Fordyce spots are enlarged oil glands without a hair follicle. They're a normal part of your skin and are commonly found on the inside of your cheeks, the edges of your lips, and on your foreskin.
While Fordyce spots may seem like something to be concerned about, they're fairly harmless. Let's take a closer look at what they are and what causes them.
What Are Fordyce Spots?
Fordyce spots are harmless, flesh-colored bumps that are usually found on the inside of your cheeks and on the lips. They are enlarged oil glands also called ectopic sebaceous glands or Fordyce granules. These spots were first described by John Fordyce in 1896.
They can appear in other places, too, including the:
- Esophagus, or the tube that goes to your stomach
- Shaft of the penis
- Head of the penis
- Labia of the vagina
While oil glands are usually connected to your hair follicles, Fordyce spots don’t have hair follicles. The glands open directly to the surface of the skin.
What Causes Fordyce Spots on Foreskin?
Having these spots on your foreskin is normal. Everyone's born with Fordyce spots, but they generally become more noticeable at puberty. Your hormones can make them larger.
For most people, Fordyce spots show up in early adulthood. You’re more likely to get them as you age. Most men have Fordyce spots on the foreskin of the penis and scrotum, while women usually have them on the labia of the vagina. Between 80% to 95% of adults have Fordyce spots.
Symptoms of Fordyce Spots on Foreskin
Fordyce spots are asymptomatic, which means they aren’t painful or irritating though sometimes they can be itchy. They are flesh-colored, but can also be red if they’re on your penis. Fordyce spots are not a sexually transmitted infection and are not contagious.
Symptoms of Fordyce spots include bumps that are:
- Flesh-colored or a yellowish-white
- Clustered together
- Isolated and scattered
- 0.2 mm to 2 mm in size
If they’re on your penis, they're usually on the head, foreskin, shaft, or scrotum. Stretching your skin makes them more obvious, so you might notice them more during an erection. Sometimes you can squeeze the spots and express a thin, chalky or cheesy fluid, but they generally don’t leak any fluids.
Fordyce spots on your foreskin can sometimes look like other skin conditions, including:
- Molluscum contagiosum
- Milium cysts
- Sebaceous hyperplasia
- Epidermoid cysts
- Genital warts
Fordyce Spots vs. Warts
Sometimes, Fordyce spots are confused with genital warts. Where Fordyce spots are a natural part of your skin, genital warts are caused by human papillomavirus, or HPV. This is an infectious disease that you can catch and spread to someone else through sex, oral sex, and using infected sex toys.
You can’t always tell whether you have HPV. Most people never have any symptoms, but sometimes you might get warts. Symptoms include bumps that are:
- Single or in small groups
- Around your anus
- On the tip or shaft of your penis
- On your scrotum
- In your urethra
- Thin and flexible
- Look like a cauliflower
- Flesh-colored, grey-ish, or red
You might also have other symptoms with genital warts, including:
- Pain during sex
- Pain when you pee
- A bad smell
- Minor bleeding from spots after sex
If you have these symptoms, you should seek medical help from your doctor.
Fordyce Spots Treatment
Fordyce spots on your foreskin are normal and harmless. You don’t need to treat them. Sometimes people confuse them with genital warts or other problems, so it is important to have your doctor examine them.
Some people find Fordyce spots to be unsightly and bothersome. If you are affected by these spots, your doctor might offer you some treatments.
Carbon dioxide laser. Your doctor might suggest removing the spots with a carbon dioxide laser. These can leave scars, though. A pulsed dye laser might be a better option.
Retinoid medication. Isotretinoin pills are sometimes helpful, especially when combined with laser treatment. These pills can’t be taken for long periods, though.
Topical creams. Trichloroacetic acid or bichloroacetic acid topical treatments can shrink or remove the Fordyce spots. These work best in combination with laser treatment.
Photodynamic therapy. Fordyce spots can also be treated with photodynamic therapy and 5-aminolevulinic acid. This can cause other side effects like post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (or dark spots), a burning sensation, and blisters.
Micro-punch technique. This treatment is a minor procedure that removes Fordyce spots along with some of the underlying tissue. This is a very fine technique done with a small pen-like instrument and local freezing.
Electrocoagulation. This procedure uses a microneedle or small probe. It’s inserted into the area and a mild electrical current is used to treat the area.
Other treatments. Surgical removal called excision can also remove Fordyce spots.
While some treatments have side effects, studies show that carbon dioxide laser, cauterization, or surgical removal are helpful.
Generally, Fordyce spots are harmless and don’t need to be removed. It’s usually best to leave them alone unless they’re affecting your self-esteem and confidence.