There are several products (both over-the-counter and prescription) that can be used to treat a yeast infection.

  • If the skin is moist most of the time, you may use a powder with antifungal medication (such as nystatin powder).
  • A moisture barrier or skin sealant may be applied over the powder.
  • If severe skin irritation develops, see your health care provider.

The National Association For Continence (NAFC) publishes a resource guide of continence products and services, which includes a listing of the manufacturers and distributors of specific products. To get a copy of this resource guide, call 1-800-BLADDER or go to the website .


You or your caregiver should check the skin for pressure sores every day. Look for reddened areas that, when pressed, do not turn white. Also look for blisters, sores, or craters. Tell your doctor or nurse if you have any foul-smelling drainage.

Eat healthy, well-balanced meals that contain enough calories and protein to keep you healthy.

If you must stay in bed, you should:

  • Change positions often, at least every 2 hours
  • Have clean sheets and clothing
  • Use items that can help reduce pressure (pillows, sheepskin, foam padding)

If you are in a wheelchair:

  • Make sure the chair fits properly
  • Shift their weight every 15 - 20 minutes
  • Use items that can help reduce pressure (pillows, sheepskin, foam padding)


Nviriesy P. Vulvovaginal candidiasis and bacterial vaginosis. Infect Dis Clin North Am. 2008;22:637-652.

Bluestein D, Javaheri A. Pressure ulcers: prevention, evaluation, and management. Am Fam Physician. 2008;78:1186-1194.

Updated: 1/26/2012

Kevin Berman, MD, PhD, Atlanta Center for Dermatologic Disease, Atlanta, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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