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Definition

What is seborrheic keratosis?

A seborrheic keratosis usually appears as a brown, black or light tan growth on the face, chest, shoulders or back. The growth has a waxy, scaly, slightly elevated appearance. Seborrheic keratoses don’t become cancerous and aren’t thought to be related to sun exposure, but they can look like skin cancer.

Seborrheic keratoses are normally painless and require no treatment. You may decide to have them removed if they become irritated by clothing or for cosmetic reasons.

How common is seborrheic keratosis?

Seborrheic keratosis is one of the most common noncancerous skin growths in older adults. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of seborrheic keratosis?

The common symptoms of seborrheic keratosis are:

A seborrheic keratosis usually looks like a waxy or wart-like growth. It typically appears on the face, chest, shoulders or back of the body. You may develop a single growth or cluster of them. A seborrheic keratosis:

  • Varies in color, usually from light tan to brown or black
  • Is round or oval shaped
  • Has a characteristic “pasted on” look
  • Is flat or slightly elevated with a scaly surface
  • Ranges in size from very small to more than 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) across
  • May itch

Seborrheic keratoses aren’t usually painful, but they can be bothersome depending on their size and location. Be careful not to rub, scratch or pick at them. This can lead to bleeding, swelling and, in rare cases, infection.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

You should contact your doctor if you have any of the following:

  • Many growths develop over a short time.
  • The growths get irritated or bleed when your clothing rubs against them. You may want the growths removed.
  • You notice suspicious changes in your skin, such as sores or growths that grow rapidly, bleed and don’t heal. These could be signs of skin cancer.

Causes

What causes seborrheic keratosis?

The exact cause of seborrheic keratoses isn’t known. They are very common and generally increase in number with age. The lesions aren’t contagious. They tend to run in some families, so inheritance may play a role.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for seborrheic keratosis?

There are many risk factors for seborrheic keratosis, such as:

  • Older age.The condition often develops in those who are middle-aged. Risk increases with age.
  • Family members with seborrheic keratosis.This skin condition often runs in families. Risk increases with the number of affected relatives.
  • Frequent sun exposure. There is some evidence that skin exposed to the sun is more likely to develop a seborrheic keratosis. However, growths also appear on skin that is usually covered up when people go outdoors.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is seborrheic keratosis diagnosed?

A dermatologist will often be able to diagnose seborrheic keratosis by eye. If there’s any uncertainty, they’ll likely remove part or all of the growth. This is called a skin biopsy.

The biopsy will be examined under a microscope by a trained pathologist. This can help your doctor diagnose the growth as either seborrheic keratosis or cancer (such as malignant melanoma).

How is seborrheic keratosis treated?

Treatment of seborrheic keratoses usually isn’t necessary. You may want them removed if they become irritated, if they bleed because your clothing rubs against them, or if you simply don’t like how they look or feel.

Your doctor can remove seborrheic keratoses using several methods, including:

  • Freezing with liquid nitrogen (cryosurgery). Cryosurgery can be an effective way to remove seborrheic keratoses. It doesn’t always work on raised growths, and it may lighten treated skin.
  • Scraping the skin’s surface with a special instrument (curettage). Sometimes curettage is used along with cryosurgery to treat thinner or flat growths. It may be used with electrocautery.
  • Burning with an electric current (electrocautery). Electrocautery can be effective in removing seborrheic keratoses. It can be used alone or with curettage. This procedure can leave scars if it’s not done properly, and it may take longer than other removal methods.
  • Vaporizing the growth with a laser (ablation). Different types of laser treatments are available to treat seborrheic keratoses.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage seborrheic keratosis?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with seborrheic keratosis:

Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Review Date: August 4, 2017 | Last Modified: August 4, 2017

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