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Fordyce spots

Fordyce spots are normal, harmless and not a result of any infection. In fact, most people have them somewhere on the body, and they pose no risk to your health.

However, Fordyce spots can often mimic other conditions such as genital warts (caused by infection with human papilloma virus, HPV), genital herpes (caused by infection with herpes virus), so it’s important to see a healthcare professional if you are worried about other conditions.

Symptoms

Small bumps on the skin approx. 1-5mm in size in white/yellow/reddish colour.

Diagnosis

Routinely diagnosed from a physical examination from a trained clinician.

Causes

Oil glands that are enlarged on the onset of puberty. It is not an infection.

What are Fordyce spots?

Fordyce spots or Fordyce granules are sebaceous (oil) glands that appear as small bumps on the skin. Named after an American dermatologist, John Addison Fordyce, they most often appear close to mucosal (moist) surfaces, such as on the lips, inside of the cheek or the genitals. Where these sebaceous glands appear at the frenulum of the penis, they are sometimes referred to as Tyson glands, after the English physician, Edward Tyson.

Spots can range in size, from less than 1 mm, up to 5 mm, may be flat or slightly raised, and can appear white, yellow, red or flesh coloured. They may occur as just one spot, however commonly exist in crops of 50–100. As they are sebaceous glands, if squeezed, they may produce a white or yellow thick material. However, squeezing the spots is not recommended as this can introduce infection or cause scarring.

What are the symptoms of Fordyce spots?

Fordyce spots appear as small, raised lumps on the skin. They do not usually cause itching, pain or discomfort.

When do symptoms of Fordyce spots typically occur?

Those with Fordyce spots are born with them, however they are not usually noticeable until after puberty due to the hormonal changes in the body. Fordyce spots are often only visible when the skin is stretched, and those on the penis are often most noticeable when the individual has an erection. Fordyce spots tend to persist for life, and do not normally increase or decrease in number.

Are Fordyce spots an STI?

No. Fordyce spots are not a disease, infection, or a sexually transmitted infection. Fordyce spots are simply a normal dermatological occurrence. However if you are at risk of contracting a sexually transmitted infection (STI), it’s important to be tested for the occurrence of infection. Some infections can look like Fordyce spots.

What are the complications of Fordyce spots?

Fordyce spots are a naturally occurring phenomenon and do not cause any physical complications. Individuals with Fordyce spots may be tempted to squeeze or cause trauma to the spots, which may cause infection or scarring. Fordyce spots may be mistaken for other sexually transmitted diseases such as genital warts or genital herpes. In rare cases, types of skin cancer can be mistaken for Fordyce spots, which can spread to other areas if left untreated. Very rarely, Fordyce spots can cause discomfort during sexual intercourse.

I think I have Fordyce spots. What should I do?

Fordyce spots are normal, harmless and not a result of any infection. In fact, most people have them somewhere on the body, and they pose no risk to your health. However, Fordyce spots can often mimic other conditions such as genital warts (caused by infection with human papilloma virus, HPV), genital herpes (caused by infection with herpes virus), so it’s important to see a healthcare professional if you are worried about other conditions.

What causes Fordyce spots?

Fordyce spots are oil glands, which are triggered to enlarge at the onset of puberty. They are very common; approximately 80% of adults have them somewhere on the body, and those who have them tend to be born with them. They are not caused by infection or injury, and there is no way to avoid Fordyce spots.

Can I get Fordyce spots even if I wear a condom?

Fordyce spots are not a sexually transmitted infection, so the use of condoms will not make any difference. Those with Fordyce spots already have them as part of their normal anatomy, and as they are not infectious, there is no possibility of transmission to sexual partners. Condoms are, however, an effective way to prevent sexually transmitted infections such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea and genital herpes.

Who is most likely to have Fordyce spots?

Fordyce spots can appear on anyone; however, they are twice as likely to be found in men than women and may be more common in people with oily skin. The incidence also appears to increase with age.

How can I prevent getting Fordyce spots?

You cannot prevent having Fordyce spots, as they are present at birth as a natural occurrence. Some people choose to remove them for cosmetic reasons, but removal is not medically advised or necessary.

Can I pass Fordyce spots onto my partner?

No. Fordyce spots are not infectious; therefore, you cannot spread them to your partner.

How are Fordyce spots diagnosed?

Fordyce spots are typically diagnosed through physical examination. In some cases, examination under magnification may be necessary to confidently confirm Fordyce spots and rule out other conditions. If there is any doubt in the diagnosis, your clinician may recommend a biopsy of the lesion. This involves a small sample of the spot being removed with the aid of local anaesthetic and examined under a microscope to study the cellular structure.

Do I need an examination?

Fordyce spots are best diagnosed following a clinical examination by an experienced healthcare professional. If the spots are on the genitalia, it is important to rule out other conditions such as genital herpes or genital warts, which may require treatment. An examination is only ever performed with your explicit consent, and your clinician will treat you with the utmost respect and dignity.

In some cases, Fordyce spots can be assessed through a self-obtained photograph of the lesions, combined with a thorough clinical history.

What other conditions can Fordyce spots mimic?

Fordyce spots can appear similar to several other conditions. These include sexually transmitted infections such as:

  • genital warts
  • genital herpes
  • molluscum contagiosum
  • skin inflammation such as folliculitis
  • other benign skin conditions such as milia (hard bumps on the skin, indicating a build-up of keratin)
  • and, more serious conditions such as basal cell carcinoma.

If you are unsure if you have Fordyce spots, particularly if they are newly visible, it’s important to see a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis.

What is the prognosis of Fordyce spots?

Fordyce spots persist for life and do not tend to change much over time. They may become more or less noticeable as you age; however, they do not tend to increase or decrease in number over time. Fordyce spots do not increase your risk of infection or malignancy and are not associated with systemic disease.

How do I tell my partner about Fordyce spots?

Fordyce spots are a normal aspect of human anatomy, and although they can be mistaken for sexually transmitted infections, they are harmless and not infectious. Nevertheless, it may be useful to educate your partner on Fordyce spots and reassure them that they do not pose any health risk.

Page reviewed by Dr. Manoj Malu (Clinical Director)

Last reviewed date: 6 June 2021
Next review due: 6 June 2024

Whilst this content is written and reviewed by sexual health specialists, it is for general guidance only. It is not intended to replace the advice of your clinician.

References & Further Reading

Clarewell Clinics