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Brown Spots That Aren’t Freckles But Aren’t Moles: Are They Dangerous? A Dermatologist Weighs In

Plus, the new cream that can erase these "senile warts" for much less than standard treatments

If you’re like us, any time you notice a change in your skin you can get a little anxious—especially when it comes in the form of brown raised growths. But before you go down a worry rabbit hole, find comfort in that it’s very likely a benign growth called seborrheic keratoses, say dermatologists. Read on to find out why these skin growths are harmless and how you can get rid of them.

What are seborrheic keratoses?

Seborrheic keratosis
Lipowski Milan/Shutterstock

Seborrheic keratoses are common and, most importantly non-cancerous skin growths, says Miami-based dermatologist Anna Chacon, M.D. At first glance, the raised skin might look like something to worry about — and a cluster of them may be even more disturbing. But by definition, these brown skin spots are harmless. Though any unexpected skin changes should always be checked out by a dermatologist. (Click through to read our guide on how to determine if a mole is a cause for concern or not).

If you do have a seborrheic keratosis, know that you’re not alone, about 83 million Americans have one or more of these skin growths. “Seborrheic keratoses are typically found on the chest, back, stomach, scalp, face and neck,” says Dr. Chacon. “However, they can appear anywhere on the body except the palms and soles.”

A cluster of seborrheic keratoses

Seborrheic keratoses can vary in color from light tan to black, says Dr. Chacon. They’re often round or oval in shape and may have a rough texture not unlike that of a wart. It’s possible to have just one of these growths, but it’s very common for people develop clusters of them. And don’t be surprised if they don’t all look alike as some growths have a wart-like surface, while others look like simple dabs of wax that have been pasted on skin. 

What causes seborrheic keratoses?

Scientists aren’t exactly sure what causes seborrheic keratoses. However, a tendency to get them seems to be hereditary, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. While these non-cancerous skin growths may be linked to sun exposure, they are also found on skin that is usually covered.

If seborrheic keratoses seem to grow in number and spread to other areas of your body, just keep in mind that you may simply be developing more of this raised skin as you get older.

And as tempting as it might be to try to remove seborrheic keratoses yourself, it’s best to leave this to professionals. “At-home removal of seborrheic keratoses is not recommended because of the risk of infection, scarring and possible misdiagnosis,” says Dr. Chacon. “It’s important to have any skin growth evaluated by a healthcare professional to rule out more serious conditions, like skin cancer.”

How can you get rid of seborrheic keratosis?

If you’ve had a seborrheic keratosis checked out by a dermatologist who confirms that it is benign and not cancer, treatment isn’t necessary. But you may want to remove them if they become irritated or start bleeding from clothing rubbing up against them or for aesthetic reasons.

“The choice of treatment depends on the size, location and number of lesions, as well as the patient’s preference and overall health,” says Dr. Chacon. So it’s recommended to go over the treatment options with your doctor to determine what’s best for you.

It’s also important to keep in mind that a treatment— no matter how effective— doesn’t guarantee a seborrheic keratosis “cure.” Though the skin growths are unlikely to return to the same places on your body, they may pop up elsewhere later on if you are prone to them.

Here, several methods to remove seborrheic keratoses, says Dr. Chacon. Some being more invasive than others.

1. ESKATA cream

treatment results of ESKATA for seborrheic keratoses

The most non-invasive treatment is ESKATA, a cream made of 40% hydrogen peroxide which breaks down seborrheic keratoses over time without freezing, cutting, or burning the skin. Judging by the before-and-after photos released by Aclaris Therapeutics, the cream’s manufacturer, the results look very promising. The cream is for in-office use only and can require multiple applications to fully remove a growth. This method is safe, but it can cause irritation so those with ultra sensitive skin may want to skip this option. The good news: It costs just $135 per session.

2. Cryosurgery

This involves numbing skin and then freezing the seborrheic keratosis with liquid nitrogen. After this treatment is done, the growth will fall off after a few days or weeks. Though it can be effective, it’s not guaranteed to work on all raised skin growths and may end up lightening skin in the treated area. This can cost upwards of $400 depending on how many growths are treated.

3. Curettage

Skin is also numbed first with this method which involves scraping the skin’s surface with a special instrument called a curette. Curettage is typically done when your health care provider wants to preserve the growth so it can be analyzed in a lab. And while you might be concerned about scarring, it’s very uncommon and you’ll just need to treat the wound left from removal for a few weeks until it is fully healed. This will run you $3000 or more.

4. Electrocautery

During this treatment, you will first have skin numbed and then an instrument with a targeted electric current will burn off the skin growth. If the growth is raised, it might be followed up with curettage to fully remove a seborrheic keratosis. And just like with curettage, there’s also a very low risk of scarring. Costs vary, but are similar to curettage.

5. Laser treatment

Laser treatments involve application of an intense beam of light that burns and destroys these skin growths — the type of laser that is used will depend on if the skin growth is flat or raised. To fully get rid of seborrheic keratoses with laser treatments, it may take a few sessions. Also, if a top concern with getting these growths removed is that you’ll be left with a scar, then you may want to consider this method as it’s less invasive. Costs vary.

For more on skin health, click through these stories:

Doctors Share 3 Easy Tips on How To Prevent Skin Cancer

This Tropical Ingredient Treats Decade-Long Sunspots and Smooths Rough Skin

What Are Those ‘Red Moles’ on My Skin — And Are They Dangerous?

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.

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