What Are Fordyce Spots?

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Named for the man who reported on them in 1896, Fordyce spots are enlarged sebaceous glands that open directly onto the skin's surface and are not associated with hair follicles.

Once thought to be an abnormal symptom, they are now considered to be a normal skin variation. Fordyce spots are very common, occurring in 70–80% of adults.

Read on to learn about the symptoms of Fordyce spots and what to do if you want to treat them.

close up of lips

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What Are Fordyce Spots?

Sebaceous glands typically open into a hair follicle. They secrete a waxy, oily substance called sebum which helps moisturize skin and hair.

Fordyce spots consist of clusters of ectopic (in an abnormal place or position) sebaceous glands. They are not associated with hair follicles, and they open directly onto the skin's surface.

Fordyce glands are considered normal and occur in up to 80% of adults. They affect all genders and ages but are more commonly seen in males ages 17–67. They are present at birth but enlarge during puberty in response to hormones.

Symptoms of Fordyce Spots

Fordyce spots are pale white or yellow papules (small, solid bumps) that are about 1–3 millimeters in size. They are not tender and are usually asymptomatic, though they may cause itching for some people.

They can occur as one papule but usually appear in clusters of 50–100. If there are many of them, they may appear merged as patches. They usually occur symmetrically (the same on both sides).

They are most commonly found on the vermilion border of the lips (the area where the red part of the lip meets the skin) and the oral mucosa (the moist lining inside the mouth). They can also occur on the penis, scrotum, and labia.

Uncommonly, they may also occur in the esophagus, the gastroesophageal junction (where the esophagus meets the stomach), the uterine cervix, the thymus (a gland located behind the sternum), and the tongue.

Fordyce spots are easier to see when the skin is stretched. For example, penile Fordyce spots are more noticeable during an erection.

Are Fordyce Spots Serious?

Fordyce spots themselves are not a cause for concern. They are not harmful, and they are not sexually transmitted or contagious.

Because they can be confused with other conditions that may be harmful or contagious (such as genital warts), Fordyce spots should be checked by a healthcare provider to confirm the diagnosis.

Fordyce spots are not associated with harmful symptoms or systemic disease but rarely may cause penile discomfort during sexual intercourse.

Causes of Fordyce Spots

It isn't known how Fordyce spots form, but they are considered a normal variant of skin development. They are more noticeable during puberty when oil glands enlarge and occur more frequently with age. Some scientists believe they may be associated with the endocrine system, which directly affects sebaceous glands.

Fordyce spots occur twice as often in males as in females because they are affected by androgenic hormones ("male" sex hormones).

How Are Fordyce Spots Treated?

Fordyce spots are harmless and don't usually require treatment.

"Treatment" often consists of the healthcare provider confirming that the bumps are Fordyce spots rather than another condition and reassuring the patient that they are normal and nothing to worry about.

Some people may seek treatment for aesthetic reasons. In this case, treatment options include:

  • Micro-punch surgery: Topical anesthesia is applied, and a pen-like tool very quickly "punches" the skin
  • Electrodesiccation: A needle-shaped electrode applies a high-frequency electric current to dry out tissue
  • Cryotherapy: Freezing the tissue to "kill" it
  • Vaporizing laser (CO2 laser): A carbon dioxide laser removes the outermost layer of skin
  • Photodynamic therapy: A type of light therapy that uses photosensitizing agents
  • Topical bichloracetic acid: A type of acid that can shrink or remove Fordyce spots
  • Topical tretinoin: A type of retinoid that promotes skin peeling and unclogging of pores
  • Oral isotretinoin: A type of retinoid sourced from vitamin A, it can be anti-inflammatory and help prevent scarring and other skin conditions (such as Fordyce spots), though not long term because of liver damage and its increased risk of depression

These treatments can have side effects and may lead to complications such as scarring and infection.

Before trying treatments for Fordyce spots, talk to your healthcare provider about the benefits versus the risks. It's also important not to squeeze or pick at your Fordyce spots, which can also lead to infection or scarring.


Fordyce spots are small, harmless bumps, usually found around the lips, in the mouth, or on the genitals. They are sebaceous glands that are not associated with hair follicles.

Fordyce spots are considered normal and usually do not cause symptoms.

Treatment is usually not necessary but may be sought for cosmetic purposes.

A Word From Verywell

If you think you have Fordyce spots, confirm it with your healthcare provider. Unless they are bothering you, you can leave Fordyce spots alone. They are common, normal, and harmless.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Leung AKC, Barankin B. Fordyce spots. Clin Case Rep Rev. 2015;1(6). doi:10.15761/CCRR.1000140

  3. American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. Fordyce spots.

  4. Das S, Bakshi S. Fordyce spots of buccal mucosa. Arch Med Health Sci. 2022;10(1):132. doi:10.4103/amhs.amhs_276_21

  5. Cherian S, Bapat PM, Chaturvedi UP, et al. Ectopic sebaceous glands over buccal mucosa: a case report on Fordyce spot. International Journal of Head and Neck Surgery. 2021;12(3):119-120. doi:10.5005/jp-journals-10001-1444

By Heather Jones
Heather M. Jones is a freelance writer with a strong focus on health, parenting, disability, and feminism.