Bumps Around the Head of the Penis

Pearly Penile Papules

If a teen sees small bumps on his penis head, he will undoubtedly be worried about them. If he is sexually active, he might be afraid he has a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

But, those bumps might not mean he has an infection. Your teen son might have a condition called hirsuties papillaris genitalis, otherwise known as pearly penile papules.

What Are Pearly Penile Papules?

Pearly penile papules are small (1 to 2mm) round bumps that are attached to the rim of the head of the penis.

These bumps can be the color of the skin, translucent, white, yellow, or pink. The bumps can sometimes go all the way around the rim of the head of the penis, and the bumps can form multiple rows around the head of the penis.

These bumps (or papules) are completely normal and not a sign of infection or uncleanliness. They are not cancerous and are not precancerous lesions. It is unclear as to how many men have these papules, but they can occur in anywhere from 14 to 48 percent of men. Studies suggest that they occur more often in uncircumcised men than in circumcised men. These papules tend to appear when a man is in his late stages of puberty.

Two Skin Conditions That Resemble Pearly Penile Papules

Molluscum Contagiousm

Pearly penile papules can resemble molluscum contagiosum, a viral condition that is common in children and poses no harm. While it can be contracted through sexual contact in teenagers and adults, it is usually transmitted through casual contact in children (for example, sharing a towel with someone who is infected).

In molluscum, the bumps are firm, dome-shaped, and have a dimple in the center. They may itch but are painless, and can be found in numerous places on the body, including the genitals, face, neck, arms, hands, abdomen, and inner thighs. Generally, this rash resolves on its own, but a dermatologist can provide treatment if the rash is not clearing, or to prevent further spread of the rash.

Genital Warts

Pearly penile papules can also resemble genital warts which are caused by human papillomavirus—the most common sexually transmitted infection. Genital warts may appear as a single wart or a collection of warts around the penis. They may be smooth or have a cauliflower-like appearance, and they are variable in whether they clear, get bigger, or stay the same. Treatment varies based on the number of warts present and the location of them.

How to Treat Pearly Penile Papules

Because these bumps on the penis are not caused by an infection and are not painful or uncomfortable, they do not need to be treated or removed. They will frequently become less noticeable as a man gets older. That being said, men who have them are often embarrassed by the bumps because they are afraid someone will think they are an STD. Because teens are very concerned about their bodies, they may be particularly uncomfortable with not having the papules removed.

Most studies suggest that a carbon dioxide (CO2) laser is the best and most effective treatment for removal of these pearly penile papules. Of course, there are risks in treating these bumps—sometimes the laser can cause scarring or infection.

A Word From Verywell

If your teen has bumps on his penis, contact your pediatrician or family healthcare provider.

Only someone who has actually seen the lesions can accurately diagnose what they are. Additionally, if your teen is afraid that he has an STD, it might mean that he is having sex. It will be important for you or someone your teen trusts to discuss with him how to avoid getting a sexually transmitted disease.

Sources:

Aldahan AS et al. Diagnosis and management of pearly penile papules. Am J Mens Health. 2016 Jun 16. 

American Academy of Dermatology. Molluscum contagiousum

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (January 2017). Human Papillomavirus: HPV and Men - Fact Sheet.

Duffill MA. (2008). DermNet NZ. Pearly penile papules

Teichman JM, Thompson IM, Elston DM.Noninfectious penile lesionsAm Fam Physician. 2010 Jan 15-81(2):167-74.

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