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There are a variety of common benign (noncancerous) growths that can appear on the skin. These growths arise for different reasons, and you may develop many of them at one time. Some appear after an injury to the skin or in response to years of sun damage, while others simply develop due to normal aging. Some individuals may inherit genes from their parents that make them more likely to develop certain growths.
WHAT ARE SOME COMMON GROWTHS?
These small, bright red or purple growths are filled with many small blood vessels. They can grow anywhere on the skin and most often appear on the upper body. Some people develop hundreds of these growths. Cherry angiomas can remain small or grow to the size of a pencil eraser; larger angiomas may need to be removed if they bleed.
Epidermoid cysts, also known as sebaceous cysts, form when a pore becomes plugged. These growths are most common on the face, neck and back, though they also can form on other parts of the body. This type of cyst may look yellow or white, with what appears to be a blackhead in the center. When squeezed, epidermoid cysts release a foul-smelling, cottage cheese-like discharge made up of dead skin cells.
Pilar cysts are flesh-colored, dome-shaped growths that form when a hair follicle, typically on the scalp, becomes blocked. You are more likely to develop these growths if a blood relative has had them.
Cysts do not need to be removed unless they are large, growing or bothersome. These growths can rupture or become infected, so if you have a cyst that becomes painful or inflamed, see a board-certified dermatologist for diagnosis and treatment.
Dermatofibromas can appear after an insect bite, a pimple or another minor skin injury, though sometimes they arise without prior known trauma. These small growths, which may resemble a mole or scar, can be pink, dull red or brown, sometimes with a whitish center. These growths may feel firm, but they can pucker or dimple when pinched. While they may appear anywhere on the body, dermatofibromas most often occur on the lower legs.
These rubbery lumps of fat, which can be small or large, are generally soft to the touch and easily movable. Lipomas most often appear in adults, and it is common to have more than one lipoma. Treatment is not necessary unless these growths are in a sensitive area or become large or painful.
These small white bumps, about the size of a pinhead, appear on the eyelids and cheeks when tiny skin flakes get trapped near the skin’s surface.
They are common in older women and children, as well as people who use heavy, oil-based skin care products. Milia do not need to be treated, but if you find these growths to be cosmetically bothersome, a board-certified dermatologist can offer treatment options.
Moles can appear anywhere on the body; however, most moles occur in areas of sun exposure, like the back, chest and face. Moles can be round or oval, and they may be flat or raised on the skin. Most are brown, but they also can be tan, black, pink, blue, skin-toned or colorless. They typically develop during childhood and adolescence; new moles do not usually appear in adults.
Most moles are harmless and do not require treatment; however, you may want to get a mole removed if it is irritated by clothes or jewelry, or if its appearance bothers you. If you notice a new or suspicious mole on your skin, or a mole that is changing, itching or bleeding, you should make an appointment to see a board-certified dermatologist, as these symptoms could be signs of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.
These soft, skin-colored growths, which often look like moles or skin tags, form along the pathway of a nerve. They are most common in children entering puberty, pregnant women and older adults. If you have multiple neurofibromas, talk to a board-certified dermatologist, as this may be a sign of an underlying medical condition.
Sebaceous hyperplasia develop as the result of enlarged or clogged oil glands. They appear as small yellow or white bumps, sometimes with an indentation in the center or small noticeable blood vessels. These growths most often form on the faces of adults. Because sebaceous hyperplasia and basal cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer, can look similar, you should see a board-certified dermatologist for diagnosis if you develop these growths.
SKs are rough bumps that usually have a waxy, stuck-on appearance, like a dab of warm candle wax. They are often brown, although they may range in color from light tan to black. They can vary in size from very small to larger than an inch. SKs can form anywhere on the skin, except the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet. Most appear on the chest, back, scalp, face and neck. In people with skin of color, these growths tend to be small and appear around the eyes and on the cheeks.
These small, floppy, flesh-colored growths stick out from the skin, and they may be larger at the top than at the base. Skin tags usually appear after midlife, typically on the neck, trunk or armpits, or in or near skin folds.
They are more numerous in people who are overweight, obese or diabetic, as well as in pregnant women. If skin tags are irritated by clothes or jewelry, they may bleed or become painful; if this happens, a board-certified dermatologist can remove the growths.
HOW ARE COMMON GROWTHS TREATED?
Many common skin growths do not require treatment. If you notice any growths that are changing, itching or bleeding, however, it’s important to see a board-certified dermatologist, as these could be signs of skin cancer. Your dermatologist may perform a biopsy to diagnose your growth. This in-office procedure, which uses local anesthesia, involves removing all or part of the growth for evaluation in a lab.
Even when growths do not need to be treated, some people may want a growth removed because it has become irritated, painful or inflamed, or because they do not like the way it looks on their skin. A board-certified dermatologist can remove most growths during an office visit.
The type of treatment you receive will depend on the type of growth on your skin. Your dermatologist may remove your growth via excision (cutting), cryosurgery (freezing with liquid nitrogen), curettage (scraping) or electrosurgery (destruction via electric current). The doctor also may recommend laser surgery, a corticosteroid injection, topical cream that you apply to your skin, or photodynamic therapy, during which medicated chemicals are applied to the skin and activated by a special light. Your dermatologist can discuss your options and recommend the best treatment for you.
Your health insurance may not cover the removal of benign growths. If you are concerned about the cost of the procedure, talk with your insurance provider and your dermatologist.
A board-certified dermatologist is a medical doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and medical, surgical and cosmetic treatment of skin, hair and nail conditions. To learn more about these common growths or to find a board-certified dermatologist in your area, visit aad.org or call toll-free (888) 462-DERM (3376).
All content solely developed by the American Academy of Dermatology.
Copyright © by the American Academy of Dermatology and the American Academy of Dermatology Association.
Images used with permission of the American Academy of Dermatology National Library of Dermatologic Teaching Slides
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