What Are Fordyce Spots?
Fordyce spots are small raised yellowish or skin coloured pimples usually found in clusters on the shaft of the penis, vulva, testicles, and lips. Common in both men and women, they affect an estimated 70-80% of the population. The condition is more prevalent in men, with a Korean medical study finding the male to female ratio was 2:1.
Fordyce spots occur on various mucous membranes. They are commonly found on the vermillion border of the lips, inside the cheeks, and on the nipples (where they are known as Montgomery tubercles). For men they are found on the shaft of the penis, the foreskin, especially near the head of the penis (Tyson’s gland), and on the scrotum. For women the spots are mainly found on the labia minora, but may also be found in the entrance to the vagina.
What Causes Fordyce Spots?
Fordyce spots are enlarged sebaceous glands. The function of Sebaceous glands is to produce and release a natural oil known as Sebum into the hair follicle to lubricate the skin. In the case of Fordyce spots, there is no hair follicle, and the Sebum is blocked resulting in raised bumps.
Regular sebaceous glands produce sebum and are found within hair follicles, whereas Fordyce spots are found without hair follicles, abnormally positioned visibly protruding from the skin.
The spots or bumps occur naturally at birth, but usually appear for the first time around puberty. Evidence suggests the incidence tends to increase with age.
The condition occurs naturally and is not associated with any illness, HIV or any STD (Sexually Transmitted Disease). They are not caused by a virus, and are not contagious. In fact the spots are completely harmless, and considered a cosmetic concern only.
Fordyce Spots Symptoms
- Small bumps measuring 0.2mm-3mm.
- Yellow, pinkish, or skin coloured.
- They are easier to spot when the skin is stretched, and can resemble small grains of rice.
- Sometimes found as single spots, but more commonly found in clusters of 50 or more.
- Most commonly located on the lips, penis, scrotum and vagina.
- They are not painful, but can occasionally be itchy, especially after sexual intercourse.
Note: Fordyce spots are not to be confused Hirsuties Papillaris Genitalis or ‘Pearly Penile Papules’, which are flesh-coloured granules around the corona or head of the penis.
Examining your own body does not substitute a proper medical examination. Some Sexually Transmitted Diseases may look similar to Fordyce’s spots in their early stages, therefore it is important to get a professional diagnosis from your doctor. Unfortunately Fordyce spots are often missed or misdiagnosed by doctors, therefore it may also be worth getting a second opinion.
A Genuine Concern
While harmless, Fordyce’s spots are a source of worry for many. Men are understandably very concerned when they first notice spots on their penis, and are often worried they may have an STI (Sexually Transmitted Infection) or even some form of cancer. On a personal level, they are usually worried about their penis’s appearance, and what their sexual partner might think. For both sexes, these spots in the genital area can lead to sufferers avoiding intimacy or sexual activity, which in turn can cause depression.
Fordyce spots on and around the mouth and lips can also cause anxiety and concern in both sexes. As with the genital spots, sufferers naturally worry that the spots on their lips will lead others to think they have an STI.
Fordyce Treatments Available
There are a variety of treatments available. Some are more invasive than others, and the success rates vary. It is important to avoid squeezing or picking the spots, which can worsen the condition and cause scarring.
Carried out under local anaesthetic by a Dermatologist or trained medical professional. A machine is used to make 1-2mm wide holes in the skin, targeting the spots. The individual Fordyce granules are then removed manually and each hole receives stitches. This is an effective method, with an unlikely chance of reoccurrence, there is however a significant chance of scarring.
Also known as Electrodessication or Diathermy, this procedure is performed by a Dermatologist, Surgeon or GP and requires a local anaesthetic or numbing cream. A fine probe or Hyfrecator instrument is heated electrically then applied to the spots, which are then burnt away. This treatment is quick and comparatively less expensive than some other surgical options as usually only one session is needed, however there is a risk of scarring with this method. Healing usually takes two weeks.
Several practitioners offer to cure Fordyce condition through the use of lasers. The focussed light from the laser reacts with skin tissue burning away abnormal skin lesions at an extremely high temperature. The heat seals the skin around the wound minimising scarring and pain. The best results however have been achieved using CO2 laser vaporization. This is because a CO2 laser is very precise, to a degree of 0.1mm. This especially matters when dealing with small Fordyce granules around the mouth and lips where clean results are key. This is a safe and effective treatment for Fordyce spots with minimal scarring, however it can be costly and require multiple sessions.
Photodynamic Therapy (PDT)
A common treatment for various forms of cancer, PDT has had some reported success curing the condition. This method uses a photosensitising agent which is taken orally as a drug. Once in the body the agent concentrates in abnormal skin cells, then when a laser is applied to the spots it reacts with the oxygen and the agent to burn away the targeted cells. This is a relatively new method for curing Fordyce spots, however the signs are promising. The side effects include itching, a burning sensation that can last several weeks and a small chance of infection.
Less Invasive Fordyce Treatments
Commonly used to treat warts, Cryotherapy utilises liquid nitrogen to freeze the spots. This method is somewhat less accurate than the other methods, and must be undertaken by a professional. The process is uncomfortable and multiple sessions are usually required.
Bichloracetic Acid (BCA)
BCA is professionally applied to the skin by a Dermatologist. It is quick and relatively painless, however the spots can recur and ongoing treatment may be required. A lasting burning sensation is also a common complaint.
Taken orally as a prescribed drug, Isotretinoin often referred to it’s brand name Accutane, was developed to remedy severe acne. It has proven very successful at treating both acne and Fordyce spots. There are a number of side effects including increased sensitivity to sunlight, and the most publicised being that Isotretinoin can lead to psychological problems including depression. Isotretinoin is prescribed typically for a course of 12-16 weeks after which results can be very successful. However once medication stops there is a strong chance of spots recurring.
Natural Fordyce Cures
Fordyce spots are characterised by the presence of an opening directly onto the epithelial surface. This duct allows topical treatment. Anti-Sebum is a topical cream that has been specifically developed to treat Fordyce spots. It uses active natural ingredients to reduce Sebum productivity from within the overactive sebaceous gland itself. Click here to find out more about our treatment.
Other Fordyce Tips
Balancing Skin Ph
Skin has a natural Ph value of around 5. Keeping the skin at this healthy level can help to reduce inflammation of the spots. The Ph of your skin is generally affected by what it encounters, this includes water and cosmetics. It is important therefore to avoid hidden chemicals in products by using natural cosmetics where possible and to avoid harsh alkaline shower gels and soaps.
A varied diet providing plenty of vitamins and minerals from whole foods can help keep your skin in peak condition. A multivitamin supplement taken daily can also help.
Drink More Water
Staying hydrated is good for the skin, but there is another reason to drink more water if you suffer from Fordyce spots. A recent study indicated that that individuals with higher than normal levels of fat in their blood tend to have a higher prevalence of Fordyce spots, suggesting a connection between Fordyce spots and heart disease. Drinking more water can lower fat levels in the blood, improving your health and reducing Fordyce spots. It is recommended for an adult to drink 2 litres or half a gallon of water daily.