Understanding Fordyce Spots

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Fordyce spots are whitish-yellow bumps that can occur on the edge of your lips or inside your cheeks. Less often, they can appear on your penis or scrotum if you’re male or your labia if you’re female.

Oil glands, called sebaceous glands, are usually associated with hair follicles. Fordyce spots appear on your skin where no hair is present. They usually develop as isolated or scattered bumps, but sometimes they cluster together.

How can you identify Fordyce spots?

Fordyce spots tend to be about 1 to 3 millimeters (.04 to .12 inches) in diameter but can be larger. They’re usually light yellow or flesh-colored. If they develop in your genital area, they can be a reddish color. Stretching out the surrounding skin makes the spots more visible.

Fordyce spots are most likely to form around the outside of your lips or the inside of your lips and cheeks. They usually appear symmetrically, on both sides of your lips.

They can also form on your genital area, including your penis or scrotum if you’re male or your labia if you’re female.

Fordyce sports are often barely noticeable, but in some cases they can be unsightly. They aren’t painful, itchy, or infectious. Rarely, spots on your penis might bleed during intercourse.

Some other dermatological conditions can appear similar to Fordyce spots, including:

  • milium cysts, which are hard, white, round bumps that can develop on your face
  • sebaceous hyperplasia, a condition that can cause small, soft bumps to form
  • epidermoid cysts, which are small, hard lumps that can form under your skin
  • basal cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer that can appear as a bump, red patch, or other growth

In your genital area, you might mistake Fordyce spots for genital warts or another sexually transmitted disease.

What causes Fordyce spots?

Fordyce spots are a natural part of your anatomy. They’re present at birth, but they aren’t usually noticeable until puberty, when hormonal changes enlarge them.

Are there people who are at increased risk of Fordyce spots?

Some studies have linked Fordyce spots to more serious ailments.

A 2014 study involving family members found that 100 percent of the participants who had an inherited form of colorectal cancer also had Fordyce spots in their mouth.

It’s important to note that these conditions are associated with Fordyce spots, not caused by them.

Do you need to see a doctor?

Fordyce spots are benign. They aren’t caused by any disease. In many cases, they’re not even noticeable. In some cases, though, they might be unsightly.

You might confuse Fordyce spots for another less benign condition.

If you notice spots on your genitals, make an appointment with your doctor. They might be a symptom of an STD rather than Fordyce spots. Your doctor can help rule out, or diagnose and treat, other potential causes of bumps.

If you have Fordyce spots on your lips and you’re unhappy about the way they look, talk to your doctor. They might refer you to a specialist for treatment to remove or lessen the appearance of the spots.

How are Fordyce spots diagnosed?

Your doctor can likely diagnose Fordyce spots by their appearance alone. In some cases, they might perform a biopsy. In this procedure, they remove a sample of tissue from the affected area to examine under a microscope.

How are Fordyce spots treated?

Fordyce spots usually don’t need treatment. But if you want to remove the spots for cosmetic reasons, remedies are available. Here are some of the options you can discuss with your doctor.

Micro-punch surgery

Your doctor may use micro-punch surgery to rapidly and effectively remove multiple spots from your face or genital area. Before performing it, they apply a local anesthetic to reduce your pain. Then they use a small pen-like device to punch your skin and remove unwanted tissue.

Laser treatments

Your doctor may use carbon dioxide laser treatments to zap your Fordyce spots. However, this type of laser treatment might leave scars. Pulsed dye lasers may be less scarring.

Both lasers use a concentrated beam of light, but at different wavelengths. Treatment with a pulsed dye laser is more expensive.

Topical treatments

Topical treatments to shrink or remove Fordyce spots include bichloracetic acid, topical tretinoin (Avita, Retin-A), and oral isotretinoin (Sotret, Claravis).

Your doctor may recommend combining these topical treatments with laser treatments. They may produce side effects, such as inflammation and a burning sensation.

What’s the outlook for Fordyce spots?

Fordyce spots generally fade in time without treatment. The important thing is to realize they’re normal. They aren’t a disease. The majority of people have them.

Fordyce spots are a natural and harmless occurrence. If your spots are making you uncomfortable for cosmetic reasons, discuss possible treatments with your doctor. There’s no scientific evidence that home remedies help remove these spots.

Don’t pick or squeeze Fordyce spots. This won’t make them go away, and it can cause infections to develop.

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