Seborrheic Keratoses

About

Seborrheic Keratoses

What are seborrheic keratoses?

Seborrheic keratoses (seb-o-REE-ik ker-uh-TOE-ses), which commonly develop in people over age 50, are harmless, not contagious and not cancerous. These skin growths are more common on the head, neck, chest or back. They are usually brown, tan or black, and look like bits of white or brown candle wax on the skin. Texture ranges from a slightly raised surface to warty and thick; scales may form. Most people have several of these growths, and the number tends to increase with age. They rarely cause problems and don’t need treatment. However, they can look like skin cancer and should be checked by your doctor.

Causes

What causes seborrheic keratoses?

Any adult of any skin tone can get seborrheic keratoses. Children rarely get them. The cause is unknown but four factors may contribute to their development:

  • Having fair skin, or family members who have seborrheic keratoses
  • Pregnancy, or after having estrogen replacement therapy
  • Sunshine may contribute to growths that develop on skin with more sun exposure
  • Being over age 50

What causes flare ups of seborrheic keratoses? 

Seborrheic keratoses can become worse in dry, cold weather, and when you’re under a high level of unrelieved stress. Treatment can help calm flare ups.

With Insurance

Dermatology

Your copay
Depending on insurance

Without Insurance

Dermatology

$89

Initial Visit

$75

Follow Up

Symptoms

What are symptoms of a seborrheic keratosis?

  • Seborrheic keratosis starts as a small, rough bump.
  • Surface slowly thickens, developing a raised or warty bump.
  • Size ranges from a fraction of an inch to larger than a half-dollar.
  • Shape is usually round or oval.
  • Color can range from white to black; usually brown or tan.
  • Look waxy and pasted on; may become scaly
  • Affects the chest, shoulders, back, stomach, scalp, face, neck and other parts; not on palms or soles
  • May itch, but it is not painful.
  • People with dark skin tend to have multiple, small, dark growths around the eyes.
  • Multiple growths are common.

Contact your dermatologist or doctor if you develop any of these symptoms:

  • Multiple new growths developing over a short time
  • Growths bleed, are easily irritated, or painful
  • Unusual color such as purple, blue or reddish-black
  • Borders are irregular
  • Changes in the skin including sores that don’t heal, or growths that are rapidly growing

Diagnosis

How are seborrheic keratoses diagnosed?

Your dermatologist can diagnose a seborrheic keratosis by examining it with a magnifier. If it looks like skin cancer, a tissue sample may be taken for analysis. Skin cancer and seborrheic keratoses have similar features and can be misdiagnosed. A new diagnostic test that’s becoming more popular does not require a skin sample. It provides a noninvasive examination with an optical biopsy using a special microscope.

Treatment

What are the treatment options for seborrheic keratoses?

The vast majority of these skin growths do not need treatment. If they are easily irritated, bleed, itch, or detract from your appearance you may want to have them removed.

Removal methods include:

  • Cryosurgery uses liquid nitrogen to freeze the growth and it falls off in a few days. It doesn’t work as well on thicker growths and can discolor the treated skin.
  • Electrosurgery uses electrical current to remove the growth.
  • Curettage uses a scooped surgical blade to scrape off the growth.
  • Curettage may be combined with electrosurgery, or with cryosurgery to treat thin, flat growths.
  • Ablation uses a laser to vaporize the growth.
  • Eskata (40% hydrogen peroxide) is effective on raised growths, but it can irritate the skin and cause eye damage. It was removed from the market in 2019.

After a seborrheic keratosis is removed, the skin site may be lighter but skin tone will even out with time. It is unusual for a seborrheic keratosis to return in the same spot; however, additional ones will likely develop on other parts of the body.

Can a seborrheic keratosis go away by itself?

No, it can only be safely and effectively removed by a doctor. Most do not need treatment and you should never try to remove it yourself by scratching or cutting. This will not remove the growths, but does increase your risk of an infection. There is no approved treatment for removal of the growths at home.

References

Mayo Clinic. (Sept. 2019). Seborrheic Keratosis. Retrieved 10-6-21, {https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seborrheic-keratosis/symptoms-causes/syc-20353878}
Mayo Clinic. (Sept. 2019). Seborrheic Keratosis: Diagnosis and Treatment. Retrieved 10-6-21, {https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seborrheic-keratosis/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20353882}
American Academy of Dermatology Association. (N.d.) Seborrheic Keratoses: Diagnosis and Treatment. Retrieved 10-6-21, {https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/a-z/seborrheic-keratoses-treatment}
O’Connell, K. (Sept. 2018). Seborrheic Keratosis. Healthline. Retrieved 10-6-21, {https://www.healthline.com/health/seborrheic-keratosis}

Information

Medically reviewed by:

Dr. Javeed Siddiqui, MD, MPH

Dr. Siddiqui is the Chief Medical Officer at TeleMed2U responsible for clinical and technical program development as well as maintaining a thriving telemedicine practice in infectious diseases which includes specialized care of Hepatitis and HIV.

Meet our doctors

TM2U Curve inverted

Affordable –
with or without insurance

With Insurance

Dermatology

Your copay
Depending on insurance

Without Insurance

Dermatology

$89

Initial Visit

$75

Follow Up