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Skin Growths

What are skin growths?

Skin growths are a common complaint presented to the dermatologist and can range from benign lesions, such as, seborrheic keratoses, cysts, warts, lipomas, and benign moles to malignant lesions, such as, actinic keratoses, nonmelanoma skin cancers, and malignant melanomas. Noncancerous or benign skin growths often are confused with their malignant counterparts. They may be flat or raised, dark or skin-colored, grow slowly or rapidly. Benign skin growths can be caused by viruses, genetics and environmental factors. Below are descriptions of the most common benign skin growths.

Seborrheic keratosis (SK)

Seborrheic keratoses are the most common benign skin growths that affect people older than 50 years old. They are often found in groups but can occur as a single growth. Most people will develop at least one during their lives. SK tends to run in families. SKs are flat or slightly raised scaly, pigmented growths that look “stuck on” the face, chest, shoulders and back; however, they may occur anywhere on the body. SKs may itch and becomes irritated. Picking at them can cause bleeding, and infection. If they are not irritated or infected treatment is not necessary, but cryotherapy and other modalities may be used to address cosmetic concerns.

Sebaceous hyperplasia

Sebaceous hyperplasia produces small shiny, flesh-colored to yellow benign bumps. They are caused by trapped sebum and dead skin cells inside enlarged oil glands, typically on the face, forehead and nose. They are common in people with fair skin, and are linked with high testosterone, sun exposure and genetics. Treatment is primarily for cosmetic purposes. 

Lentigines (a.k.a. age or liver spots)

Lentigines are hyperpigmented patches that may look like a mole. They are usually tan to brown and affect light-skinned adults with age. They are caused by longterm sun exposure and therefore, appear on sun-exposed skin. Lentigines are generally benign. Treatment is primarily for cosmetic reasons.

Moles (nevi)

Moles are common benign growths that can appear during childhood, adolescence and early adulthood. Moles are usually round, flat or slightly raised brown lesions, but can be tan, red, black, pink, blue or colorless. Some moles have hair, and some fade overtime.  Moles can develop anywhere on the body, even under the fingernails, between the fingers and toes, and on the scalp. Changes in a mole can be cause for concern and may be a sign of melanoma. When changes occur, a dermatologist should evaluate the concerning mole. Atypical or dysplastic moles are larger than a pencil eraser, have an odd shape and show more than one color. They require evaluation by a dermatologist, and a biopsy may be needed.

Skin cysts

Skin cysts are lumps under the skin filled with fluid or other skin debris. They appear as yellow or white with a small dark spot in the middle. Cysts can be treated with drainage, injections or simple excisions.

Epidermoid cysts

Epidermoid cysts are firm, flesh-colored nodules that grow from the top layer of skin and most commonly appear on the face, neck and trunk of young and middle-aged people. Cysts are associated with acne-prone skin. They are filled with dead skin cells. They usually cause no symptoms, unless they become irritated or infected. Epidermoid cysts on the scalp are called pilar cysts. Epidermoid cysts are more common in women and have a genetic component. They don’t require treatment unless they rupture, are irritated or infected.

Sebaceous cysts

Sebaceous cysts are fluid-filled cysts or lumps found on the ears, neck, face, scalp and upper body that arise from sebaceous glands. These cysts are filled with sebum, which is a yellow oily material produced by sebaceous glands to keep the skin and hair moisturized and protect the skin.

Cherry angiomas

Cherry angiomas are benign overgrowths of capillaries (small blood vessels) that are very common.  They typically affect people over the age of 30 and multiply as we age. They are most often red and flat, but can be slightly raised. They are most commonly found on the trunk and extremities and can also be found on the face, chest and neck. They are harmless and cause no symptoms but can bleed if picked. Electrotherapy or laser therapy may be recommended for cosmetic improvement.

Skin tags

Skin tags are flesh-colored to brown soft growths that appear on a stalk. They are commonly found on the neck, under the arms and in the groin where skin is constantly under friction. They are harmless but can become irritated by clothing and jewelry. They can be removed with simple excision or electrosurgery.


Milia are small white and yellow cystic growths on the face caused by accumulation of dead skin cells. They are dome-shaped bumps that often occur in newborns and on women’s faces. Milia  do not normally cause symptoms and are harmless lesions. They can be treated for cosmetic purposes by electrosurgery or simple excision.

Warts (verruca vulgaris)

Warts are benign skin growths caused by a virus that resides in the top layer of skin. They appear as scaly white or skin-colored rough bumps. There may be one or a cluster of warts together. They can be spread by contact with other warts; therefore, it is advised to not scratch or manipulate them. Warts can be treated with topical agents, cryotherapy, surgical excision and laser.

Benign skin lesions that raise concern to a patient should be brought to Dr. White to be evaluated. Benign skin growths are often removed for cosmetic purposes and are simple in-office procedures. Contact Dr. White who can address concerns or questions you may have regarding your skin lesions.

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