Whiteheads and other small, white bumps on the penis are common and usually harmless.
White bumps on the penis may be pimples caused by acne, pearly penile papules, or bumps called Fordyce spots. However, white spots can also be caused by some sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and may require treatment.
This article will look at some possible causes and treatments of whiteheads and other bumps on the penis.
Can you get whiteheads on your penis?
White bumps on the penis may not always be whiteheads.
Whiteheads are a common form of acne. They are more common in areas of skin with lots of pores, such as the face, chest, and back, but can also occur on the penis. They are more common on the base or the shaft of the penis.
Whiteheads develop when a pore becomes clogged with the skin’s natural oil, called sebum, along with sweat, dead skin, or other debris. When bacteria get into the pore, they can cause inflammation and small, fleshy-white rounded bumps.
These spots are harmless. They usually go away on their own and should not cause any significant discomfort.
Other bumps on the penis
Whiteheads on the penis are easily misidentified, and bumps on or around the penis may be something different. In some cases, they could be a sign of an underlying health condition that requires treatment.
Alongside whiteheads, potential causes for 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 have no other symptoms and do not pose a health risk.
These bumps usually develop after puberty and may occur in between 14 and 48 percent of males.
Fordyce spots are small, yellow-white bumps that develop on various parts of the body. They are common on the lips or inside the cheek, but 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. They may be mistaken for a symptom of a STD, but they are harmless and usually do not have 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, red bumps to develop. They can be painful or uncomfortable but are not serious.
Most ingrown hairs will go away on their own, but sometimes they can become infected. A person can remove the hair from its follicle using a sterilized pin or tweezers before applying an antibacterial cream.
Skin tags are small, soft skin growths. These are more common in middle-aged males and are not a cause for concern.
Molluscum contagiosum is contagious, though it usually clears up on its own.
Molluscum contagiosum is a contagious skin infection that causes clusters of small, firm bumps to develop on the skin. These lumps have a small dimple in the middle, and so they can be identified from other conditions.
They can occur 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 purple-red bumps that can develop anywhere on the body, including the penis. The rash can be itchy and uncomfortable but does not always cause any symptoms. This condition may require treatment with a short course of steroid cream.
Bumps caused by STDs
Some spots or bumps that develop on the penis are caused by a STD and will require treatment. These include:
Genital warts are a caused by a STD and may develop after a person has come into contact with the human papillomavirus (HPV).
Genital warts appear as small, flesh-white bumps that grow on the shaft or head or the penis, or under the foreskin. Genital warts can disappear without treatment, but some cases require medication.
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.
What you need to know about STDs
Bumps on the penis caused by sexually transmitted diseases can be mistaken for whiteheads. Learn more about the symptoms and treatments of common STDs, including genital warts and syphilis.
Syphilis can cause white or red ulcers to develop on or around the penis. Syphilis is a STD caused by coming into contact with the bacterium Treponema pallidum.
This bacterial infection requires treatment, which is often a single shot or a short course of antibiotics. If left untreated, it can pose a significant health risk.
Genital herpes can cause grey-white sores to form on or around the penis. They are a STD that is caused by coming into contact with the herpes simplex virus (HSV).
These sores can be itchy and uncomfortable and may spread to other areas of the body. They are treated using antiviral medication, but the virus cannot be cured.
Treatments and home remedies
Washing regularly and maintaining good hygiene may help to prevent and treat whiteheads on the penis.
Whiteheads caused by acne do not usually cause other symptoms or pose a health risk, and so medical treatments are not required.
A person can treat or prevent whiteheads on the penis using the following methods:
- avoid touching the area to stop whiteheads from spreading
- wash the area regularly to stop bacteria and oil from building up
- avoid picking or popping whiteheads, as this can cause irritation and scarring
- use over-the-counter (OTC) medication that reduce bacteria and excess oil
Some OTC 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 should stop using the treatment.
Home remedies that could help reduce the spread of whiteheads include:
- Tea tree oil. Tea tree oil has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, which can help to reduce whiteheads.
- Witch hazel. Witch hazel is a plant extract that is an ingredient in many OTC acne medications. 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 and people should not use them on the penis.
When to see a doctor
If a person has bumps on their penis that get worse or do not go away by themselves, they should consult a doctor, as the bumps could be a sign of a more serious condition. This is particularly important when the person is sexually active.
If the bumps are itchy, painful, or occur with other symptoms, a person should seek medical attention as soon as possible. Until a doctor can confirm the cause of the bumps, a person should avoid sexual activity to reduce the chances of spreading an infection.