What Are Pearly Penile Papules?

Benign Bumps on the Head of the Penis

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Pearly penile papules (PPP) are common, harmless bumps that develop around the base of the head of the penis. Also known as hirsutoid papillomas or hirsuties papillaris genitalis, these bumps are normal and thought to affect as many as 48% of people with penises.

As per their name, PPPs are tiny bumps (papules) on the penis that often have a slightly pearlescent sheen. They can also be flesh-colored or have a pinkish or yellowish hue.

PPPs pose no health concerns and do not require treatment. Even so, some people opt to have them removed with procedures like cryotherapy (cold therapy), particularly if they are pronounced. Part of the reason for this is that PPPs are sometimes mistaken for genital warts caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection.

This article looks at the symptoms and causes of pearly penile papules as well as the various treatment options if you decide to have them removed. It will also describe the differences between PPPs and genital warts so that you can seek the appropriate treatment.

Man investigating down his pants


Biserka Stojanovic/ iStock/ Getty Images Plus

Appearance

Pearly penile papules tend to develop in the second or third decade of life. They are not a sign of poor hygiene or any health problem. And, they do not cause any symptoms such as itchiness or pain.

PPPs can vary in appearance from one person to the next but tend to have characteristic features. Among them:

  • PPPs occur around the base (corona) of the head of the penis (called the glans).
  • The bumps are typically 1 to 2 millimeters wide and 1 to 4 millimeters long.
  • The bumps tend to be arranged in rows around the circumference of the corona.
  • They tend to be pearly white but can also be pinkish, yellowish, or flesh-colored.
  • The bumps will be more or less the same size and shape.
  • The bumps may either be dome-like or extend from the skin like tiny fingers.

Can Pearly Penile Papules Change?

Once a person develops PPPS, they typically remain for life. The bumps can fade with age, but they generally do not change color or shape. Moreover, they do not spread and are not associated with a risk of cancer.

Impact of PPPs on Sex

Although pearly penile papules do not interfere with sexual function, they may worry you, particularly if you have large visible papules.

A survey published in the American Journal of Men's Health found that among 95 people with PPPs. 38% were "worried or concerned" about the bumps and 17% wanted to have them removed.

The main concern was that the bumps would be mistaken for a sexually transmitted infection (STI) like HPV. Furthermore, their appearance might suggest that the person "did something" to get them, leading to problems with intimacy and trust in relationships.

Causes

Pearly penile papules are a type of angiofibroma, These are a wide range of benign (non-cancerous) papules that can develop on the skin or mucus membranes throughout the body.

There is no explanation as to why some people get PPPs and others don't. Even so, they are considered normal and may simply be a vestigial remnant (meaning an anatomical structure like the appendix that no longer serves a vital function in its current form).

PPPs may actually serve some purpose. Along with tiny glands called Fordyce spots (which are on most penises), PPPs secrete oils that may keep the head of the penis moist.

Are They PPPs or Genital Warts?

Although commonly mistaken for STIs like genital warts, pearly penile papules are not contagious or something you can "catch." PPPs are distinguishable from genital warts in several key ways:

Pearly Penile Papules
  • Located along the base of the head of the penis

  • Small, shiny bumps that are fairly uniform in size and shape

  • Can be white, pink, yellowish, or flesh-color

  • Grow close together in lines

  • Tend to develop in a person's 20s or 30s

Genital Warts
  • Can occur anywhere on the penis, foreskin, scrotum, or groin

  • Irregular in shape and texture, often described as cauliflower-like

  • Typically flesh-colored

  • Often grows in clusters

  • Can occur at any age

Treatment

Pearly penile papules are harmless and do not require treatment. However, if their appearance is causing you distress or impacting your relationships, it is not unreasonable to speak with a specialist, such as a urologist or dermatologist, about ways to remove them.

Options include:

  • Cryotherapy: This typically involves the application of liquid nitrogen to freeze the bumps. There are also handheld devices that can freeze the bumps with controlled bursts of nitrous oxide.
  • CO2 laser treatments: This involves a highly focused beam of light to remove superficial layers of tissue. Laser treatments tend to be less painful than liquid nitrogen cryotherapy.
  • Electrodesiccation and curettage (ED&C): This involves the targeted application of electricity to burn tissues that are then scraped off.

These procedures can be performed safely by a qualified practitioner but still pose risks, including pain, scarring, bleeding, changes in skin color, and infections.

What Not to Do

Never try to pop or pick at a pearly penile papule as this can cause bleeding, infection, and scarring. The same applies to over-the-counter wart removers that can cause severe burns, disfigurement, and the hardening of damaged tissues.

Summary

Pearly penile papules are common, harmless bumps that develop around the base of the head of the penis. They do not cause symptoms and do not need to be treated.

Even so, they can be distressing to some people who find them unsightly or fear that they might be mistaken for genital warts. In such cases, treatments like cryotherapy or laser treatments can be used to remove them.

A Word From Verywell

If you or a sexual partner develop pearly penile papules, it can seem distressing. But remember that they are not contagious and do not affect sexual function.

With that said, if they affect your peace of mind or make you hesitant to pursue sexual relationships, speak with a healthcare provider about treatment options.

Whatever you do, do not seek treatment from an aesthetician (who is unlikely to want to perform the procedure anyway) or try to treat them yourself. You'll like cause injury to yourself if you do.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is PPP common?

    Pearly penile papules are a common, naturally occurring skin variation. It is believed they occur in 14% to 48% of males. The condition is most common in those who are not circumcised.

  • Is PPP contagious?

    Although pearly penile papules are commonly mistaken for genital warts, they are not the same thing and are not associated with a sexually transmitted infection. Unlike genital warts, PPPs are not contagious.

  • What makes PPP go away?

    Pearly penile papules are normal, harmless, and can be left alone. Some people may choose treatments to have them removed, but this is not necessary. As the patient gets older, the number of pearly penile papules that develop may lessen.

  • Should you pop penile papules?

    No. You should never try to pop or pick at penile papules. This can cause damage to the penis and increases the risk of infection. You should also never use over-the-counter wart removers because these can cause scarring and aren't intended for use on the penis.

  • Can you get pimples on your penis?

    There are several reasons for little bumps on the penis, including pimples, ingrown hairs, or cysts. They may also be the result of a sexually transmitted infection like herpes or genital warts. Other possible causes include:

    • Folliculitis (inflammation of the hair follicles)
    • Skin tags
    • Fordyce spots (normal, visible oil-producing glands)
4 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.
  1. Aldahan AS, Brah TK, Nouri K. Diagnosis and management of pearly penile papules. Am J Mens Health. 2018;12(3):624-7, doi:10.1177/1557988316654138

  2. Honigman AD, Dubin DP, Chu J, Lin MJ. Management of pearly penile papules: a review of the literature. J Cutan Med Surg. 2020;24(1):79-85. doi:10.1177/1203475419887730

  3. Kumar P, Das A, Savant SS. Multiple shiny papules on the shaft of the penisIndian J Dermatol. 2015;60(3):325. doi:10.4103/0019-5154.156491

  4. Bannerman M, Proom T. Sexually acquired infections. In: Sexual Health. Ed. Baker K. Chichester, England: Wiley-Blackwell Publishers; 2009.