Vulvar Fordyce adenitis: A cohort of 45 women

Ann Dermatol Venereol. 2021 Dec;148(4):221-227. doi: 10.1016/j.annder.2021.04.001. Epub 2021 Jul 1.


Background: Recurrent episodes of painful papules and nodules, mostly located on the labia minora, have been reported under the denominations of vulvar sebaceous adenitis (14 published cases) and vulvar acne (16 published cases).

Objectives: The primary aim of this study was to delve further into the clinical and pathological features of this condition. The secondary aim was to collect therapeutic data.

Methods: In this retrospective cohort study, files and photographs of patients with papules or nodules on the labia minora or the inner labia majora were extracted from a vulvar clinic database. Clinical, pathological and therapeutic data were analysed.

Results: Forty-five women were included from 2002 to 2018. The median age at the time of diagnosis was 36 years (range: 16-60). The median time to diagnosis was 6.5 years. Clinical features included recurrent painful papules, pustules or nodules, suppuration (n=22), and pitted scars (n=10) on the labia minora (n=41), the inner labia majora (n=19), the outer labia majora (n=1), and the clitoral hood (n=1). Associated acne vulgaris was seen in 17 out of 26 patients for whom data were available. Hidradenitis suppurativa, androgenic alopecia and hirsutism were observed in 3, 1 and 1 cases respectively. Neutrophilic infiltrates were observed in the 4 available biopsies within or around the Fordyce sebaceous glands in 2 patients. Treatment with tetracyclines and oral zinc was not consistently effective. Isotretinoin led to complete remission in 4 patients unresponsive to tetracyclines.

Discussion: Vulvar sebaceous adenitis/vulvar acne is a clinically identifiable cause of painful recurrent inflammatory lesions affecting the labia minora and the inner labia majora, which are coincidentally sites of Fordyce granules. We therefore suggest a more specific denomination: "vulvar Fordyce adenitis". The relationship with acne vulgaris and hidradenitis suppurativa requires further investigation. We suggest use of an oral anti-acne therapeutic strategy to reduce inflammation and to decrease the secretion of the sebaceous glands.

Keywords: Acne; Fordyce gland; Fordyce granule; Hidradenitis suppurativa; Sebaceous adenitis.

MeSH terms

  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lymphadenitis*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Vulvar Diseases* / drug therapy