Red spots on the penis can emerge for many benign reasons, like poor hygiene, friction and medication use. However, they can also be a sign of a more serious health condition, like balanitis, yeast infections, STIs or fordyce granules.
Only in rare cases are red spots actually associated with penile cancer. With cancer, you will often also see small wounds that will not heal.
If you notice that the spots do not resolve within 2 or 3 days, you should see your doctor for assessment and treatment if necessary. In the meantime, ensure you are practicing adequate genital hygiene.
What causes red spots on the penis?
The most common causes of red spots on the penis are:
1. Poor hygiene
This is most common cause of red spots on the penile gland. Although failure to adequately clean the genitals on a regular basis can lead to rashes, spots can also appear in men workout or play sports frequently. Increased sweat production can promote bacterial growth, leading to red spots.
What to do: It is important to cleanse the genitals adequately on a daily basis with mild soap and warm water. You should opt for underwear that is cotton-based to help keep the area ventilated and dry. Men who produce excess sweat may need to shower twice per day.
2. Yeast infection
In addition to bad hygiene, candidiasis (or a yeast infection) is another common cause of red spots on the penis. A yeast infection is characterized by the overgrowth of Candida albicans fungus, and it can cause red, purple or white spots, as well as swelling and intense itching.
Although yeast infections are more commonly seen in women, they can also occur in men, especially when the immune system is weakened by a cold or flu. See what else can cause yeast infections in men and the symptoms that will usually present.
What to do: Yeast infections are often treated with antifungal ointments, like fluconazole or ketoconazole. Adequate hygiene is also imperative. In more serious cases, oral antifungals may be prescribed. It is also important for sexual partners to also be treated to avoid re-infection. Read more about yeast infection treatments, including creams and home remedies.
The genital region is a very sensitive area of the body that can become easily irritated with chemical-based products, like soaps or creams. When certain products are used, the gland can become swollen, causing general redness and spots of varying sizes.
Many men may also have a sensitivity to certain fabrics, especially synthetic-based fabrics that do not allow air to reach the genital skin.
What to do: Avoid using heavily-scented or chemical products in the genital area, and opt to use cotton-based underwear.
4. Fordyce granules
Fordyce granules can lead to the appearance of tiny white or yellow spots or blisters that appear on the penis head or shaft. This change is almost always benign and is not life-threatening or serious by any means. It occurs more frequently during adolescence. Learn more about the causes and symptoms of fordyce granules.
What to do: Treatment is not necessary, although the doctor can prescribe creams with tretinoin to reduce their appearance.
5. Antibiotic or anti-inflammatory use
Using anti-inflammatories, analgesics or antibiotics can cause several side-effects, which can sometimes lead to the emergence of red spots with a gray center in the genital area. You may also notice small blisters or darker areas.
What to do: If you notice red spots on your penis after starting a new medication, you should advise your prescriber, who may consider using an alternative treatment.
6. Pearly papules
Pearly papules are associated with inflammation of the Tyson glands, which are located beneath the penis head. They may look like small pimples, although they are sometimes not visible. Some men only notice a slight brightening in color, similar to white spots.
What to do: Pearly papules are a benign finding that do not require treatment. However, if you wish to treat them for aesthetic reasons, you can discuss treatment options with your doctor. These may include cryotherapy or cauterization. Read more about how pearly papules are treated.
Syphilis is a sexually-transmitted infection (STI) that can cause many penile-related symptoms. One of the first symptoms is the development of a small lump that can be accompanied by a red, brown or dark spot. Read more about the symptoms of syphilis.
Although these spots usually disappear within 4 to 5 weeks, it does not mean the infection has resolved. If left untreated, syphilis can develop into a more serious phase of infection and infect the entire body. Therefore, prompt treatment is very important.
What to do: If you suspect you may have been exposed to syphilis, you should proceed immediately to your doctor to confirm a diagnosis and start treatment with antibiotics, like penicillin. See which STIs are most commonly diagnosed and how they are treated.
Balanitis is characterized by inflammation of the glans, or penis head. This inflammation occurs due to a mild allergic reaction, a yeast infection or a sexually-transmitted infection. Common symptoms include redness, pain with palpation or urination, and burning.
What to do: If you notice red spots on your penis that are accompanied by swelling at the penis tip, you should see your doctor for assessment. Once the underlying cause is identified, treatment can be started. Treatment for balanitis caused by infections may include oral or topical antifungals or antibiotics.
9. Genital psoriasis
Genital psoriasis, or inverse psoriasis, is an autoimmune disease that affects the skin in the genital area, causing smooth, red patches that look dry. It is also associated with itchiness, flaking skin and overall irritation.
What to do: This condition is usually treated with a prescription corticosteroid cream which is applied to affected areas of the skin to decrease skin inflammation and relieve discomfort. In more serious cases, the doctor may additionally prescribe oral medication. Learn more about the how genital psoriasis is treated and what you can do to speed-up recovery.
Continuous friction from clothing or frequent sexual contact can lead to rashes or spots on the glans. When red spots appear due to friction, you may also experience symptoms like itching, burning and mild swelling.
Although it’s very common, it can be one of the most difficult causes to identify, since there is no specific trigger (just prolonged rubbing on the penis skin).
What to do: Adequate hygiene habits will help to relieve irritation from friction, and underwear fabrics like cotton can help to prevent it. Sleeping without underwear can also help reduce burning, as it prevents friction during sleep. You can prevent friction during sexual activity by using adequate lubricant.
11. Penile cancer
Penile cancer is a rare type of cancer that is associated with either a tumor within the organ or a growth on the superficial skin. One of the major signs of penile cancer are red spots that develop into sores that do not heal, as well as changes to skin color or texture, penile pain and swelling.
The exact cause of penile cancer is not fully known, however risk factors for this condition include tobacco use, poor genital hygiene habits and HPV infections. Learn more about what causes penile cancer and other symptoms that can emerge.
What to do: If you suspect cancer, you should see your family doctor or a urologist immediately, as early detection will lead to better treatment outcomes. Treatment will typically involve surgery to remove as much cancerous cells as possible. This is usually followed by chemotherapy or radiation therapy to eliminate any remaining tumor cells.