This situation may be familiar to many men: while taking a shower one day, you happen to notice some white spots on your foreskin. You do a double take as you lean down to inspect your manhood. What could it be? How long have they been there? The questions are aplenty as you instinctively reach for your smartphone to begin a Google search.
There are many conditions that can cause white spots to develop on the penis and foreskin. Some men may be born with them, while others may develop them as a result of poor hygiene practices or sexually transmitted infections (STIs). It is important to know what the white spots are due to, as not all conditions require treatment. Listed below are some common causes of white spots on the foreskin and penis.
Pearly Penile Papules
Pearly penile papules (PPP) are small, dome-shaped or projection-like bumps that are located just below the head of the penis, usually arranged in a neat row. They can be white, flesh-coloured, yellow or translucent in colour. They do not cause any pain or itch. PPP is considered as a normal variant of the male penile anatomy, and are harmless bumps. It is not cancerous and there is no cancer risk. It is not a sexually transmitted infection and is not contagious. It is common and can occur in up to 38% of young men up to age 25.
PPP can be left alone and does not require treatment. However, for men who find them unsightly, they can be removed. Treatment options include laser therapy, cryotherapy and electrosurgery.
Also known as Fordyce glands, these are harmless, small white or yellow bumps that are found on the foreskin. They are basically enlarged sebaceous glands, and can occur alone or in clusters. They do not cause any pain or itch. Fordyce spots can also commonly occur on the edges of your lips or on the inside of your cheeks.
Just like PPP, Fordyce spots are not cancerous and infectious, and also does not require treatment. Similarly, they can be removed if men find them unsightly. Treatment options include topical retinoid cream, oral isotretinoin, laser therapy and electrosurgery.
Also known as preputial glands, Tyson’s glands are modified sebaceous glands that are found on the inner surface of the foreskin. They occur in pairs and are located on either side of the frenulum. These glands are also present on the hood of the clitoris in females. Tyson’s glands are normal structures and do not require treatment.
Skin tags are small, soft, flesh-coloured growths on the skin. They usually have a stalk and hang off the skin, and can vary in size from a few millimetres up to several centimetres. They tend not to grow on the penis itself, but rather, around the groin and scrotum. They often grow in areas where the skin folds and rubs against itself, and as such they are often also found on the neck, armpits, eyelids and under the breast. They affect men and women equally. Obesity, diabetes and pregnancy can increase the chances of occurrence.
Skin tags are benign tumours of the skin and do not require treatment. Occasionally, they may fall off on their own. People often wish to get them removed for aesthetic reasons, or if the skin tags are large and get in the way. Treatment options include cryosurgery, electrosurgery, ligation and excision.
Balanitis is inflammation of the foreskin and head of the penis. Spots can appear on the penile head or foreskin, and can be white or reddish. Other symptoms include redness, pain, itching, discharge, swelling and difficulty with retraction of the foreskin, and sometimes pain when passing urine.
Balanitis can affect as many as 1 in 10 males, and can occur at any age. It is more likely to occur in uncircumcised men. The most common cause of Balanitis is a bacteria or fungal infection, or a combination of both. This can result from inadequate personal hygiene and/or phimosis (tight foreskin). There are non-infectious causes for balanitis as well. Risk factors for recurrent balanitis include diabetes, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
To investigate balanitis, your doctor may perform swab tests to identify the responsible organism. Treatment involves topical and/or oral anti-fungal and antibiotics. The long term solution to balanitis is a circumcision.
Pimples develop as a result of the pores of our skin being blocked by dead skin cells, sebum and other debris. The sebaceous gland continues to produce sebum and build up under the blockage, allowing bacteria to grow in the area, resulting in inflammation, infection and pain. They can occur anywhere on the body, including the penis.
Pimples can be left alone and usually resolve on their own without treatment. It is important to resist the urge to pop the pimples as this may lead to superimposed infection, scarring and hyperpigmentation. However, they may end up self erupting and discharge small amounts of pus. Treatments for pimples include topical over-the-counter creams such as benzoyl peroxide, antibiotic creams and, if more severe, oral antibiotics.
Folliculitis is an inflammation or infection of the hair follicles. It can occur anywhere on the body, including the penis, where it is frequently seen at the shaft or base of the penis, or the pubic area. Folliculitis tends to result from shaving, waxing or chafing of the hair follicles. The damage to the hair follicles allows bacteria to enter. Sometimes, ingrown hairs can also occur from hair removal treatments, eventually leading to folliculitis as well. Folliculitis can be painful and/or itchy. Treatment options include topical and/or oral antibiotics.
Genital warts are caused by the Human Papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection and can be spread via vaginal, oral or anal sex. They appear as flesh-coloured growths over the genitals that can cluster and resemble a cauliflower. Most of the time they do not have any symptoms but can sometimes itch. Bleeding can also occur during sexual intercourse.
Left alone, the warts can remain the same or increase in size and number. They will disappear once the body has shed the virus completely, typically over a course of 1 to 2 years. Treatment options include topical medications such as imiquimod, cryotherapy and electrosurgery. Vaccines are available to help prevent HPV infection, consider getting a HPV vaccination.
Genital herpes is caused by the Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) and is a sexually transmitted infection. Itching of the penis is usually the first symptom, and can occur in other areas such as the scrotum, groin, buttocks and anus. Shortly after, tiny clusters of painful blisters develop, which can then rupture and form shallow ulcers with crusts. Other symptoms include painful urination, enlarged groin lymph nodes, fever and body aches. The virus can lie dormant in the body for years without causing any symptoms, therefore some people may not even be aware that they are infected.
Genital herpes can be diagnosed via swab testing of the lesions. When there are no symptoms, no treatment is required. Flares can be treated with oral and topical antiviral medications. There is unfortunately no cure for genital herpes, as the virus will permanently remain in the body.
READ: Rapid Herpes Testing
This is a benign infection of the skin caused by the Molluscum Contagiosum virus, resulting in painless, small, shiny pearl-shaped lesions. They can happen anywhere on the body as a result of physical contact, but when they occur on the genital area, it is usually as a result of sexual contact. The virus is thus spread via sexual contact, or even to another part of the person’s own body, from scratching the lesions and touching another part of the body. They can appear alone, or in clusters. They usually do not cause any symptoms, but can sometimes itch.
Left alone, the lesions will eventually disappear once the body has shed the virus completely, typically over a course of several months to a year. Treatment options include topical medications such as salicylic acid, cryotherapy, laser therapy and curettage.
In conclusion, do not panic if you notice white spots on your penis, as not all white spots require treatment. Speak to your doctor for advice on white spots or bumps and request for an examination.