Seborrheic keratosis (seb-o-REE-ik care-uh-TOE-sis) is a common skin growth. It may look worrisome, but it is benign (not cancer). These growths often appear in middle-aged and older adults. Some people get just one. It is, however, more common to have many. They are not contagious.
Most often seborrheic keratoses start as small, rough bumps. Then slowly they thicken and get a warty surface. They range in color from white to black. Most are tan or brown.
They can appear almost anywhere on the skin.
Seborrheic keratoses can look like warts, moles, actinic keratoses, and skin cancer. They differ, though, from these other skin growths. Seborrheic keratoses have a waxy, “pasted-on-the-skin” look. Some look like a dab of warm, brown candle wax on the skin. Others may resemble a barnacle sticking to a ship.
Seborrheic keratoses tend to:
Who gets seborrheic keratoses?
In most people, seborrheic keratoses first appear in middle age or later. People who are most likely to get these growths have family members with seborrheic keratoses.
Sometimes the growths appear during pregnancy or after estrogen replacement therapy. Children rarely have these growths.
What causes seborrheic keratoses?
The cause of seborrheic keratoses is unknown. We do know the following:
How do dermatologists diagnose seborrheic keratoses?
In most cases, a dermatologist can tell if your skin growth is a seborrheic keratosis by looking at it. Sometimes a seborrheic keratosis can look like a skin cancer. If it does, the dermatologist will remove the growth so that it can be looked at under a microscope. This is the only way to tell for sure whether a growth is skin cancer.
How do dermatologists treat seborrheic keratoses?
Because seborrheic keratoses are harmless, they most often do not need treatment. A dermatologist may remove a seborrheic keratosis when it is:
If your dermatologist does a biopsy, the doctor will likely shave off the growth with a scalpel or scrape it off.
Treatments for seborrheic keratoses include:
After removal of a seborrheic keratosis, the skin may be lighter than the surrounding skin. This usually fades with time. Sometimes it is permanent. Most removed seborrheic keratoses do not return. But a new one may occur elsewhere.
Most seborrheic keratoses do not require care. You should see a dermatologist if:
Do not try to remove a seborrheic keratosis yourself. There is a risk of infection.