Fordyce Spots VS Herpes

Fordyce spots vs herpes may look similar as they appear on almost the same places in the body like the lips, inside of the cheeks, penis or scrotum if you are male and on the vagina or labia for females. These two spots have almost same size making it somehow difficult to differentiate. Fordyce spots and herpes are so different in their symptoms, look, diagnosis, cause, mode of transmission, treatment and prevention. In this article, we shall explain these spots and differences.


Fordyce spots ( Fordyce granules or Fordyce glands ) are bumps that develop on the lips, inside of the cheek, penis and scrotum (for male) or vagina and labia (for female). These bumps may be white or yellow, they are not harmful or painful, there is no risk associated with them. The only problem is the bumps they leave on the body which can affect self-confidence.

Fordyce spots are common that about 70 to 80 percent of adults experience these bumps. These bumps are enlarged oil glands that appear on parts of the skin where there is no hair. Fordyce spots are often unnoticeable but they appear to be pronounced and noticed during puberty.

Meaning of herpes

Herpes is an infection that causes blisters and sores to occur around the mouth and genital areas. This infection is caused by a common virus known as herpes simplex virus (HSV). According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 67% of people under age 50 globally have an HSV-1 infection, and 13% under age 50 have an HSV-2 infection.

There are two types of herpes simplex virus:

  • Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) – This type causes blisters and sores to appear on the mouth and surrounding areas (oral herpes), it can also affect the genital areas (genital herpes).
  • Herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) – Type 2 is also known as genital herpes because it is sexually transmitted.


Causes of fordyce spots:

The exact cause of fordyce spots is not known but it is believed that biological and environmental factors can lead to the development of these bumps. Fordyce spots can be caused when there is an overgrowth of ectopic sebaceous glands. These glands can overgrow due to changes in hormones and factors in embrayo development.

There are some factors that can cause fordyce spots to occur, these factors include:

  • Oily skin
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Puberty
  • Dyslipidemia (high level of cholesterol and fats in the blood)
  • Rheumatic disorders
  • Male sex at birth
  • Causes of herpes

Herpes is caused by herpes simplex virus, it can spread from person to person through contact with an infected person. The virus can also be spread through contact with other area of the skin including the eyes. 

Ways of getting the infection are:

  • Sharing sex toys
  • Having oral contact with an infected person
  • Having genital contact with someone who has herpes
  • Having vaginal or anal sex with an infected person without protection like condoms
  • From an infected mother to a newborn baby during delivery.


Symptoms of fordyce spots:

  • Fordyce spots are usually about 1 to 3 millimeters (.04 to .12 inches) in diameter although they can be larger.
  • Their color can be whitish-yellow, light yellow or like the flesh. If they are occur on the genital areas, their color is red.
  • Bleeding during sex if they occur on the genitals
  • Fordyce spots are hardly noticed but when they become visible, they are unsightly.

Symptoms of herpes:

  • Tingling 
  • Itching of the mouth and genitals
  • Burning and pain
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling of being unwell
  • Fever
  • The lymph nodes become swollen
  • The sores can last between 2 to 3 weeks (for oral herpes) and between 2 to 6 weeks (for genital herpes). 
Fordyce Spots VS Herpes
Fordyce Spots VS Herpes


Both fordyce spots and herpes normally occur on the lips, one is causes by enlarged oil glands while the other is caused by a virus that can be contacted through direct contact with an infected person. One way to differentiate both of these bumps is that fordyce spots are very tiny (one to three millimeters) and slightly raised on the lips.

The fordyce spots are often seen in clusters or patches, you easily see them when you stretch out your skin.  Herpes are white in color, they appear in stages. The first stage is the feeling of burning sensation which acts as signal that sores are on the way. The second stage is the appearance of sores on the edge of the lips. The last stage is the blistering, scabbing and crusting of the spots resulting to cold sores.


Fordyce spots on the penis:

Fordyce spots can occur as bumps around the base of the penis and scrotum. They are most common in male, they tend to show during puberty. The first thought that most people have when they see fordyce spots on their penis is that they have sexually transmitted disease like genital wart or herpes. You should not worry as these bumps cannot be transmitted neither are they dangerous nor infectious. The only problem is that they look unsettling and unpleasant at first sight. 

You can easily see fordyce spots under a direct light, they usually clump together and appear in patches. If you stretch your skin, you may see them as they are too small to notice. Fordyce spots are red in color when they occur on the penis. Sometimes, a thin, chalky or cheesy fluid can come out of these bumps when you press them although they do not leak fluids. 

Herpes on the penis:

Herpes can start like small pimples or ingrown hair, you can mistake them to be these things. They appear as small, white blisters on any area of the penis. The blisters can rupture, if this occurs, a painful ulcer forms in place of the blister. This is very painful and oozes fluid, you may even find it painful to urinate. 

After sometime, the ulcer will start to heal while a scab appears to replace it. If you pick on this scab, you will irritate the area more. You will also feel symptoms like itching around your penis and scrotum, fever, body aches and swollen lymph nodes in your groin area.

Herpes can also occur on the:

  • Urethra
  • Anus
  • Buttocks
  • Upper thigh


Fordyce spots on the vagina:

Fordyce spots can occur on the vagina due to enlarged oil glands around the area. They look like raised red or white spots, their sizes are between 1 to 3 millimeters in diameter. It is very easier to see these bumps when you stretch out their skin.

Fordyce spots are not painful and dangerous, the only problem is the cosmetic reason associated with it. Fordyce spots are not sexually transmitted disease or infection like genital warts. Sometimes, when you squeeze these bumps, a chalky substance may come out.

Herpes on the vagina:

Herpes causes a tingling sensation and itching in the vagina. They occur as tiny, firm red or white bumps that are uneven or jagged in shape. These bumps are very painful and itchy. As you scratch them, these blisters open and ooze out white fluid.

After oozing out fluid, these blisters form to painful ulcers that can easily irritated when they come in contact with clothes. Other symptoms you will experience are fever, headaches, fatigue, body aches and lymph node swelling around the groin, arms, or throat. 

Herpes can occur in other places like the:

  • Vulva
  • Cervix
  • Buttocks
  • Upper thigh
  • Anus
  • Urethra


How are Fordyce spots diagnosed:

Fordyce spots are diagnosed by their appearance. It is important to see a doctor if you notice spots on your skin. Appearance may not be enough to diagnose fordyce spots so biopsy is necessary. Your doctor will conduct biopsy by removing a sample of tissue from the bump. This tissue is examined under a microscope before conclusion is made.

How are herpes diagnosed:

It is difficult to know when to see a doctor especially since these bumps are caused by virus that takes days to show symptoms. However, you should see a doctor immediately you see sores around your lips or genitals. Your doctor will recommend culture test of the bumps or sores. You can also conduct an at-home STI test before seeing a doctor.


Treatment for fordyce spots:

Fordyce spots are not dangerous, you can leave them but most people treat them because of the cosmetic reason.

Some of the treatment option for these bumps are:

  1. Micro-Punch Surgery: Micro-punch surgery is an effective way of removing multiple spots on the skin. This procedure involves using a device like a pen to punch your skin and remove the bumps. One advantage of this procedure is that there is no scar. According to the 2013 study published in the Journal of Plastic, Reconstructive & Aesthetic Surgery found out that people who used this procedure do not have recurring spots a year after the process.
  2. Laser Treatments: A carbon dioxide laser can be used to treat fordyce spots though there may be scars. However, you can go for pulsed dye laser as it has less scarring. This procedure uses a concentrated beam of light, but at different wavelengths to get rid of the bumps. 
  3. Topical Treatments: Some topical products can be used to treat fordyce spots. Sometimes, these products can be used with laser treatments. Some of the topical products are bichloracetic acid, topical tretinoin (Avita, Retin-A), and oral isotretinoin (Sotret, Claravis).

You can treat herpes through any of the following ways:

  • Taking pain relief drugs like acetaminophen and ibuprofen to relieve the pain
  • Applying aloe vera (a plant with anti-inflammatory properties) on the sores  
  • Applying petroleum jelly on the sores to help moisturize the skin
  • Wearing loose clothes till your sores are fully healed to avoid irritation
  • Soaking in a warm sitz bath 
  • Squirting water from a bottle on the sores to help with the pain you feel while urinating
  • Applying lotions and creams with lidocaine on the urethra before urinating.


Fordyce spots and herpes are both bumps that can occur on the lips and genital areas but they are not the same. They are caused by different things, one is caused by environmental or biological factors while another is caused by a virus. If you notice any bumps on your lips or genitals area, do not hesitate to see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

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