WTF Are These White Bumps on My Lips?

By | September 7, 2022

Two of the most common causes of white bumps on the lips are milia and Fordyce spots. They can also be a symptom of health conditions such as herpes simplex, oral thrush, or oral cancer. Here are the deets.

White spots on the lips are hella common. Some are totally harmless and go away on their own. Others can be a symptom of an underlying health condition that may require medical attention. Here’s everything you need to know about ’em and potential treatments to consider.

female looking at white bumps on lips
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Causes of white bumps on lips

Two of the most common causes of white bumps on the lips are milia and Fordyce spots. They can also be a symptom of health conditions such as herpes simplex, oral thrush, or oral cancer. Here are the deets.

Milia

These small, firm white bumps occur when dead skin cells get trapped in the skin. They’re very common in babies but older peeps can get them, too. While they normally occur on the face, you can also get them on your lips.

Fordyce spots

Fordyce spots are enlarged sebaceous (aka oil) glands without a hair follicle. They tend to be tiny — about 1 to 3 millimeters (mm) — but can still be annoying AF. The spots can appear in the dozens, especially on the inner portion of the lips.

According to a 2015 case report, they affect up to 80 percent of adults at some point in their lives and are more common with advanced age, in people with oily skin, and in people with some rheumatic disorders or non-polyposis colorectal cancer.

Herpes simplex

Oral herpes can trigger a cold sore outbreak on or around the lips. They might start as small white bumps with a reddish border. Eventually, they can develop into painful, fluid-filled ulcers.

The herpes simplex virus (HSV) can be passed by having intimate contact with someone who carries the virus (like oral sex or kissing). It can also be spread by sharing towels, dishes, utensils, or razors. 

Oral thrush

This fungal infection can cause white lesions or bumps on the mouth, lips, tonsils, or gums. The most common oral thrush fungus strain is Candida albicans.

Factors like a weakened immune system can increase your risk. Diabetes and certain medications — like prednisone, antibiotics, or inhaled corticosteroids — may also up your chances of getting oral thrush.

Oral cancer

An estimated 10.5 per 100,000 adults will develop oral cancer. One possible symptom is a white bump with a raised or flat texture on or in the mouth or lips.

Some potential oral cancer causes include:

When to see a doctor

White bumps on your lips or mouth are usually harmless. In most cases, they’re asymptomatic and will go away on their own.

However, you should talk with a healthcare professional if you experience:

  • fever
  • sore throat
  • painful raised skin
  • swollen neck or jaw
  • bleeding or pus-filled bumps
  • trouble swallowing or chewing
  • a foul taste or odor in your mouth
  • discolored skin around the bumps

You should also see a healthcare pro if your white bumps continue to spread or if they don’t disappear after two weeks.

How to get a diagnosis 

In most cases, a healthcare professional can diagnose the white bumps on your lips with a quick in-office visit. They will ask for your full medical history and do a physical examination. This will include feeling your face, jaw, and lymph nodes for swelling.

In some situations, your doctor will swab your lip and run a lab test. This will help determine if fungi, viruses, or bacteria are to blame. 

If your doctor suspects your white bump is a symptom of oral cancer, they can take a tissue sample and test it for cancerous cells. They might also run a blood test to see if the herpes virus is the cause.

Treatment options

Treating the white bumps on your lips depends on what’s causing them. Here’s a quick rundown of possible solutions.

Fordyce spots

These little buggers rarely require treatment. They usually go away on their own. If not, your doctor can suggest laser treatments or electrosurgery to get rid of them for good.

Herpes simplex

There’s currently no cure for herpes simplex. The good news is that antiviral medications can curb symptoms and keep outbreaks at bay.

Oral thrush

Antifungal medications, topical antiseptics, and dietary supplements can treat oral thrush. For mild to moderate infections, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests an antifungal mouth rinse for 7 to 14 days. Severe infections may require more potent prescription medications.

Pro tip: You can reduce your risk of oral thrush by keeping your oral health in check. So take care of those chompers! 😁

Oral cancer

Oral cancer isn’t a one-size-fits-all situation. Treatments depend on the severity of symptoms and if cancer has spread to other areas. Common options include chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery to remove affected areas.

Home remedies

Milia can often be treated at home. Here’s how to do it safely.

Psst. Keep in mind that milia are stubborn. It might take a few months until you notice a big difference. You might even need professional help to get rid of ’em.

OTC exfoliating products

Exfoliants help slough off dead skin cells, making room for newer ones. This can leave your skin feeling fresh and soft.

Some popular chemical exfoliants include salicylic acid or glycolic acid.

Facial peels

Like chemical exfoliants, facial peels can help remove dead skin cells and give your skin a more even appearance.

FYI: Make sure you only use a light chemical peel. Super strong peels should only be done by a licensed professional. Additionally, some studies suggest strong peels can actually make milia worse.

Steam

Steam can help open your pores and flush out oils and other debris. Here’s how you do it:

  1. Cleanse your skin with a gentle face wash.
  2. Soak a clean towel in warm water. 
  3. Gently drape the towel over your face. Let it sit for 5 minutes.
  4. Rinse with lukewarm water and pat your face dry.

Btw, taking a hot steamy shower can also do the trick.

Retinoids

Retinoid creams contain vitamin A, an essential nutrient for skin health. Some researchers think retinoids can help reduce the appearance of milia. However, it’s best to talk with a dermatologist before using retinoids or retinol —they can be irritating for some people.

Frequently asked questions

Are Fordyce spots an STD?

Nope! Fordyce spots are not transmitted sexually. In fact, they’re not transmitted at all! They’re totally harmless and aren’t a symptom of HPV, HIV, or herpes.

How do you treat white bumps on lips?

Treating white bumps on your lips totes depend on the cause. They can appear naturally without any rhyme or reason. In this situation, they’re nothing to worry about and will usually go away on their own. You can also try a DIY method like light:

  • chemical exfoliation
  • steaming your skin
  • physical exfoliants
  • gentle facial peels
  • retinoid creams

However, white bumps caused by a virus, health condition, or fungal infection may require medical attention. A healthcare professional will be able to give you a proper diagnosis and suggest the best treatments for your sitch. This may include:

  • antifungal medications
  • antiviral medications
  • topical antiseptics
  • surgical removal

Do white spots on lips go away?

Yes and no. In most cases, white spots on your lips will go away either on their own or with the help of home remedies. However, milia and other forms of white bumps are known to be stubborn. It can take several months or longer to see an improvement.

tl;dr

There are lots of reasons why you might have white bumps on or around your lips. Many people will experience them thanks to clogged pores or overactive oil glands. However, white bumps can also be a symptom of a medical condition such as herpes simplex, oral thrush, or oral cancer.

You should talk with a healthcare professional if you have additional symptoms like fever, discolored skin, pus or bleeding, trouble swallowing, or swelling. They can get to the root of the problem and suggest the best way to send those bumps packing.

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