Last updated on November 7th, 2017
What causes white spots, dots or patches on lips? Could they be due to canker sores, HPV STD, milia, oral thrush, herpes, oral cancer, Fordyce spots or mucous cysts? Uncover causes of this spots that could be on your upper, lower, inner or along your lip line and on the corner of your mouth. You will also learn how to treat or cure them,
Having white spots on your lips can make you feel more self-conscious or even lower your self-esteem. Whether they are harmless or not, no one wants to have them.
- Their characteristics
- Where are they commonly found
- How do they look like – images
- Why do I have white spots on my lips? – Causes
- Fordyce Spots – yellowish-whitish or pale small spots
- HPV STD
- Milia – small and hard to touch
- Oral thrush
- Herpes simplex virus (HSV) – cold sores or fever blisters
- Oral cancer
- Canker sores
- Mucous Cysts
- Contact allergy
- White raised spot due to a lip pimple
- Other causes
- Does Juvederm cause these spots?
- Mouth and lips sores and HIV
- Small little white spots or dots
- When on lower lip
- White spots on upper lip
- Spots on inside of lip
- When on lip line
- When on lip corner
- How to get rid of white spots on lips – Tips
If you have never seen them before, they can be small (little or tiny) or bigger in size, they could be flat (non-raised) or raised (bumpy or pimple-like). Furthermore, they can also form patches or exist singly, be painful (sore or a cause burning feeling) or painless.
Where are they commonly found
These whitish dots affect any area around your lips including on your inside, on corners, on the upper, lower, or be along your lip line, and mouth cavity. In fact, some of these bumps can also be on your face or any other part of the body.
How do they look like – images
To see visually how some of them look like, here are a few images. We will provide more photos while discussing each of their main causes.
Why do I have white spots on my lips? – Causes
There are many causes. Some of the causes could be genetic while others are due to some illness, products used, some abnormalities or poor personal hygiene. So, what are some of the reasons why you have them, or what are they?
Fordyce Spots – yellowish-whitish or pale small spots
If you have small yellowish, white or a pale pimple or bump-like dots on the sharp demarcation that is between the red colored part of your lip and your normal skin i.e. a vermilion border, they could be Fordyce spots also known as sebaceous prominence or Fordyce granules.
According to medicalnewstoday.com, Fordyce spots are “pale red, yellow-white or skin-colored bumps or spots that appear on the shaft of the penis, the labia, scrotum, or the vermilion border of the lips of a person’s face.” They are normally about 1mm to 3mm in size and they occur when one has a sebaceous gland that lacks a hair follicle.
Besides being on your vermilion border, they also tend to affect the buccal mucosa –“the inner lining of the cheeks and lips” [medicinenet.com]. This is according to maxillofacialcenter.com, which states that Fordyce granules “common sites of occurrence are the buccal mucosa (often bilateral), the upper lip vermilion, and the mandibular retromolar pad and tonsillar areas.”
Fordyce spots affect male and female and they are not associated with any illness, disease, or infections. They are painless, harmless and they are not a sign of STI (sexually transmitted infection) or cancer. However, they tend to be bigger as someone grows older.
Treatment of Fordyce
Treatment is generally discouraged. However, if you really want to treat Fordyce spots, the common treatments are electrodesiccation, use of pulsed dye lasers, and micro-punch technique. Chemical peels and anti-sebum ointment or creams can also be of some help.
The other possible reason why you have this bumps can be due to Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. This infection is caused by about 200 different HPV strains, some of which have been linked to cancer of cervix, vagina, vulva, anus, and penis as well as oropharyngeal and mouth cancers.
HPV is an STD that is “transmitted through intimate skin-to-skin contact. You can get HPV by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the virus” [cdc.gov].
Once you have it, HPV commonly affects the genital areas (vagina, vulva, cervix, penis and anus) as well as throat and mouth (in case of oral HPV), and can result to genital and oral warts respectively.
Oral HPV can cause warts “anywhere within the oral cavity or on the lips” [library.everyonehealthy.com], which can “be white and dome-shaped or flat-topped growths the same color was your mouth” [healthcentre.org.uk]. For the case of lips, they are more common on the inner part where they can vary from being small to spiked or cauliflower-like masses that have projections.
It is, therefore, a fact that HPV can cause these dots or bumps. They are generally painless unless you irritate them and you can have just one or multiple of these bumps.
Oral HPV treatment
HPV is not curable although some cases may disappear without treatment. Going for HPV vaccines have been shown to help reduce risks of cervical and genital cancers. It is unknown if these vaccines can help in reducing risks of oral cancer too due to HPV oral infections.
Note: In case of an ulcer or sore on your lips that doesn’t go away or heal after two weeks, causes pain when swallowing or a persistent lump on your neck, see your doctor.
Milia – small and hard to touch
If you have tiny, little or small whitish heads that keep on coming and going away, you could be having milia, which are “small, hard, white bumps” [paulaschoice.com] common on the face but “can occur even on mucous membranes such as the inner surface of the cheek or the vermillion border of the lips” [dermadoctor.com]
They form when skin cells are trapped instead of being naturally shed off and they are common in babies but occur even in preteens, teens, and adults.
Some ingredient in lip care products, sun damage and allergic reaction to fluoride in toothpaste are other factors that have been blamed for milia.
Treatment of milia
The best treatment of milia is exfoliation. However, retinol can be of help and if milia won’t come out, consider seeing a doctor or dermatologists for removal. Do not remove them forcefully.
Oral thrush, caused by a fungal infection can cause creamy “white lesions on the lips, mouth, gums, or tonsils” [healthline.com]. When they are on your inner and outer part, the lesions can appear patchy.
Although many other strains can cause oral thrush, candida albicans is the common strain of yeast associated with oral thrush especially in people who use corticosteroids, birth control pills or antibiotics.
Furthermore, illness such as dry mouth, cancer, HIV/AIDS infection having an organ transplant, anemia, wearing dentures, diabetes or even being pregnant can increase the risk of having oral thrush.
Oral thrush can be managed or treated by antifungal medications (liquids, tablets or lozenges).
Herpes simplex virus (HSV) – cold sores or fever blisters
If they are painful, itchy, white bumpy blisters, it could be cold sores or fever blisters i.e. “cold sores are small blisters that develop on the lips or around the mouth” [nhs.uk]. They are caused by a contagious viral infection transmitted by skin contact that can be treated by oral and topical antiviral medication.
The fluid-filled blisters initially look like small sores that often come in clusters forming patches; they tingle, and are common on your lip line where the lip meets normal skin and the corner of your mouth. Later on, they tend to merge before bursting living oozy shallow open sores, which will eventually crust over.
If they were initially is flat and painless and then begins being to ulcerate, it could be a due to oral cancer. This bump tends to grow, be hard or never heals.
On possible cause of oral cancer, apart from family cancer history, people who excessively drink, smoke, have HPV infections or are excessively exposed to the sun have a higher oral cancer risk factor.
Treatment is by removal of the cancerous growth, followed by chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. If treated diagnosed early, you can beat it.
Another including on inside of the lip, on inside cheek or mouth, in general, is canker sores. Canker sores are painful, burning or tingling ulcerative patches can be round whitish, gray, or yellowish in color with their edges being red. They are not cancerous and fade away within two weeks.
Canker sores can be due to allergic reactions to some food, tissue trauma, impaired immune system and nutritional deficiencies, especially iron, folic acid, zinc, or vitamin B-12. Gastrointestinal diseases such as Cohn’s disease as well as the celiac disease have also blamed for canker sores.
In most cases, canker sores heal without treatment. If they are severe, a doctor might prescribe corticosteroid ointment, antimicrobial mouth rinse or OTC and/or prescribed solutions to reduce irritation and pain.
This is a problem where your skin, including the one, loses pigmentation. The exact cause is unknown but it has been associated with cancer and an autoimmune disease. Vitiligo forms more of patches other than spots.
Treatment is by topical steroid therapy, skin graft, tattooing, autologous melanocyte transplant, depigmentation, and psoralen photochemotherapy
A mucous cyst or a mucocele refers to fluid-filled sacs, swellings or bumps that occur inside the mouth or on inside lips especially the inside the lower one. They form due to plugging of mucus from salary glands.
They can also be due to lip biting, salivary gland rapture or piercings. When they deep in your skin, they tend to be whitish color, tender when touched and appear like a nodule.
Usually, painless and temporary cysts that will go away after some time but a few could form a permanent cyst, which might require treatment.
In severe cases, treatment is by laser therapy, cryotherapy or use of intralesional corticosteroid injections.
Contact with some “chemicals like mica and titanium are especially known to induce inflammation and irritation of lip mucosa leading to the lumpy bumpy appearance of lips along with irritation, burning and peeling of lip” [newhealthguide.org].
To treat contact allergy, use steroids and antihistamines especially in cases of a swelling and/or you have an inflammation. Furthermore, avoid coming in contact with the allergens (allergy-causing irritants).
White raised spot due to a lip pimple
This is another possible cause. There are many causes acne or pimples on this area. See more on pimples on lips where you will cover all the causes and how to get rid of these pimples.
Fibroma refers to a “benign tumor of fibrous connective tissue” [ncbi.nlm.nih.gov] that forms a smooth lump in the oral cavity. It could be the color of your mouth (pink) or paler i.e. whitish in color.
It is often caused by trauma especially if you have the lip biting, teeth grinding or the habit of rubbing your lips against poorly fitting dentures.
To successfully treat this bumps, which can grow one needs to go for surgical removal.
Other possible causes include dryness, sunburned blisters (can be yellowish white), bacterial infection, hairy leukoplakia, which appear as white, patches on your lower inner lip, inside cheek and on the sides of your tongue.
Does Juvederm cause these spots?
Most people panic when they notice some whitish spots, dots or bumps after Juvederm. For instance, here is what one user asked on realself.com:
“I had Juvederm in my lips, and I see little white “pimples” under the skin on my lips. I never had those before. You can’t feel them, but up close, you can see them. What is this?”
In response, various doctors mentioned the fact that it could be due to unrelated cause such as Fordyce spots or the permanent sebaceous glands, which become more noticeable after the procedure. This is the same case for people who complain these dots when stretched as stretching your lips makes permanent sebaceous glands more visible.
Mouth and lips sores and HIV
When one has HIV, they are more vulnerable to canker sores, cold sores, and oral thrush. All these will tend to cause this problem and in your mouth cavity.
Small little white spots or dots
Whereas some could be bigger and patchy especially those caused by oral cancer, oral thrush or vitiligo, at times you can have small tiny ones. These dots can be on the anywhere on your lips
Furthermore, they could be bump like (raised) or flat, clustered or singly existing and tend to be more visible when you stretch your lips.
If they are painless, they are likely to be milia, Fordyce spots or HPV (in case they have not been irritated).
On the other hands, painful, tingling, sore or painful, it could be herpes especially if they are clustered specks that form fluid-filled blisters.
Slightly bigger one’s pimples, fibromas or mucous cysts or canker sores (if very painful).
When on lower lip
When on the lower lip, they can be due to any of the causes we have already discussed. These dots can be flat, raised, and on any part. Mucous cysts and hairy leukoplakia tend to be common on your lower inner lip but they could due to other causes.
You should only be worried if such a spot won’t go away and it grows since it could be an oral cancer sign.
White spots on upper lip
The upper lip can end up with most of the types of white dots that affect the lip. They also can be small or bigger, flat or pimple-like and anywhere i.e. the inner part, outer, at the corner, etc.
If you have them after waxing or threading, it could be infected ingrown hair. This will tend to be on your lip line and beyond.
Spots on inside of lip
It is common to have the whitish spot on the inside of the lip. They could be clustered or singly existing, painless or painful, small or larger.
If they painless (cause no pain), they are likely to be mucous cysts (fluid-filled sac like), milia or Fordyce spots (if they are small), fibroma or oral HPV. Milia tend to cause hard small white bumps.
On the other hand, if they are painful (sore, burning or hurts), they are likely to be canker sores, fever blisters, infected piercing, and oral thrush (common in babies and toddlers but can affect adults too and it will tend to cause whitish sore patches and not dots). Having irritated oral HPV warts can also cause some pain.
Finally, oral cancer, hairy leukoplakia, and trauma can also result in this problem. It is wise to go for a medical checkup in case your spots do not go away after two weeks.
When on lip line
If you have them found along your lip line, the most probable culprit will be Fordyce Spots and milia both, which are small, painless. Milia will have small, hard, white bumps while Fordyce will be bumpy. Pimples can also be a cause.
Finally, although not restricted to this area, herpes simplex virus can also result in whitish bumps on this location.
When on lip corner
If they are in this part, these are likely to be canker and cold sores. Both are painful
How to get rid of white spots on lips – Tips
While looking at each cause, we covered the various cures and treatments required. We are going to mention a few general tips that can help you.
- To begin with, do not pick them. Always resist the urge to do so as this will increase the chances of getting an infection.
- Rinse your lip with warm salty water (about a half a teaspoon of salt added to a cup of warm water). Swish the mixture in your mouth before spitting it out.
- Book an appointment with your doctor if the affected area bleed, cause neck and jaw swelling, make your tongue numb, you have trouble swallowing, you have a fever, sore throat or you feel like something is caught in your throat.
Our references and sources
- Fordyce Spots: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatments: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/256918.php
- Fordyce Granules: http://www.maxillofacialcenter.com/BondBook/softtissue/fordycegran.html
- Definition of Buccal mucosa: http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=2545
- What Are White Bumps on Lips? http://www.healthline.com/health/white-bumps-on-lips#Causes2
- Oral Warts Treatment: http://www.healthcentre.org.uk/cosmetic-treatments/wart-oral-warts-treatment.html
- What is HPV? http://www.cdc.gov/hpv/whatishpv.html
- Mouth: Oral Warts: http://library.everyonehealthy.com/library/signsymptom/Mouth:%20Oral%20Warts
- Milia: http://www.dermadoctor.com/blog/milia/
- Milia: http://www.paulaschoice.com/expert-advice/skin-disorders/_/milia
- Cold sore (herpes simplex virus): http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Cold-sore/Pages/Introduction.aspx
- White Spots on Lips: http://www.newhealthguide.org/White-Spots-On-Lips.html
- Mucocele and fibroma: treatment and clinical features for differential diagnosis: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24474300