If you’re bothered by bumps on your skin, don’t try to diagnose yourself or treat your condition with products that haven’t been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Instead, visit a health care professional for a proper diagnosis and to make a treatment plan.
One common condition that some people try to self-diagnose and treat is molluscum contagiosum, a skin infection caused by a virus. But by doing so, you run the risk of delaying the diagnosis and treatment of a potentially more serious condition. And you might do more harm than good.
There is only one FDA-approved treatment for molluscum, called Ycanth (cantharidin), which must be administered by a health care professional. The FDA has not approved any nonprescription products to treat molluscum.
Symptoms and Causes of Molluscum
Molluscum, also called water warts, is a common, benign, viral infection that can cause white, pink, or flesh-colored bumps. These growths can happen alone or in groups almost anywhere on the skin, including the face, neck, arms, legs, abdomen, and genital area. The bumps are rarely on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet.
Sometimes the bumps itch and get irritated. People with a weakened immune system may have larger or more bumps. If you don’t have the condition evaluated by a health care professional, you won’t know if the bumps are molluscum or a symptom of another skin ailment.
Molluscum is an infection common in children, although teens and adults can also get it. Molluscum is transmitted by skin-to-skin contact, including sexual contact, and can be transmitted by sharing clothes or infected objects such as sports equipment. Good hygiene (cleanliness) and avoiding direct contact with bumps are the best ways to avoid getting molluscum. This includes washing your hands, keeping hands, clothes, and equipment clean, and covering bumps if you have them.
Molluscum eventually goes away on its own without treatment, typically within six to 12 months, but sometimes up to five years.
If you have molluscum, a skin doctor (dermatologist) or other health care professional can evaluate your symptoms and recommend ways to manage your condition.
Safely Treating Molluscum
The FDA has approved Ycanth (cantharidin) for the topical (used on the skin) treatment of molluscum in adults and children ages 2 and older. Ycanth, the first FDA-approved treatment for molluscum, is administered to patients only by health care professionals. Providers apply a single application of Ycanth on the areas of patients’ skin with molluscum bumps every three weeks as needed.
Do not purchase or use nonprescription (over-the-counter, or OTC) products that claim to treat molluscum, even if the companies make statements that suggest their product may have been reviewed or is endorsed by the FDA. Some companies may mislead consumers by saying their product is “FDA-approved,” is “FDA registered,” is made in an “FDA-registered facility,” or “complies with FDA Current Good Manufacturing Practices” (or “CGMPs”).
It’s likely that unapproved products marketed to treat molluscum do not do what they claim, and the ingredients in them could cause adverse effects (bad reactions). The FDA has received reports of side effects in children and adults associated with some of these products, including skin reddening, abrasion from skin scratching, and permanent scarring.
Many unapproved products claiming to treat molluscum contain essential oils. Even natural substances, such as essential oils, may cause an allergic reaction or irritate sensitive skin.