Benign Skin Lesions

Benign skin lesions are skin growths which, although sometimes irritating or unsightly, are not usually dangerous. Many benign lesions do not require treatment except for cosmetic reasons. Some, however, may itch, burn, sting, or be otherwise uncomfortable if left untreated and some may lead to possibly malignant changes in the skin.

Frequently, patients are familiar with a particular skin lesion and are therefore comfortable either ignoring it or treating it with home or over-the-counter remedies. Nonetheless, in any case where an individual is even slightly doubtful about the nature of a skin lesion, a dermatologist should be consulted since an apparently benign blemish may be a skin cancer and potentially deadly.

There are a great many varieties of benign skin lesions, including:

  • Freckles and age spots
  • Moles
  • Skin tags
  • Cherry angiomas
  • Seborrheic keratoses
  • Cold sores
  • Cysts
  • Lipomas
  • Milia
  • Pyogenic granulomas
  • Dermatofibromas

When a patient desires to have a benign skin lesion removed because it is unsightly or uncomfortable, there are several treatments available, including:

  • Cryosurgery, freezing with liquid nitrogen
  • Curettage, scraping of the skin's surface
  • Electrocautery, burning off with electric current
  • Laser ablation, vaporizing with laser energy
  • Surgical excision

Each variety of benign skin lesion has distinctive characteristics. Some types tend to appear on certain body parts or to present in a particular pattern on the skin. Even so, in many instances benign skin lesions are difficult to distinguish from one another or from some more serious disorder. Therefore, it is always wise to consult with a dermatologist who is a highly trained observer. If the doctor has any question, a definitive skin biopsy can be performed.

Seborrheic Keratoses

Seborrheic keratoses are noncancerous skin growths that commonly affect individuals over 50 years of age. While the exact cause of these growths are not known, they do tend to be hereditary. Because of the areas in which they commonly appear, there is some suspicion that ultraviolet light may be a causative factor in their development.

A seborrheic keratosis usually appears as a raised round or oval scaly spot on the face, arms, chest or back. Often, these growths appear two at a time over many years. Typically, a seborrheic keratosis is small, usually with a maximum diameter of under an inch, and looks as if it has been pasted onto the surface of the skin. It may range in color from tan to black.

Seborrheic keratoses do not usually discomfort the patient, although they may sometimes itch. If they are located in an area where clothing rubs against them, they may bleed and even, though rarely, become infected. Usually, a seborrheic keratosis is not painful or bothersome except cosmetically, but many people choose to have such a growth removed for aesthetic reasons.

Treatment of a seborrheic keratosis may include the use of special shampoos, lotions or creams which may reduce redness and scaling. If removal of the growth or growths is desired, there are several methods the physician may employ. These procedures include:

  • Cryosurgery, freezing with liquid nitrogen
  • Curettage, scraping of the skin's surface
  • Electrocautery, burning off with electric current
  • Laser ablation, vaporizing with laser energy

Dermatologists are normally able to diagnose a seborrheic keratosis through simple physical examination, though sometimes a biopsy is necessary to differentiate the growth from a skin cancer. To the eye of a lay person, however, it may be difficult to distinguish a seborrheic keratosis from other skin conditions, so it is always wise for patients to consult with their physician.


Warts are a common skin condition resulting from infection by one or another strain of human papillomavirus (HPV). There are several types of warts that can affect individuals of any age, but some types are more commonly found in children and some more often found in adults. Many types of warts, especially those usually found on children, disappear on their own. When troublesome, warts can be treated with medications or otherwise removed.

Patients with weakened immune systems, such as those with HIV or other immune disorder or those who have had organ transplants, are particularly susceptible to warts. Since warts are contagious through direct skin contact, strict personal hygiene can help to prevent their spread. This includes avoidance of shared personal items, such as towels or razors.

Warts appear as small skin growths, flat or slightly raised, on the surface of the skin. They can vary in coloration. Usually warts can be diagnosed by a simple medical examination, but occasionally a biopsy may be necessary to distinguish them from particular kinds of skin cancer. Different types of warts appear on different parts of the body and vary in appearance. Some of the most common varieties of warts are:

  • Common warts, which usually appear on the fingers or toes
  • Flat warts, common on face, arms or legs
  • Plantar warts, which grow on the soles of the feet
  • Filiform warts, which grow on the face or neck
  • Periungual warts, which grow around or under toenails and fingernails

While most varieties of warts are benign, they may be itchy, painful or embarrassing. Most can be treated through the application of medications like salicylic acid or cantharidin or through cryotherapy, a process of freezing with liquid nitrogen. In especially resistant instances, warts may require laser surgery or surgical excision with a scalpel. In most cases, treatment is permanent and warts do not return.

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