What Is Seborrheic Keratosis? All You Need to Know

Seborrheic keratosis is such a common skin condition that it can affect any Asian during their lifetime, much like moles or wrinkles. Chances are you’ve seen its trademark warty, round growths on an older relative before, too.

Despite its prevalence, seborrheic keratosis can still be a mystery to many people. For example, have you ever wondered what triggers the appearance of these lesions? Are such growths related in any way to melanomas? And can they be removed, if at all? To answer your questions, here’s a complete guide to seborrheic keratosis.

Seborrheic Keratosis: Everything You Need to Know

What is Seborrheic Keratosis?

Seborrheic keratosis is a waxy or scaly growth that can be black, brown, or tan in color. These growths tend to be thick and slightly elevated, resembling drops of dark candle wax on the skin.

The lesions can appear anywhere on the body except for the palms and the soles of the feet. However, they commonly grow on the face, neck, shoulders, chest, and back. They also often appear without any clear cause.

Some lesions itch, but they generally do not ache. Also, seborrheic keratoses are benign despite looking like atypical moles or melanomas.

Seborrheic keratoses are usually pigmented when they appear on Asian skin. As a result, this skin condition can also be classified as a pigmentation problem.

Risk Factors for Developing Seborrheic Keratosis

Seborrheic keratosis can appear in virtually any individual. Also, as stated earlier, dermatologists and researchers have yet to find direct triggers for this skin condition. That being said, some people are still more susceptible to seborrheic keratosis than others. Here are some factors that affect one’s chances of developing seborrheic keratosis:

  • Age. 30% of individuals will have grown at least one lesion by the time they reach 40 years of age. That figure rises to 75% for individuals aged 70 or older.

  • Heredity. People with a family history of seborrheic keratosis are more likely to develop the condition themselves.

Seborrheic Keratosis vs. Skin Cancer

Seborrheic keratoses can be mistaken for either melanomas or actinic keratoses (pre-cancerous growths), causing anxiety in individuals with these harmless lesions. Here are two key differences to help you differentiate seborrheic keratoses and melanomas:

  • Shape. Seborrheic keratoses are usually round or oval in shape. Melanomas tend to be asymmetrical with irregular borders.

  • Growth. Seborrheic keratoses grow slowly. Melanomas evolve quickly enough for the change to be noticeable.

Actinic keratosis is slightly harder to differentiate from seborrheic keratosis. However, it is linked to sun exposure, and its lesions may be surrounded by sun-damaged skin.

If you want to be sure that a certain lesion is completely benign, you may simply ask a medical dermatologist to inspect it. Your dermatologist may perform a biopsy for an accurate diagnosis.

What to Do if You Have Seborrheic Keratosis

Has your dermatologist confirmed that the lesions on your skin are seborrheic keratoses after all? Here are some points to remember:

  • Don’t scratch your lesions or pick at them too much. They aren’t contagious, but they can bleed or become inflamed.

  • You may protect seborrheic keratoses from catching on your clothes by covering lesions with an adhesive bandage.

  • Do not remove lesions yourself, no matter what size they are. If you really want to get rid of seborrheic keratoses, a visit to your dermatologist is your safest bet. (See the next section for a more detailed explanation.)

  • Consult a dermatologist if the following problems arise:

    • Several lesions appear at once

    • A lesion gets irritated or bleeds because it keeps getting caught on clothes or accessories

    • A lesion grows or changes faster than usual

    • Some lesions have odd colors such as purple, reddish-black, or blue

Best Treatment for Seborrheic Keratosis

Seborrheic keratoses which are neither worrisome or bothersome may simply be left alone. However, an individual with seborrheic keratosis may eventually consider having their lesions removed, whether for comfort, peace of mind, or aesthetics.

It might be easy to read about various DIY removal methods nowadays, often mimicking real dermatological procedures. At the same time, these pose a relatively high risk of scarring or infection after a lesion is removed. Remember that dermatologists need licenses and use sterile equipment to perform these procedures in a clinic.

Your best option is to consult a board-licensed dermatologist. After proper diagnosis, they can discuss possible procedures to safely remove your seborrheic keratosis.

Electrodessication and Curettage: A Safe Solution for Seborrheic Keratosis

One proven procedure for removing seborrheic keratosis is electrodessication and curettage, also referred to as ED&C. This treatment uses a curette, a special scraping tool with a sharp spoon-shaped tip, and an electric needle.

A trained dermatologist will gently scrape off the lesion with the curette. The electric needle then precisely heats the wound to destroy underlying skin cells and prevent regrowth, as well as stop bleeding. After this, the curette will be used again to scrape off the desiccated skin, leaving healthy flesh. The dermatologist may repeat these steps as needed.

ED&C may leave marks, since tissue is removed during curettage. There may also be patches of lighter skin where lesions have been removed. However, well-trained dermatologists like the experts of Skin MD can minimize scarring while performing this procedure. Feel free to ask your dermatologist about additional treatments to even out your skin tone later on.

Steps to Take After Having Seborrheic Keratosis Removed

To protect the wound and help it heal faster, individuals who have undergone ED&C are advised to follow these steps:

  • If the wound has been dressed, protect it from dirt and water to keep it from becoming infected. Only remove the original dressings once 24 hours have passed since the procedure.

  • Clean the area twice a day, unless the dermatologist prescribes other instructions. Soap and water will be good enough. Avoid using hydrogen peroxide and alcohol, which can slow down the healing process.

  • You may cover the wound, especially if it’s located on a part of the body that often touches clothing or rubs against other objects. Apply a thin layer of petroleum jelly and a non-stick bandage. Change this bandage daily.

ALSO READ: 7 Frequently Asked Questions About Skin Tags

Still curious about this common skin condition and pigmentation problem? Or do you want to have your lesions checked to be sure that they’re completely harmless? Feel free to schedule a consultation with the board-certified experts of Skin MD!

Our dermatologists can determine the nature of your lesions and perform necessary treatments in case you want these growths removed. You can enjoy a worry-free life together with healthy and smooth skin. Contact us today to find out more!

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