Seborrheic keratosis is a common skin growth that affects more than 80 million people in the United States alone, though the name may not be as commonly heard. You have probably seen a seborrheic keratosis growth on someone you know or may have a few yourself. While these growths could be aesthetically displeasing, they are generally harmless. Read further to learn about what this type of growth is, what the symptoms are, what can cause it, and the latest information about treating it.
What Is Seborrheic Keratosis?
A seborrheic keratosis is a superficial, skin growth that is harmless and benign. These growths can be unattractive but are unlike other skin-growths because they are do not indicate melanoma and cannot be pre-cancerous. It can be difficult to distinguish these types of growths from harmful or cancerous growths, so it is important to consult a physician for all your skin-related needs.
Seborrheic keratoses are considered mostly hereditary, and some people are more prone to developing them than others, according to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. They are not contagious, do not spread, and cannot be contracted via allergic reactions, etc. A seborrheic keratosis growth grows slowly and does not go away on its own but can be removed or treated a variety of ways. These growths can appear almost anywhere on the body; though the back, chest, head, and neck are the most commonly-affected areas.
Symptoms of Seborrheic Keratosis
A seborrheic keratosis growth can show up on almost any part of the body, and they can be singular or appear as clusters. Since there are many different types of growths that can appear on the skin, the main signs or symptoms of seborrheic keratoses that distinguish them from others include the following:
- Seborrheic keratosis or keratoses begin as smaller, rough bumps that slowly develop over time. They grow larger and thicken into a wart-like surface.
- They are painless (unless irritated) but are known to cause itchiness in some people, depending on their size and location.
- These growths can range in size (even though they all begin small) from “a fraction of an inch to larger than a half-dollar,” according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association.
- Seborrheic keratoses can vary in color, but typically range from light-tan colors, to brown or black. Most often, these growths appear darker as they grow larger and spend more time on the skin.
- They have a specific appearance that makes them look stuck-on-the-skin and waxy. They can appear scaly, flat, or slightly-elevated, and are rough and bumpy.
- Much like other skin growths and issues, a seborrheic keratosis growth can be round or oval-shaped; though its specific shape could be irregular.
- If you have seborrheic keratoses that are itchy, they could appear swollen or irritated. They may also bleed if you regularly itch them.
Causes of Seborrheic Keratosis
The exact reason for seborrheic keratoses can be hard to determine, though they are widely thought of as mostly related to genetics. And while these kinds of growths are not contagious and can appear on anyone, there are certain risk-factors and causes which make you more susceptible. These can include:
- Age. The strength of your skin can begin to diminish with age, so it is no surprise that most patients with a seborrheic keratosis growth/s develop them in middle-age or later. The number of these growths and risk of them increases with age.
- Family history. According to Healthline, this skin condition can run in families and your risk increases with the number of relatives in your family that are affected.
- Frequent sun-exposure. As is common with most skin-related problems, extended exposure to the sun can not only increase your risk of developing seborrheic keratoses, but also exacerbate the appearance of current growths.
- Skin-tone. People with fair skin are more-likely to develop a seborrheic keratosis growth than people with darker skin. Nonetheless, anyone can be affected.
- Pregnancy/hormone fluctuations. For many women, hormonal changes during pregnancy or estrogen-therapy can cause issues with the skin, including seborrheic keratosis.
How to Treat Seborrheic Keratosis
Since a seborrheic keratosis is benign and mostly a cosmetic-issue, treatments are relatively simple and easy. It is diagnosed by a doctor or dermatologist. With today’s technology, there are a wide variety of ways to treat your seborrheic keratoses. If you are at-risk for this type of skin problem, you should protect your skin whenever you can. Also, try not to irritate any current seborrheic keratoses by itching and scratching. For treatment and/or removal options, you can consider these options:
This treatment method is used for other skin problems, like warts. It involves to use of liquid nitrogen to freeze the growth off. It could take more than one visit and can range on the pain-scale, depending on the growth’s location and size.
This treatment involves the use of a scoop-like surgical instrument that scrapes the growth off the skin. It can sometimes be used in-conjunction with electrosurgery.
This treatment can be used in-conjunction with curettage, though electrosurgery involves the use of an electric current to scrape the growth off. This method could leave scarring and can take longer, but the affected areas are number during the process.
This treatment works much like the electrosurgery option but tends to be faster and leave less scarring. Ablation involves burning off the growth through the use of lasers (on numb skin).
With advancements in skincare growing dramatically, it’s no surprise that you can now find painless, surgery-free, FDA-approved, topical treatments. These treatments are “applied by a derm[atologist] using a ‘pen-like’ applicator in their office,” according to biopharmaceutical company Aclaris Therapeutics. This option can require multiple sessions and can result in side effects like redness, swelling, and itching. However, it is painless and leaves extremely minimal marking.
While a seborrheic keratosis growth can have an unsightly appearance, it is harmless and not something to worry too much about. As with all skin conditions, it should not be diagnosed on your own, as it can be hard to differentiate over other more-serious conditions. Be sure to consult your physician or dermatologist if you have any questions about seborrheic keratoses and how to treat yours.