What Is Sebaceous Prominence (Fordyce Spots)?
Fordyce spots are small, raised bumps that are often found inside the cheeks or at the edge of the lips. They may stand out, being yellow-white, pale red, or skin-colored. You will also find Fordyce spots on both male and female genitalia.
Fordyce spots also go by the names sebaceous prominence, Fordyce glands, and Fordyce granules. They are considered enlarged oil glands and are often completely painless, normal, and harmless. In fact, research shows that Fordyce spots occur in up to 70% to 80% of adults.
The spots are a cosmetic problem more than anything else. However, if you have Fordyce spots on lips, you may want to talk with your doctor about removal options due to their appearance.
In this article, we will guide you through the symptoms, causes, and complications of Fordyce spots.
Are Fordyce spots contagious? Read on to find out, and also learn how to tell the difference between Fordyce spots and other similar conditions. We will also discuss what you can do for Fordyce spots removal and how to treat them.
Let’s get started…
Symptoms of Sebaceous Prominence (Fordyce Spots)
How do you know you have Fordyce spots? They are between one millimeter and three millimeters in diameter. These small, pale spots or bumps are surrounded by white, yellow, flesh-colored, or pale red skin.
You will find Fordyce spots on the shaft of the penis or scrotum in males, and on the labia in females. You might also find them on your face along the vermilion border, the line where your lips and the skin on your face meet, or inside your cheeks. They also often appear symmetrically on both sides of the lips.
When you stretch out the skin surrounding them, the Fordyce spots become more visible. Otherwise, you will barely notice them. Nevertheless, they can be unsightly to some from an appearance standpoint.
They appear alone or in clusters of up to 50 to 100 spots. As a result, these spots may have an impact on a person’s self-confidence, and therefore cause anxiety, worry, and depression.
Are Fordyce spots itchy? They do not cause itchiness or pain; however, in some cases, they may cause bleeding after or during sex.
What Causes Sebaceous Prominence or Fordyce Spots?
You will see Fordyce spots to some degree in most people.
They are one of the visible types of oily sebaceous glands called ectopic sebaceous glands. Sebaceous glands are what normally produce sebum, and they are often found within hair follicles. Fordyce spots, on the other hand, are evident sebaceous glands without hair follicles.
Fordyce spots are present at birth, and some believe they begin to form while an embryo grows in the womb. That being said, you likely will not notice them until puberty when hormonal changes enlarge them.
Although Fordyce spots may not be something you want to see, they are not caused by any serious illness or disease. Dermatologists will also tell you they are only a cosmetic concern and present no risk to your physical health.
Sebaceous Prominence and Associated Risk Factors
While sebaceous prominence, or Fordyce spots, is not caused by a severe health problem, there are certain risk factors to consider.
Research published in Clinical Case Reports and Reviews in 2015 shows that men are twice as likely to develop Fordyce spots as women. Also, those with oily skin in general have a greater chance of having the spots.
One study from 2014, published in the Dental Research Journal, suggested that clusters of Fordyce spots in the mouth may be linked with hyperlipidemia—a heart disease risk factor that involves high levels of fats in the blood.
Another study published in the journal Gut in 2005 also found that 86.7% of patients with an inherited form of colorectal cancer also had Fordyce spots in their mouth. This suggests that the presence of Fordyce spots may help doctors identify those at risk of this type of colorectal cancer.
Sebaceous Prominence (Fordyce Spots) Complications
What are the complications associated with Fordyce spots?
When there is a cluster of spots around the eyes or where the lips meet the skin, this may cause emotional trauma in people. This could increase the risk of depression and anxiety due to the unsightly appearance of the Fordyce spots.
People with severe cases of Fordyce spots on their genital area might be concerned or embarrassed about what their sex partners may think. Again, these spots may bleed when injured, or during or after sex.
Still, you are not at any physical danger as a result of having Fordyce spots.
Are Fordyce Spots (Sebaceous Prominence) Contagious?
Are Fordyce spots contagious? They are not contagious since an infection is not the cause. Fordyce spots are often harmless, but if you notice a new bump around your genitals, inside your cheeks, or on the edge of your lips, it is best that you consult your doctor for a diagnosis.
Fordyce spots are often diagnosed based on their appearance alone. However, sometimes, a biopsy may be needed. In this procedure, sample tissue is removed from the Fordyce spot and then examined under a microscope.
Differentiating Fordyce Spots (Sebaceous Prominence) from Other Conditions
Sometimes your doctor may misdiagnose Fordyce spots as a similar dermatological condition. How can you tell the difference?
Fordyce spots are yellowish-white, pale red, or skin-colored, and found at the edge of your lips, inside your cheeks, or around your genitals. However, the following conditions are a little different.
These are small, hard lumps under your skin. They do not cause pain and can often be ignored.
The white, hard, and round bumps develop on the face and occur in keratin trapped beneath the skin, often around the hair, nails, and skin tissue. They are more common in newborns.
Another condition known to cause soft, small bumps to form at the sebaceous glands, it is often seen on the cheeks or forehead of middle-aged or elderly individuals.
Basal Cell Carcinoma
This is a type of skin cancer that will appear as a red patch, bump, scar, sore, or other growth form. It is spreads throughout the body, and it can definitely be life-threatening.
Pearly Penile Papules
These are skin growths that appear skin-colored or white, and they are often found on the head of the penis rather than on the scrotum or shaft. These papules are also not a major health concern.
This is hair follicle inflammation seen around the base of the penis or opening of the vagina. These are itchy and sometimes painful, whereas this is not true for Fordyce spots.
During the early stages of genital warts, they look similar to Fordyce spots. Both conditions are found around the genitals, but genital warts are caused by HPV (human papillomavirus) and are much larger than Fordyce spots. Genital warts are also contagious.
Herpes lesions also appear around the genitals and around the lips, in a similar way as Fordyce spots. The pimples also look like ulcers or red blisters, and are very itchy and painful. Herpes sores are also contagious. After an outbreak, they will fade away, and reappear during stressful times.
How to Treat Fordyce Spots (Sebaceous Prominence)
Is there a Fordyce spots cure, or do Fordyce spots go away? These spots sometimes fade, but they are often permanent and may even worsen a little with age.
Want to know how to get rid of Fordyce spots? If Fordyce spots bother you, get a referral from your doctor to a dermatologist. Though Fordyce spots lips treatment is often not needed, you may want to remove them for cosmetic reasons.
The following are some things you may consider:
Carbon dioxide laser treatment is designed to zap Fordyce spots to make them less visible. However, it may leave scars. Pulsed dye lasers may be less scaring, but it is the more expensive method of treatment. Electrodessication and cauterization is another laser therapy that burns off the Fordyce spots.
Micro-punch surgery is also a suggested treatment to remove multiple Fordyce spots from your genital area or face. Beforehand, a local anesthetic is applied to decrease pain. A small, pen-like device is then used to punch the skin and remove the Fordyce spots.
This procedure also doesn’t leave scars. Research shows that there are no signs of recurrence a year after this surgery as well.
Topical treatment is also often used to remove or reduce the size of Fordyce spots. Examples include topical tretinoin (“Retin-A”), bichloracetic acid, and also oral isotretinoin (“Claravis”). These treatments may be recommended in combination with laser treatment. On the downside, they produce side effects such as a burning sensation or inflammation.
This is a light-activated treatment that is also used to prevent and treat acne and certain skin cancers. For this procedure, a medication called 5-aminolevulinic acid is applied to the skin and activated with a light source like a pulsed dye laser or blue light. The treatment also makes you more sensitive to sunlight temporarily.
Cryotherapy will freeze off the Fordyce bumps with liquid nitrogen.
Good hygiene is very important for keeping your skin clean and free of bacteria and excess oils. This will help unclog sebaceous glands and pores. Wash your face and genitals on a regular basis, and especially after sweating and exercising. Also, avoid shaving pubic hair, which could make Fordyce spots become more visible.
You can also apply natural remedies to your skin daily. Some options for reducing inflammation and hydrating the skin include argan oil, jojoba oil, coconut oil, coconut oil, olive oil, apple cider vinegar, and tea tree oil. Essential oils can also be useful, such as frankincense oil, palmarosa oil, or galbanum oil.
When to Call a Doctor
Fordyce spots are benign and aren’t caused by a disease, and most of the time, they aren’t even noticeable.
That being said, you may not like how Fordyce spots look. You may also confuse them with a more serious condition. If you notice spots on your genitals, it is a good idea to see your doctor. This is because what you think is Fordyce spots may actually be an STD (sexually transmitted disease), such as herpes or genital warts.
Your doctor can help diagnose and treat Fordyce spots, or rule out other potential causes of your spots. The doctor may also refer you to a specialist for treatment to remove Fordyce spots or reduce their appearance.
Final Thoughts on Fordyce Spots (Sebaceous Prominence)
It is important to realize that Fordyce spots (sebaceous prominence) are normal, harmless, and not a sign of disease. In fact, most people have them.
More often than not, Fordyce spots will fade over time without treatment. However, if you are uncomfortable with the way they look, discuss potential treatments with your doctor. These treatments may include laser treatments, micro-punch surgery, topical treatments, cryotherapy, or a light-activated treatment called photodynamic therapy.
If you notice spots on your genitals, you will want to consult a doctor. They will be able to tell you whether it is Fordyce spots or something that looks similar but is more serious, like herpes or genital warts.
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- What Are These Tiny Red Spots on My Skin (Petechiae)?
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Article Sources (+)
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De Felice, C., et al., “Fordyce granules and hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer syndrome,” Gut, May 6, 2005, doi: 10.1136/gut.2005.064881.
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Pallua, N., et al., “Micro-punch technique for treatment of Fordyce spots: A surgical approach for an unpleasant condition of the male genital,” Journal of Plastic, Reconstructive & Aesthetic Surgery, Jan. 2013; 66(1): e8-e11, doi: 10.1016/j.bjps.2012.08.039.