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Pearly penile papules (that's actually the medical term) are not a rare occurrence. They occur in about 12 percent of men who have been circumcised and in about 22 percent of men who have not. When men have a circumcision later in life, the papules usually disappear. They are more common in men of African descent. They most often appear when men are in their twenties and thirties. They tend to disappear as a man gets older.

Pearly penile papules are a benign condition. They aren't tumors. They aren't genital warts. They don't become cancerous. They can't be spread through sexual intercourse.

That doesn't mean, however, that every growth on a man's penis is a pearly penile papule. These growths can be confused with:

  • Molluscum contagiosum. This is a benign viral infection that causes multiple, round, pearly, clear of pink growths on the penis and elsewhere. Pearly penile papules stay on the tip of the penis. Molluscum contagiosum will go away on its own in 18 months to five years. The most common problem is self-treatment to remove them that injures the penis.
  • Genital warts. These growths are caused by infection with human papillomavirus, also known as HPV. The virus is spread through sexual intercourse. They can progress to cancer as they spread to other parts of the body. Pearly penile papules are, well, pearl-shaped, and line up on the rim of the glans penis (the tip of the penis) while genital warts look something closer to tiny cabbages.

There is also a condition called sebaceous hyperplasia in which a gland in the which will, essentially, grow inside out. However, this condition, too, is not limited to the tip of the penis.

What can a man do about pearly penile papules?

First of all, using a soldering gun is an incredibly bad idea. It's not hard to burn off the entire penis. It's also a bad idea to use chemicals. Anything strong enough to remove the papule can also remove the penis. It's also a bad idea to use an herbal remedy like bloodroot. The stinging, burning chemical in bloodroot will remove the papules, but it will also leave a permanent scar around the penis, or worse.

It's not a good idea to file them off, either. Men usually do this in the shower, where they can pick up staph or strep infections from the file itself or from washcloths or towels. Staph infections of the penis are much more unsightly or unpleasant than the papules themselves. 

Neither is it a good idea to use compound W or any other wart remover. These products don't remove just the papules. They remove the skin around and underneath the warts, and they can be easily transferred by the up and down motion of underwear to other parts of the genitals. (WD-40, incidentally, isn't a health product. It's name starts with a "W," but it's for lubricating metal parts, not for applying to human skin.) You can't "pop" a papule. If you do, you are really just breaking open the skin.

It really is better to go to the doctor, if the papules bother you that much, and ask for a referral to a dermatologist who can do fractional CO2 laser treatment.

Yes, the procedure burns away the papules. However, the light can be focused so that only the papules are burned away. (You really need to hold still during the procedure.) Freezing the papules doesn't usually work, and cutting them off usually requires "drying them up" with an electric needle first. That procedure actually hurts. The laser is less painful than electrodessication and cutterage, zapping the papule and whacking it off, well, cutting it off. The procedure takes about 10 minutes and costs several hundred dollars, but it gets permanent results, and it leaves the rest of the penis intact.

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