Fordyce spots often appear on the vermilion border of the lips - the sharp change between the red colored part of the lip and the normal skin of the face next to it; they can also be found on the foreskin of the penis (called Tyson's glands).
Fordyce spots are named after the American dermatologist John Addison Fordyce (1858-1925) who first described them clinically in a medical journal. He also coined the terms Fox Fordyce disease, Fordyce's disease, Fordyce's lesion, and Brooke-Fordyce trichoepithelioma.
Fordyce spots are common in both males and females.
Here are some key points about Fordyce spots. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.
- Fordyce spots are not a sexually transmitted infection.
- They are not infectious.
- Fordyce spots are not a health concern but should be checked by a doctor.
What are Fordyce spots?
Technically, Fordyce spots are a type of ectopic sebaceous gland:
A 30-year-old male patient diagnosed with Fordyce spots.
Image credit: Hong Kong Medical Association
Ectopic means that something is in an abnormal location or position.
Sebaceous means fatty, greasy.
Glands are organs or collections of cells that secrete products. Endocrine glands secrete things into the body, such as hormones. Exocrine glands secrete things outside the body, such as sweat or mucus.
Sebaceous glands are small skin glands that secrete sebum (oily matter) into the hair follicles to lubricate the hair and skin.
Ectopic sebaceous glands are sebaceous glands that are on the skin but not in the hair follicle.
Although Fordyce spots are sebaceous glands that are in "the wrong place" (not in hair follicles), they are not associated with any disease or illness. Dermatologists say they are of only of cosmetic concern - people who have them might not be happy with how they affect the way they look.
Experts say that Fordyce spots are natural and occur to some degree in most people; they are not infectious. Some men may wonder whether they have an STI (sexually transmitted infection) or cancer and see their doctor, only to be told that they are harmless.
Symptoms of Fordyce spots
Small, pale (skin color, yellowish, or pinkish) bumps or spots that are 1-3 millimeters in diameter; they are visible on the:
- Shaft of the penis (in males).
- Scrotum (in males).
- Where the lips on the face meet the skin of the face (vermilion border).
- Labia (in females).
On the penis glans/shaft, scrotum, and labia, they may appear as bright red or purple papules, or they may be a pale color; they may appear alone or in groups of 50-100. They are painless and do not itch. They are more obvious when skin is stretched.
In some cases, they may bleed during/after intercourse.
Treatments for Fordyce spots
Dermatologists and other doctors emphasize that Fordyce Spots are normal physiological occurrences and are not dangerous to human health. Most, in fact, advise against treatment. However, there are a number of potential treatments available if truly necessary from a cosmetic standpoint:
Electro desiccation or CO2 (carbon dioxide) laser have been used with some degree of success in making the spots less visible, if the patient's concern is purely cosmetic.
Pulsed dye lasers
Pulsed dye lasers have also been effective in some cases. This is a laser treatment usually used for sebaceous gland hyperplasia (a skin disorder of the sebaceous glands, basically, an enlarged oil gland). Although expensive, pulsed dye lasers tend to leave fewer scars than other methods.
In the majority of cases, the treatment methods mentioned above are not effective enough for most patients. However, a recent article regarding a Micro-punch technique provides some hope:
Micro-punch technique for treatment of Fordyce spots
Prof. Norbert Pallua, who works at the Department of Plastic Surgery, Hand Surgery, Burn Center, University Hospital RWTH Aachen, Germany, reported in the Journal of Plastic, Reconstructive & Aesthetic Surgery promising results with micro-punch technique for the treatment of Fordyce spots.
In a retrospective study involving 23 patients from 2003-2011, Pallua and team say they achieved satisfactory functional and cosmetic results. They added that so far, during postoperative observations, there have been no signs of recurrence from 12 up to 84 months.
Complications associated with Fordyce spots
For patients with severe Fordyce spots on the vermilion border of the lips of the face, there is a risk of anxiety and depression due to the cosmetic concern; because the eyes and lips are the first things people look at, the spots can affect people emotionally.
Those with severe symptoms on their genitals may be embarrassed or concerned about what their sexual partners might think. In some cases, the spots may bleed if injured or during intercourse.
Many doctors fail to diagnose Fordyce spots accurately
It is not uncommon for patients with Fordyce spots on their lips to go to several dermatologists and plastic surgeons and find that only a minority are able to identify what they are and provide information regarding their cause, nature, and possible treatments.
If an individual notices any changes to the genitals or face, they should be checked out by a doctor. However, Fordyce spots are not a health concern.