White spots on the foreskin can develop for several reasons. They can be harmless pimples and skin bumps or bacterial infections and sexually transmitted infections.
Depending on the cause, white spots may appear alone or in clumps, vary in size, and be associated with other symptoms, such as thick discharge.
In this article, we look at the causes of white spots on the foreskin, other symptoms that could accompany them, and how to treat the spots when necessary.
Here are some common causes of white spots on the foreskin, along with other symptoms and treatment options.
Pimples occur when skin pores become inflamed and infected by bacteria and form white, raised bumps.
Pimples appear to have a white head because they are filled with white-colored pus, which is a liquid mixture of immune cells, destroyed tissues, and bacteria. Most pimples cause only minor discomfort and go away after a few days with good hygiene.
While it can be very tempting, people should never force a pimple open.
Popping or pricking pimples can cause additional inflammation, make the infection worse, and lead to scarring.
There are many over-the-counter products and prescription medications available to treat and prevent pimples on the face and body. However, people are not recommended to use aggressive exfoliators and acne products on genital tissues, such as the foreskin.
The safest way to treat pimples on the foreskin is to apply a warm compress several times a day. Using a warm compress on the pimple promotes blood flow to the area, increasing the pressure in the infected pore and encouraging it to burst on its own.
There are several other ways to easily help reduce the recovery time for pimples and help prevent further infections.
At-home treatment tips include:
- exfoliating or gently removing dead skin cells using a damp cloth
- wearing loose-fitting clothing
- avoiding irritating fabrics, cleaning products, or dyes
- washing gently with lukewarm water and non-scented soap daily
Infected or ingrown hairs
When hair follicles become irritated or infected, they can cause inflamed, raised bumps filled with white pus.
Folliculitis, or swollen hair follicles, tends to occur when processes, such as waxing, shaving, and chaffing damage the surface of the skin. This damage allows bacteria or fungus to enter the follicles.
Many hair removal processes can also cause ingrown hairs, which are hairs that accidentally grow downward into the skin instead of upward. If untreated, most ingrown hairs eventually become infected and filled with white pus.
Folliculitis sores can be very painful, itchy, and uncomfortable. Minor cases of folliculitis usually go away within a week or so with basic care, such as good hygiene, gentle exfoliation, and the repeated use of warm compresses.
Severe or chronic cases of folliculitis that are caused by bacteria or fungal infections may require the use of antibiotic or antifungal creams or pills.
Penile papules are small, non-cancerous bumps that appear around the head of the penis.
Penile papules can be white, pink, yellow, or translucent. They often occur in one or two rows that circle the head of the penis.
Researchers are still not sure what causes penile papules, but they seem to be harmless and are not associated with sexual activity.
Most people do not require treatment for the condition. If the papules are painful, uncomfortable, or cause anxiety, a doctor may remove them using a minor surgical procedure.
The surgical options include cryosurgery or freezing and laser surgery.
Fordyce spots are harmless and not sexually transmitted. Most people do not require treatment unless the spots are painful or cause discomfort. A doctor may run tests to rule out any other potential causes or concerns.
If needed, minor surgery may be performed to remove or reduce Fordyce spots. Treatment options include:
- laser surgery or treatment
- micro-punch excision surgery
- photodynamic therapy
- oral isotretinoin, which is a form of medication
Yeast infections are extremely common and are usually caused by species of the fungus Candida.
The infection can affect the head of the penis and the foreskin, causing inflammation, white to reddish colored bumps, and thick, white to yellowish discharge. The foreskin may also feel tighter when the head of the penis swells.
In most cases, yeast infections are caused by poor hygiene or contact with someone with the infection, especially sexual contact.
Some people may also be more prone to yeast infections because of medical conditions or treatments that compromise the immune system.
Balanitis is pain, redness, and swelling of the tip and foreskin of the penis that can cause whitish, lumpy discharge when linked to bacterial or fungal infections. People with balanitis may also find it uncomfortable to urinate.
Irritation of the skin or allergic reactions can also cause balanitis.
The treatment options for balanitis depend on the cause.
Antibacterial or antifungal creams or pills may be used for balanitis caused by infection.
A low-dose corticosteroid cream, paired with stretching exercises, may be prescribed for cases of severe or chronic balanitis associated with irritation.
Genital warts (HPV)
Genital warts are spread by contact with the saliva of someone who is infected with HPV or skin-to-skin contact.
Often, HPV infections do not cause symptoms, or symptoms clear up on their own once the infection has run its course.
A doctor may prescribe antiviral medications to help clear HPV infections that cause symptoms, such as genital warts. The vaccine Gardasil gives immunity against most of the strains of HPV that cause genital warts.
Another STI called the human herpesvirus (HSV) causes genital herpes.
Most HSV infections do not cause symptoms. When they do, HSV sores range from small bumps, which can be mistaken for pimples, to blistering, painful sores that take weeks to heal.
During the first outbreak of symptoms, people with HSV infections may also experience flu-like symptoms, including:
- body aches
- swollen lymph nodes
There is no cure for genital warts caused by HSV, though the regular use of specific antiviral medications may reduce both symptoms and the chance of passing the virus onto others.
Molluscum contagiosum is a viral infection caused by skin-to-skin contact. The infection causes white to flesh-colored bumps that usually start out fairly small in size and grow as the infection takes its course.
Most people recover from M. contagiosum infections without treatment.
Painful, uncomfortable, or anxiety-producing bumps may be surgically removed, often with laser surgery, freezing, or scraping.
A doctor may also prescribe acid-based creams that will burn off the layer of skin containing the bumps.
People should see a doctor any time that white spots on the foreskin cause pain, discomfort, or anxiety.
They should also seek medical attention for white spots that are associated with:
- pus or abnormal discharge
- sexual activity or new sexual partners
- blistering, painful sores
- fever, body aches and pains, and general weakness
- extensive coverage of most of the penis or genitals
- difficulty urinating
- cauliflower-shaped bumps
- bumps that come and go
Many of the causes of white spots on the foreskin do not lead to any serious symptoms, are harmless, and do not require treatment.
White spots caused by bacterial, fungal, or viral infections will usually require treatment. These cases may also be associated with more severe or chronic symptoms.