What Are Fordyce Spots?
Fordyce spots are small, pale bumps caused by enlarged sebaceous (oil) glands that aren’t associated with hair follicles, as are most sebaceous glands. Sometimes called Fordyce glands or Fordyce granules, they’re named after a 19th-century physician.
They most often appear on the rim of the lip or on the inside of the lips or cheeks. Less often, they appear on the penis or scrotum or, in females, the labia.
Fordyce spots are common. Between 70% and 80% of adults have them. They are benign (they aren’t skin cancer and don’t turn into skin cancer) and are not contagious.
What Do Fordyce Spots Look Like?
Fordyce spots are tiny — about the size of a pinhead. They can be yellow to yellowish white or skin-colored. On the genitals, they may appear reddish. They can develop as single spots or as clusters of 50 to 100 spots.
They’re more obvious if you stretch the surrounding skin. Fordyce spots on the penis are more noticeable during erections, for example.
Fordyce spots typically don’t cause problems, but occasionally they can be itchy. If located on the penis, they might bleed or make sex uncomfortable.
To the untrained eye, Fordyce spots can resemble a number of other skin conditions, such as milia, sebaceous hyperplasia, syringoma and molluscum contagiosum. When they appear on the genitals, some people worry that they have a sexually transmitted disease such as genital warts. An experienced, board-certified dermatologist can provide an accurate diagnosis, usually by looking at the spots. Occasionally a biopsy is needed.
Fordyce Spot Causes
People who have Fordyce spots are born with them, but the bumps don’t become visible until puberty, when normal hormonal changes cause the affected sebaceous glands to enlarge. Not a lot is known about what makes one person more likely to have Fordyce spots than another, but there are two factors that might play a role.
- Gender: Males are approximately twice as likely as females to have them.
- Skin type: There is some evidence that the spots are more common in people with oily skin.
Studies suggest that people with a lot of Fordyce spots are more likely to have high cholesterol, but experts don’t yet know how the association works, if there is one.
Fordyce Spot Treatment
Generally speaking, the best way to treat these spots is to leave them alone. Don’t scratch or squeeze them or try to scrape them off. Avoid using oily creams, lotions and other products that can further block the oil glands.
If your Fordyce spots are bothersome or you dislike how they look, there are a number of treatment options, though many are not always 100% effective. They include:
- Laser treatment with a CO2 laser, pulsed-dye laser or ablative laser
- Cryotherapy (freezing)
- Photodynamic therapy (applying medication and using light to activate it)
- Topical bichloracetic acid (a caustic agent)
- Topical tretinoin (Retin-A)
- Oral isotretinoin (a vitamin A derivative in capsule form)
- Micro-punch surgery (after anesthetizing the area, the spots are cut out using a micro-punch scalpel and then the skin is closed with a microscopic suture)
Keep in mind that some of these treatments could make things worse by causing scarring. Be sure to discuss the pros and cons of any treatment you’re considering with your dermatologist.