As we age, changes to our skin are normal. It becomes thinner, less smooth, more fragile, and rougher.
One common change in skin for people over the age of 50 is the appearance of a raised growth called seborrheic keratosis. While these irregular wart-like growths may cause alarm, the good news is seborrheic keratosis is completely benign (noncancerous) and not contagious.
“Seborrheic keratosis can appear anywhere on your body. Some people may have just one or two but it is also very common to have multiples clustered together,” said Bob Gleason, PA-C, with Main Street Family Medicine in Lebanon. “The growths have varying degrees of pigmentation but are typically brown or gray in color and may have a rough texture.”
Unlike warts, seborrheic keratosis is not caused by a virus, it is primarily caused by genetics.
Diagnosis & TreatmentIf you have questions or concerns about a growth on your skin, it is important to talk with a health care provider.
“I encourage anyhow who has predisposing factors such as a family history of melanoma, high density freckling, a history of skin cancer or being immunosuppressed (organ transplant) to get a full skin exam by a dermatologist beginning at the age of 50,” said Gleason.
Gleason also recommends making an appointment with your primary care provider (PCP) if you have concerns about changes to your skin.
“Most likely, your PCP can diagnose seborrheic keratosis by skin exam alone,” said Gleason. “Often, the removed lesion is sent to a lab to rule out other issues such as cancer.”
Luckily, treatment isn’t necessary for seborrheic keratosis unless it is causing irritation, or you would like to have it removed for cosmetic reasons. Because seborrheic keratosis is on the surface of the skin, there typically isn’t a great deal of scarring if it is removed.
If you do opt to have yours removed, there are a variety of options that can be done by your health care provider, including:
- Cryotherapy: Liquid nitrogen is used to freeze the growth causing it to fall off within a few days or weeks.
- Electric Current: An electric current is used to burn the seborrheic keratosis and a surgical instrument is used to scrape away any remaining parts of the growth.
- Laser Therapy: A laser is used to burn the growth, sterilize the wound, and seal the tissue.
- Scraping / Shaving: A surgical instrument is used to shave or scrape off the growth.
- Topical Solutions: A prescription-grade hydrogen peroxide is applied to the seborrheic keratosis. Additionally, over-the-counter topical treatments are available that can reduce – not remove -- seborrheic keratoses, including Vitamin D3 cream, Alpha Hydroxy Acid products and .1% Tazarotene cream.
“Most over-the-counter treatments are not 100 percent effective but may be a good option for someone who doesn’t want one of the traditional medical treatments,” said Gleason. “If you are considering removal of your seborrheic keratosis, it’s important to talk with your health care provider about your concerns and what options are best for you.”
Taking Care of Your SkinWhile genetics is the primary cause of seborrheic keratoses, taking care of your skin throughout your life can keep you from other common issues that may affect you as you age such as skin cancer, eczema, severely dry or itchy skin, and infections.
To keep your skin healthy as you age, Gleason recommends the following:
- Limit your sun exposure and use sunscreen.
- Moisturize regularly especially following a hot shower or bathing.
- Use gentle cleansers.
- Be healthy: Balanced diet, good hydration, and exercise.
- If you smoke, quit.
Ready for your skin checkup? Talk with your doctor at your next appointment or schedule a visit with a dermatologist.