Fordyce Spots, A Mystery Revealed

Published September 16th, 2021 by Chris Riley
Fact Checked by
Jacqueline Hensler
Medically Reviewed:
Dr. Angel Rivera

What are Fordyce Spots | Who is at risk | Causes | Diagnosed | Treatment | How to prevent

Fordyce spots, also called Fordyce granules, are small yellowish-white bumps that appear on the shaft of the penis, labia majora or labia minora, scrotum, around and inside the mouth, and nipples. These spots can grow to up to 1 to 3 millimeters in diameter and will become slightly bigger when sexually aroused. Fordyce spots are not harmful and do not require treatment but they can be an embarrassing problem for some people causing anxiety, stress, or discomfort when in public areas such as the locker room at the gym.

We will go over what Fordyce spots are, how they affect people with different skin types, how they’re diagnosed by a doctor or dermatologist, and treatments for Fordyce spots including prevention tips.

What are Fordyce spots?

Fordyce spots are small, raised bumps called papules that can appear on the lips and inside of the mouth, and male and female genitals. Specifically, it is common for Fordyce spots to appear on or around the vermilion border, which is the pale skin at the outermost rim of your lips. The spots may be white, yellow, or red in color and tend to become more visible when a person is suffering from stress or anxiety. 

But what exactly are they? Fordyce spots are ectopic (slightly abnormal) visible sebaceous glands, meaning they form from your oil glands also known as a sebaceous gland. They are in an unusual place because sebaceous glands are usually associated with the glands next to hair follicles but Fordyce spots do not have hair follicles. Sebaceous glands are usually responsible for producing sebum, the natural oil your body produces which can also clog pores and cause acne. 

The spots received their name from the American dermatologist John Fordyce who was the first to chronicle them in the medical field. He is also the dermatologist who lends his name to the Fox-Fordyce disease, a rare skin disorder.

Who gets Fordyce spots?

Fordyce spots are common if you have reached puberty. There is a 2015 report stating that they occur in 70-80% of adults. While they may not be as prominent in females as they are with men, both genders can get them. While Fordyce spots can affect you at any age, it is common for them to become noticeable around puberty. This same study showed that twice as many men had Fordyce spots compared to women. Although some studies link Fordyce spots with predictors of other illnesses, it should be noted that they are not the cause of them and by themselves are benign. 

What causes Fordyce spots?

Frequently, people are concerned about Fordyce spots because they have read they can be caused by STDs or they believe they are an STD like genital warts. While this may seem like a reasonable assumption to make, the truth is that there has not been any research linking these two conditions together in any way. The reality is that Fordyce spots are completely normal and there is no reason to worry about them unless for cosmetic reasons. 

How are Fordyce spots diagnosed?

Fordyce spots are diagnosed by looking at their symptoms and their appearance. The way they are most commonly diagnosed is via clinical observation by your physician, although in rare cases a biopsy is required to differentiate the spots from other conditions. 

Besides STDs, other skin conditions can be mistaken for Fordyce spots. The conditions include but are not limited to:

  • Milium cysts, which are white bumps that usually appear on the face
  • Epidermoid cysts, which are hard bumps underneath the skin; and 
  • Basal cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer 

There are other diseases but these are some of the most common ones associated with a misdiagnosis of Fordyce spots. Should you have any questions, we recommend that you talk to your healthcare provider. 

How do you treat Fordyce spots?

There are several treatment options for Fordyce spots. Some of these include: 

  • Micro-punch surgery, where a doctor uses local anesthesia and a device to "punch" your skin and remove unwanted tissue.
  • Isotretinoin, a retinoid used to help lessen skin discoloration and is an often-used treatment for acne, also called acne vulgaris. 
  • Laser treatment where doctors use a laser to treat the Fordyce spots.

There are also other methods but these are some of the most common. 

Please note that most doctors recommend leaving your Fordyce spots alone as they are benign and won't cause any harm. 

Which method you choose will depend on the size, location, and severity of your symptoms. Speak to a doctor about their recommendations for which treatment may work best for you. Home remedies and over-the-counter treatments are not recommended to try due to how sensitive the areas are that may need treatment. Always consult your physician before starting any treatment plan. 

Is there a way to prevent Fordyce spots?

Yes, you can avoid causing irritation on the skin for an extended period of time which may allow them to develop. Try not to scratch or pick at your skin as this may cause scarring over these areas and make it more likely that Fordyce spots will appear in those places. You should also try to minimize exposure to harsh chemicals such as detergents, bleach, chlorinated water, etc. This may mean washing clothes by hand instead of with other clothing items to avoid irritating dyes that can worsen the condition.

Fordyce spots are completely natural and even with these measures they may still appear. If you have a cosmetic reason for not wanting them please consult your physician regarding the best treatment plan for you. 

Summary

Fordyce spots are common benign skin lesions that usually appear on the genitals and around and inside the mouth. They can be left alone if you do not have a cosmetic issue with them or treated by your doctor, depending on their severity. There are several treatments available ranging from micro-punch surgery to isotretinoin but most doctors recommend leaving these small clusters of bumps alone unless there's an aesthetic reason behind wanting removal such as for personal preference reasons. Armed with this information, we hope to have provided a solid base to approach your healthcare provider with any questions you should have regarding Fordyce spots and choosing the best treatment plan for you. 

Sources and References:

www.oatext.com/pdf/CCRR-1-140.pdf

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fordyce_spots

jmedicalcasereports.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1752-1947-8-249

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