Can You Tan Your Penis or Scrotum?
Once upon a time in 2022, former Fox News host Tucker Carlson went viral when an episode of his series Tucker Carlson's Originals claimed that men should tan their testicles. The episode and its expert, Andrew McGovern, said that by exposing the scrotum to infrared light, men could boost testosterone levels and save their manhood.
We asked urologists whether there was any truth to Carlson's claim that exposing your balls to infrared light could increase testosterone. (Tanning actually requires ultraviolet light, not infrared.)
"Zero," was the succinct response of Michael A. Werner, M.D., the founder and medical director of Maze Sexual & Reproductive Health in New York City.
Treatments claiming to boost testosterone, enhance erections and/or lengthen your penis are everywhere, said Seth D. Cohen, M.D., a professor of urology at New York University Langone Health in New York City.
"Most don't amount to very much," Cohen said.
Still, Carlson's claims pose an interesting question, one that has likely crossed the mind of any man who's ventured to a nude beach or lain naked in a tanning bed: Even if it doesn't deliver a testosterone boost, can you tan your penis and balls?
Put another way: Is it safe to tan your genitals?
Can you tan your penis?
"Is it safe to tan any part of your body?"
That's the question Chris Kyle, M.D., a urologist with Oregon Urology Institute in Springfield, Oregon, asked in response to the question of whether it's safe to tan your penis.
"Whether it's your earlobe or the shaft of your penis, it's not safe to tan any part of your body because of the risk of sun exposure and skin cancer," Kyle said. "Any area that's not traditionally exposed to the sun is going to be at higher risk of burn, so that's another reason tanning your penis isn't the greatest idea."
There isn't any reason tanning your genitals would be more dangerous than tanning any other sensitive area, however.
"The penis skin isn't more sensitive to skin cancer than any other places not used to sun exposure," Werner said.
Still, the genitals would be a very inconvenient place to develop a skin cancer tumor, he added. The process of having skin cancer removed typically involves scraping off cancer cells and applying electricity with a probe—not a procedure you'd want to be performed on your penis.
Does the sun help with erectile dysfunction?
Past research has suggested erectile dysfunction (ED) could be linked—among many other things—to a deficiency of vitamin D, a nutrient supplied by the sun. A smattering of internet blogs have gone so far as to suggest that this means exposure to the sun, the best natural source of vitamin D, could help with ED.
Our sources are skeptical.
"Vitamin D deficiency is rampant all over. [Medical professionals] joke that even if you take vitamin D levels in the patients with the darkest tans down in Florida, they still come back with low vitamin D," Cohen said. "You could find lots of links to vitamin deficiencies and erectile dysfunction that correlate that to overall health issues. But it's unlikely that getting out in the sun makes your erections better if you're looking for a direct correlation."
Sun exposure might increase your vitamin D levels, but it comes with the risk of skin cancer, Werner said.
"Giving your penis sun exposure to improve your systemic vitamin D is a little nonsensical," he said. "I don't care how huge you are—your penis is going to be less than 1 percent of your body's surface area. So tanning it is not going to make a dramatic difference in your systemic vitamin D levels."
How to protect your penis skin
If you must expose your genitals to the sun, there are ways to minimize your risk of skin cancer and sunburn.
"If you sunbathe nude, protect your penis the same way you would protect any other skin part," Werner said. "Use a good tan lotion with a high SPF rating to minimize the damaging ultraviolet rays to your penis."
When applying sunscreen to your penis, Werner recommended being extra careful around the head of the penis.
"Remember that the tip of your penis is a very sensitive area," Werner said. "You don't want to put anything in the tip of your penis that you wouldn't want to put in your eye. Be careful not to get lotions down the urethra."
Kyle encouraged men to keep an eye on their penis for growths or irregularities, whether sun-related or otherwise.
"If you see something you're concerned about, show your healthcare provider," he said.