What is this white bump on my lip? Causes and treatment tips

Woman touching her lips

A white bump on your lip is usually harmless, and there are different reasons for why it may have appeared.

While generally benign, there are certain circumstances where white bumps on the lips can be a cause for concern. Changes in color and texture, for example, are important signs to follow.

Like any part of your skin, your lips can hold important clues to your overall health, particularly if these bumps are painful or uncomfortable. Diagnosing early and treating sooner rather than later are essential keys to ensuring that these white bumps don’t cause you any problems.

Five reasons for a white bump on your lip

1 Fordyce spots

These benign, small, white bumps can appear inside the mouth or on the outside of the lips. They can appear as a singular bump or as a cluster of bumps. Although there’s no known cause for their appearance, they’re completely normal and pose no cause for concern. If cosmetically they’re bothersome to you, there are techniques to minimize them that you can discuss with a health care professional.

2 Milia

These small, hard, white bumps act like tiny cysts under the skin. Milia bumps are normal, harmless and very common. While no single specific cause is known, they can occur in areas of prior trauma, such as after surgery or burns. They can be diagnosed as a single bump or multiple bumps on the face, including the lip area. Treatment includes extraction by a health care professional or topical prescription retinoids that can help soften them. Don’t pick, scratch or squeeze milia yourself, as this could lead to redness and swelling.

3 Cold sores

Fever blisters, or cold sores, frequently occur on or around the lips. Usually they’re red, inflamed and sore, but they can start off as white bumps. Over the course of a few days, these bumps will blister, scab and crust over. Related to the herpes simplex virus (HSV), these bumps can arise at time of initial infection or can recur with reactivation of HSV. Common triggers of HSV reactivation are stress, fatigue and sun exposure. You can shorten the duration of an HSV flare by taking oral antiviral medications as soon as you feel a burning or tingling sensation on the lip.

4 Oral thrush

Candida albicans yeast infections can leave white bumps and patches on the inside of the mouth, tongue and occasionally on the lips or corners of the mouth. Treatment includes topical antifungals, if needed. For more serious cases, such as for people with a weakened immune system, consider systemic antifungals. If white bumps are persistent or recurring, an evaluation for immunodeficiency, such as an HIV test, is recommended.

5 Skin cancer

Persistent bumps that are white or red scaly patches that don’t resolve on the lips could be a sign of early skin cancer, particularly in people with a history of extensive sun exposure, sunburns or smoking. Seeing a dermatologist is important for early diagnosis and treatment, which usually calls for the surgical removal of the skin cancer entirely.

Know when to visit a health care professional

While most bumps are harmless, it’s important that you know when to seek further treatment and advice from a professional. This can include persistent white bumps with no improvement, and symptoms as noted below:

  • Areas are painful
  • Areas bleed easily
  • Areas are growing
  • Any oral or throat pain

Worried about your skin?

Ohio State's dermatology team provides comprehensive care backed by one of the nation's leading academic health centers.

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