Just like other areas of your skin, your lips are susceptible to a variety of conditions and disorders over your lifetime. Small bumps are on your lips are common can develop due to a variety of causes, most harmless but some potentially serious. The size, number, color, location and general characteristics of the bumps give clues regarding possible causes. See your doctor if you develop unexplained bumps on your lips because treatment, if necessary, depends on an accurate diagnosis.
Fordyce spots, also known as fordyce granules, are a leading cause of little bumps on the lips of adolescents and adults. These pinhead-sized whitish to yellowish spots represent oil glands that are not associated with hair follicles. They typically don't become visible until after the hormonal changes of puberty. These spots tend to cluster along the borders of the lips and can also appear inside the mouth, and on the penis or labia. Fordyce spots are present on the lips of 80 to 95 percent adults and are considered both normal and harmless, as noted in a 2015 article published in "Clinical Case Reports and Reviews." They occur more frequently in men than women and require no treatment. For people who find Fordyce spots aesthically troubling, options are available to reduce or limit their appearance.
Milia and Comedones
Milia are tiny, firm cysts in the superficial layer of the skin that appear as slightly raised whitish bumps. They occur commonly in newborns but can also develop in adults. They most frequently form on the face, especially around the eyes and nose, but can also form along the lip borders. These tiny cysts are painless, do not itch and pose no health threat. Frequent use of lipstick, gloss and/or lip balm may predispose you to develop milia around your lips. Milia usually go away on their own within a few weeks to months.
Milia can be mistaken for whiteheads, also known as closed comedones, which can also form along the lip borders causing little bumps. Blackheads, or open comedones, can also develop in this location. Comedones respresent clogged oil glands and treatment is similar to when they occur elsewhere on the face.
A single bump on your lip that enlarges over time might be a noncancerous, precancerous or cancerous skin growth. Many types of these growths can occur on the lips and distinguishing among then requires professional medical evaluation that may include a small skin biopsy. Noncancerous growths may not require treatment unless removal is desired for aesthetic reasons. Precancerous and cancerous growths -- including actinic keratosis, squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcincoma and melanoma -- require urgent diagnosis and treatment. Chronic sun exposure, tobacco use and heavy alcohol use can increase your chance of developing cancer on your lips.
Warnings and Precautions
Many people have little bumps on their lips and most do not represent a threat to your health. However, if you develop an unexplained bump(s) on your lips, see your doctor for evaluation and diagnosis. This is particularly important if the bump(s) is growing or exhibits potentially worrisome characteristics such as ulceration, bleeding, itchiness or color variation within the growth.
Reviewed and revised by: Tina M. St. John, M.D.
- Clinical Case Reports and Reviews: Fordyce Spots
- Differential Diagnosis in Dermatology, 4th Edition; Richard Ashton, Barbara Leppard and Hywel Cooper
- Journal of Cancer Therapeutics and Research:Differential Diagnoses of Elevated Lesions of the Upper Lip: an Overview
- Manual of Dermatologic Therapeutics; Kenneth A. Arndt, et al.
Rob Callahan lives in Minneapolis, where he covers style, culture and the arts for Vita.MN and "l'étoile Magazine." His work has earned awards in the fields of journalism, social media and the arts. Callahan graduated from Saint Cloud State University in 2001 with a Bachelor's degree in philosophy.