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White bumps on the penis? Pearly Penile Papules (PPP) can be removed

Editorial note: an earlier version of this article was first published on May 11, 2011. It was updated on August 13, 2020.

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If you’ve noticed tiny white bumps on the penis (near the head, tip, or ‘corona’), you may have nothing to worry about. These pimple-like spots are not the same as genital warts, and are not a sexually transmitted disease or infection (STD/STI). They are also not Fordyce spots or molluscum contagiousum, which they can also be mistaken for. They are harmless, benign growths affecting 8 to 43% of men. They are called pearly penile papules, or “PPP” for short.

Doctors refer to PPP as hirsutoid papillomas. However, these smooth, raised bumps go by other names including:

  • Pink pearly papules
  • Tyson glands
  • Hirsutis papillary corona of the penis
  • Corona capilliti

The good news is that pearly penile papules can be removed, if they really bother you (which is understandable). We do this at our Surrey laser clinic, near Vancouver, B.C.

Since these bumps are harmless, and aren’t contagious in any way, they may not be covered by health plans. Most people who have them removed pay out of pocket for the procedure, as an elective, cosmetic service.

Below we’ll answer some common questions about pearly penile papules (PPP).

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Why do I have pearly penile papules on my penis?

In truth, no one knows why some men get pearly penile papules on the penis. The scientific community knows they are more common in those who are uncircumcised, and among black racial groups. However, that doesn’t exclude circumcised or non-black men from getting them.

If you’re very concerned, know that you didn’t do anything to get these white spots on the penis. People of all backgrounds and sexual proclivities, in any country, can get them. They are not the result of poor hygiene, and they are not an infection.

These bumps begin to appear in young adulthood, after puberty, usually around the twenties or thirties. They remain for life in some people. In others, they fade over time.

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How do I know if I have PPP and not another genital condition?

This is a very important question to ask. The last thing you’d want is to mistake a serious genital condition for PPP. So, even though PPP is harmless, you should still see a doctor about them. Don’t be embarrassed by a visit like this; doctors have seen a lot. And, PPP is a lot more common than you may think.

To give you some guidances on identifying pearly penile papules, you can look for the following traits that they bear:

  • They are always located at the head of the penis, not the shaft or anywhere else.
  • They don’t form cauliflower-like growths (those would be genital warts).
  • The bumps are smooth and, though they resemble pimples, they don’t contain pus, and can’t be popped (don’t try!).
  • They form in a relatively uniform row, or in two rows.
  • They are 1 to 2 millimeters in width, and 1 to 4 millimetres in length.
  • In addition to white, they can be yellow or pink in colour.
  • They do not itch or feel painful in any way.

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Are there home remedies for pearly penile papules?

No, unfortunately not. You should not make any attempts to remove these on your own. Products made for wart removal, for example, can be far too harsh for a condition like this.

The only way to remove these bumps on the penis is with medical intervention, by a licensed doctor. We do this at our Surrey clinic, near Vancouver.

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How can pearly penile papules be removed? What are the treatment options?

While pearly penile papules are harmless, it is perfectly understandable why one would want them removed. They can make you feel insecure, especially during sexual encounters. If a partner has not seen them before, they may be inclined to think they are dangerous, even though they are not.

Treating pearly penile papules is a lot like treating other skin growths. With one tool or another, the idea is to destroy the excessive cells that have created the bumps on the penis. This can be done with any of the following methods:

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Laser resurfacing

Using a CO2 laser or an ablative laser, like the Erbium YAG (Er:YAG), excess skin can be removed layer by layer, without any need for cutting. This prevents bleeding and opening of the skin, which could otherwise lead to infection. For pearly penile papules, laser removal is considered the most ideal option.

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Electrocauterization

Using a medical tool called a Hyfrecator, a doctor can use electric pulses of energy to burn away the dome-shaped bumps on the penis head. This is also called electrosurgery.

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Cryosurgery

Using a solution like liquid nitrogen, pearly penile papules can be frozen off, similar to the way warts can be treated.

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Surgical excision

Using surgical cutting tools, along with several safety precautions, a doctor can cut off the papules. You should never try to do this on your own.

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Other methods

Some practitioners may use radiation surgery or plasma skin resurfacing tools to achieve a smoothing effect on the penis, where the papules are. However, if the above options are available (especially a laser), these other tools may not be necessary.

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How many treatment sessions will it take to remove PPP?

Most treatment options for PPP are permanent. This means you will only have to come in once to remove existing papules. Of course, this depends on the expertise of the person doing the procedure, and the method they use.

It’s possible you’ll form new papules after a few years. If this happens, you can simply book another appointment to have the new ones removed.

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Is PPP removal painful? What about side effects?

The penis is a sensitive area. So, yes, it can hurt. But, it’s not so intolerable that people avoid doing it. If the treatment is deemed to induce a lot of pain, a doctor’s office can use anaesthetic to relieve that stress during the procedure. Usually this is not required.

Afterwards, you may form a scab, which will need to heal. You can expect to feel tender in that area for about a week or two.

Removing pearly penile papules, especially with a laser, is a relatively safe procedure. Common side effects can include swelling, redness, numbing and scarring. These are usually temporary.

A quality clinic should explain all the potential side effects with you before you undergo this procedure. Be sure to reveal your entire health history, including all medications and allergies, to your treatment provider, just in case.

You should wait until you are fully healed from this procedure before engaging in sexual activity.

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Where can I get pearly penile papules removed?

Typically, men with pearly penile papules will visit a family doctor as a first step to seeking treatment. A family doctor may be able to offer cryosurgery. However, they may feel that you will get better results with a laser treatment. In that case, you’ll be referred to a laser clinic run by a qualified, licensed doctor.

We offer treatments for pearly penile papules in the Vancouver area, at our Surrey laser clinic. We regularly service clients from White Rock, South Surrey, Cloverdale, Aldergrove, Langley, Delta (Tsawwassen & Ladner), Burnaby, Richmond, New Westminster, Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam, Port Moody, North Vancouver, West Vancouver, Whistler, Chilliwack, Abbotsford and even as far as Bellingham in Washington, USA.

You don’t need a doctor’s referral to book an appointment with us. We are a well-known, reputable clinic in the area, and have been treating this condition for several years. Our doctor is fully qualified to perform this procedure.

If you would like to learn about your options for removing these penis bumps, we encourage you to book a consultation as a first step.

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