What Is Seborrheic Keratosis?

Seborrheic keratosis is a benign skin growth that can be mistaken for other skin conditions. Once properly identified, treatment for seborrheic keratosis involves simple superficial procedures, which are not required unless the growth appears in a location that causes discomfort. As with all skin abnormalities, lesions should be checked by a dermatologist for proper diagnosis.


Seborrheic keratosis appears as a discoloured and slightly raised growth or clump of growths on the skin. These growths can appear anywhere on the body such as on the face, neck, back or chest. The American Academy of Dermatology and the National Institutes of Health describe seborrheic keratoses as benign skin tumours, with treatment optional for those areas that are easily irritated (such as around the neckline) or unsightly (such as on the face). The cause for these growths is unknown, and heredity is believed to affect whether individuals are susceptible to developing seborrheic keratosis later in life.


According to the American Academy of Dermatology, the Mayo Clinic and the National Institutes of Health, seborrheic keratoses have a "waxy, pasted-on-the-skin appearance," which can look like a dab of brown candle wax. These benign growths can appear at any time, usually after mid-life, and can be found anywhere on the body, with sun-exposed areas as likely locations as areas not exposed to the sun. The onset of growths can be rapid; however, if the growths enlarge or if a number of growths appear at one time, medical advice is recommended to rule out other conditions such as skin cancer or cardiovascular disease. Seborrheic keratoses are not painful, but may become irritated or itchy depending on the location.


Treatment to remove the growth is elective. Treatment options include freezing and removing the growth (cryosurgery), laser or electrosurgery, surgical excision (cutting or scraping) or a series of chemical peels. Gentle chemical peels such as alpha hydroxy acid (glycolic acid) progressively remove the top layer of skin to reveal a rejuvenated layer. Glycolic acid peels (such as the KAVI product) are applied briefly each week to promote new skin growth over six to eight weeks.


Seborrheic keratosis usually appears later in life, and while no cause has been determined, lifestyle and skin care can maintain proper functioning of the skin. Water intake, diet and exercise contribute to the body's ability to sustain cell repair and rejuvenation. Skin care that includes supplements for collagen repair and overall hydration can prevent the formation of abnormal skin cells.


Seborrheic keratosis has been mistaken for skin cancer, warts and moles. Generally, seborrheic keratosis appears darker in colour than warts, and later in life than moles. Neither moles nor warts have the characteristic "pasted on" appearance. Skin cancer lesions appear over time in areas exposed to the sun. The cancerous growths have a similar appearance as seborrheic keratoses; however, skin cancer growths change in colour, shape and may bleed or itch. Any growth that changes in appearance should be checked by a medical professional.

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About the Author

Regina Edwards has been a freelance writer since 1990. She has penned video scripts, instructional manuals, white papers and abstracts. She has also ghostwritten diabetes journals. Edwards is a scuba instructor and Usui and Karuna Reiki teacher. She holds a Bachelor of Science from Saint Joseph's University.