Fordyce spots, also called Fordyce granules, are small pimple-like structures that commonly form on the body. They’re seen most often on male genitalia, especially around the shaft and testicles, but can be found on the lips and inner mouth. They’re also present in female genitalia, especially around the labia. The spots were first described by John Fordyce, a well-known dermatologist, in 1896.
You’re probably born with Fordyce spots, but they tend to appear around puberty. However, they can still develop randomly as you get older. Fordyce spots can be somewhat disconcerting at first glance — your first impression might be that you have an STD — but not to worry! Not only are they not transmitted sexually, but these spots are not “transmitted” by anything at all. Fordyce granules are neither infectious nor dangerous.
How Do You Identify Fordyce Spots?
When you have them, you’ll know it. Fordyce spots often appear in clusters, clumped together and easily visible under direct lighting. Try stretching the skin if you have trouble finding them. If you can’t see them, it doesn’t mean they’re not there, only that they’re too small to notice.
The little “spots” vary in size from between 1 and 5 millimeters in diameter. They’re either yellow or white in color and sometimes form in symmetrical lines. In fact, you might be tempted to confuse them with genital warts. As many as 80% of adults have Fordyce spots, but that doesn’t mean they won’t give you a little scare when you first see them.
Moreover, it’d be an excellent idea to be seen by a doctor if you think you do have Fordyce spots. They’re easily confused for several other conditions that have a “similar-ish” presentation, such as:
In other words, if you do think you have Fordyce spots, you should have your doctor confirm the diagnosis to make sure it’s not a more serious condition.
What Causes Fordyce Spots?
Scientists aren’t sure about the precise way Fordyce spots are formed. The spots are caused by the body’s sebaceous glands, which are responsible for the moisturizing oils in your skin and hair. Since Fordyce spots occur more frequently as you age, researchers tend to think they have something to do with the endocrine system’s effect on the body’s sebaceous glands, but more research is needed.
The spots are asymptomatic, which means they don’t create any symptoms, only occasionally causing itching. Again, Fordyce spots are considered a benign condition, so leaving them alone entirely — assuming you’ve already had them properly diagnosed as being Fordyce spots — is a viable option.
The issue for some people is that Fordyce spots might be uncomfortable to look at. Some people experience embarrassment just by having them. If you’re interested in having them removed for cosmetic reasons, there are options for doing so, as long as you carefully weigh the risks of possible side effects and complications from the removal.
Treating and Removing Fordyce Spots
Fordyce spots probably won’t just go away on their own, so if their presence bothers you, there are options available. These include:
CO2 laser resurfacing. A common treatment for acne, scarring, and stretch marks, CO2 laser skin resurfacing uses a carbon dioxide laser to remove the thin outermost layers of skin, revealing the softer skin underneath. Possible side effects include swelling, sun sensitivity, and redness. It usually takes a few weeks to heal after the procedure.
Isotretinoin. Originally sourced from vitamin A, isotretinoin is a kind of retinoid that is typically used to treat acne. Its important anti-inflammatory qualities can also render it effective against scarring and other skin conditions, including Fordyce spots. Isotretinoin is usually taken orally, but there’s a risk of side effects if used for too long or under the wrong circumstances.
Micro-Punch Surgery. This is a procedure where the doctor uses a pen-like device to quickly “punch” the skin in areas affected by Fordyce spots. Anesthesia is usually applied since the procedure can be somewhat painful. Micro-punch surgery has been shown to be an effective technique for Fordyce spot removal after producing good results when used on males participating in clinical trials.
That said, not all of these options will be suitable for everyone. For instance, CO2 laser resurfacing might cause scarring, and isotretinoin is only usable for short periods of time. It’s important to consult your Fordyce spots treatment options with a medical professional to find an approach that’s right for you.
Are There Other Risk Factors to Consider?
There’s a possible, but undetermined, link between Fordyce spots and colorectal cancer. In particular, a 2014 study found a correlation between people with Fordyce spots in their mouth and hereditary cancer in their families.
Worrying as that might sound, correlation is not causation. If you suspect you have Fordyce spots on your penis, first and foremost, see a doctor who can confirm the diagnosis for you and talk over your options.