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Whiteheads and other small white bumps on the penis are common and usually harmless.
However, white spots can also be related to some sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and may require treatment.
This article will look at some possible causes and treatments of whiteheads and other bumps on the penis.
Whiteheads are a common form of acne. They are more common on areas of skin with lots of pores, such as the face, chest, and back, but they can also occur on the penis. When they occur on the penis, they are more common on the base or the shaft.
Whiteheads develop when a pore becomes clogged with the skin’s natural oil, called sebum, along with sweat, dead skin, and other debris.
When bacteria get into the pore, they can cause inflammation and small, fleshy-white, rounded bumps. These spots are harmless. They will usually go away on their own and should not cause any significant discomfort.
Bumps on or around the penis may be something other than whiteheads. In some cases, they could be a symptom of an underlying health condition that requires treatment.
Some other potential causes of bumps on the penis include:
Pearly penile papules
Pearly penile papules are small, fleshy bumps that usually develop in rows around the head of the penis. It is not clear what causes them, but they cause no other symptoms and do not pose a health risk.
Fordyce spots are small, yellow-white bumps that develop on various parts of the body. They are common on the lips and inside the cheeks, but they may also form around the head or shaft of the penis.
Fordyce spots are oil glands that do not have hair follicles, as most other oil glands do. Some people may mistake them for an STI symptom, but they are harmless and usually do not cause any symptoms.
Tyson glands are small sebaceous glands that can form on either side of the frenulum, which is the elastic tissue that connects the foreskin to the head of the penis. These are also completely normal.
Ingrown hairs can develop in any area where hair grows, including the pubic area. They occur when a hair grows back into its follicle, causing itchy, discolored bumps to develop. They can be painful or uncomfortable, but they are not serious.
Most ingrown hairs will go away on their own, but sometimes, they can become infected. In these cases, a person can remove the hair from its follicle using a sterilized pin or tweezers and apply an antibacterial cream.
Skin tags are small, soft skin growths. They are more common among middle-aged males but are not a cause for concern.
Molluscum contagiosum is a contagious infection that causes clusters of small, firm bumps to develop on the skin.
These lumps have a small dimple in the middle, so people may find it easier to distinguish them from other types of bump. They can develop on or around the penis and can sometimes be itchy.
This condition often clears up on its own, but in some cases, it may require treatment using creams or gels.
Lichen planus is a rash of discolored bumps that can develop anywhere on the body, including the penis. The rash can be itchy and uncomfortable, but it does not always cause symptoms.
This condition may require treatment with a short course of steroid cream.
Some spots or bumps that develop on the penis are due to an STI and will require treatment. These include:
Genital warts appear as small, flesh-white bumps that grow on the shaft or head of the penis or under the foreskin. They can disappear without treatment, but some cases will require treatment.
Specifically, treatment for genital warts may involve using a cream to destroy the wart tissue, undergoing cryotherapy to freeze the wart off, or a combination of both.
Syphilis can cause white or discolored ulcers to develop on or around the penis. Syphilis is an STI that spreads when people come into contact with the bacterium Treponema pallidum.
This bacterial infection requires treatment, which is often a single shot or a short course of antibiotics. Without treatment, syphilis can pose a significant health risk.
Genital herpes is an STI that spreads when people come into contact with the herpes simplex virus.
It can cause gray-white sores to form on or around the penis. These sores can be itchy and uncomfortable, and they may also spread to other areas of the body.
Treatment typically involves antiviral medication, but there is currently no cure for this virus.
Whiteheads due to acne do not usually cause other symptoms or pose a health risk, so medical treatment is not usually necessary.
People can reduce or prevent whiteheads on the penis by:
- not touching the area, to stop whiteheads from spreading
- washing the area regularly, to stop bacteria and oil from building up
- not picking or popping whiteheads, as this can cause irritation and scarring
- using over-the-counter medications that reduce bacteria and excess oil
A range of acne treatments are available for purchase, either over the counter or online.
Some acne medications contain chemicals such as benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, or exfoliants. The skin of the penis is very sensitive, so anyone who notices irritation in this area should stop using the treatment straight away.
Home remedies that may help reduce the spread of whiteheads include tea tree oil and witch hazel.
Witch hazel is a plant extract. It is an ingredient in many acne medications available for purchase over the counter or online. It may act as a cleanser to clean out pores and reduce whiteheads.
Some home remedies, such as apple cider vinegar and lemon juice, are too acidic for sensitive skin, so people should avoid using them on the penis.
If a person has bumps on their penis that get worse or do not go away by themselves, they should consult a doctor. The bumps could be a symptom of a more serious condition.
If the bumps are itchy, feel painful, or occur with other symptoms, the person should seek medical attention as soon as possible. Until a doctor can confirm the cause of the bumps, it is important to avoid sexual activity to reduce the chance of passing on an STI.