Much like the skin on other parts of your body, the skin on your penis is prone to rashes, acne, infections, and other conditions.
Lumps and bumps on your penis — while potentially alarming — are common and usually noncancerous. In fact, the American Cancer Society reports that penile cancer is quite rare, affecting less than 1 in 100,000 in the United States each year.
In men who aren’t sexually active or who always wear a condom during sex, whiteheads on the penis are often harmless pimples or other common skin disorders.
In sexually active men — especially those who don’t wear condoms or who have multiple sex partners — they may be indicative of a sexually transmitted disease.
Whenever you notice changes in the skin surrounding your genitalia, see your healthcare provider. They can do the proper tests and prescribe effective treatment.
Causes of whiteheads on the penis and treatments
Bumps and pimples on the penis are pretty common, and there are many possible causes:
Acne occurs when penile pores clog with oil, sweat, and debris — just like acne on other parts of your body, such as your face. The end result is whiteheads, or pimples that take on a whitish appearance due to trapped oil.
Medical treatment: Generally, you don’t need medical treatment for this, as pimples will subside on their own.
Home remedies: To help the healing process at home, you can use a warm compress to dilate the pores. Be sure to keep the area clean and dry. Don’t try to pop the pimples — this can lead to infection and scarring. Learn more about treating whiteheads at home.
Pearly penile papules
Pearly penile papules appear as whitish or yellowish domes in rows around the glans (or head) of the penis. They resemble skin tags.
The cause of pearly penile papules is unknown, but they are common. According to data published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, they can appear on up to 48 percent of men, usually after puberty. They’re most common in African-American and uncircumcised men.
Medical treatment: This condition doesn’t require medical treatment, though once the papules appear they tend to remain.
Home remedies: There are no known home remedies for penile papules, but they aren’t cause for concern.
Pearly penile papules aren’t contagious or sexually transmitted.
This skin disorder can appear anywhere on your body. When it occurs on the penis, it looks like reddish or purplish flat-topped bumps that can have fine white streaks running through them. The bumps can be painless or itchy and sore.
Although the exact cause of lichen planus is unknown, experts suspect a variety of reasons why it develops, including:
- an immune disorder
- infection with the hepatitis C virus
- an allergic reaction to certain compounds and medications
Medical treatment: This condition can go away without treatment, but according to research published in the journal BJU International, it can be successfully treated with short-term use of steroid creams applied to the skin.
Home remedies: At home, cool compresses, colloidal oatmeal baths (a bath product made with finely ground oatmeal), and hydrocortisone creams can reduce inflammation and discomfort. Here’s how to make and use a cool compress.
This condition isn’t contagious or sexually transmitted.
Genital warts are small flesh- or white-colored bumps that can resemble tiny heads of cauliflower. They can appear on the penis and surrounding genitalia — wherever skin has come into contact with the infection. Some people, however, will become infected and never know it.
The infection results from skin-to-skin contact with the human papilloma virus (HPV) during sexual intercourse or sexual play. Planned Parenthood notes that genital warts are the most common sexually transmitted disease, affecting about 360,000 people annually.
Medical treatment: Genital warts may go away on their own, but sometimes they can grow and spread. A doctor can freeze or burn off the warts or prescribe topical creams that kill the genital wart tissue. There is no cure, but there is a vaccine currently available to protect against genital warts. It’s generally recommended for adolescents. Read about the pros and cons of this vaccine.
Home remedies: Although there isn’t enough conclusive evidence to say with certainty, tea tree oil may be helpful in treating genital warts. Experts warn against using any over-the-counter wart removal products on genital warts, as they aren’t made for this area of the body. Learn more about home remedies for genital warts.
If you have an active infection, refrain from sex (including oral and anal sex) and wash your hands after touching your genitals. While condoms can protect against genital warts, they only protect the skin they cover.
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection that can initially appear as one or several whitish ulcers on the penis and genitalia.
This condition is caused by a bacterium called Treponema pallidum. It’s most often transmitted via sexual intercourse.
Medical treatment: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the skin ulcers will heal even if you receive no treatment. However, without treatment (which usually consists of the drug penicillin), the disease itself will progress and can even lead to death.
Home remedies: According to the CDC, there are no home cures for syphilis. However, it can be cured in its early stages with appropriate penicillin treatment.
It’s important to refrain from sex until you test negative for syphilis and to wear a condom to reduce your odds of acquiring the disease.
Some people who develop genital herpes never develop symptoms. When symptoms do erupt, genital herpes generally takes the form of blister-like sores that can have a gray or whitish covering. The sores can be itchy and burning.
This condition is caused by skin-to-skin contact with the herpes simplex virus (HSV), often through sexual activity.
Medical treatment: Your doctor can prescribe antiviral medications that lessen the duration and severity of the outbreak.
Home remedies: Cool compresses, soothing baths with colloidal (finely ground) oatmeal, and pain relievers like acetaminophen (Tylenol) can help relieve discomfort.
Refrain from sex during an active infection, always use a condom, and limit sexual partners.
Diagnosing the condition
Your doctor will do a physical exam, inspect your genitalia, and ask you about your sexual habits. Depending on the findings, your doctor may take a tissue sample of the bump or give you a blood test to screen for something like syphilis.
Having whiteheads on your penis may concern you, but it isn’t typically dangerous. Many causes aren’t contagious or sexually transmitted. However, some can be passed to a sexual partner, so you should see a doctor about any changes you notice in the appearance of your genitalia. Practicing safe sex can help prevent the spread of many diseases. Check out Healthline’s guide to healthy sex.