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What are Those Brown Spots That Aren't a Freckle But Not a Mole?

BSIP/UIG via Getty Images

You may have noticed some brown raised growths on your skin or on some of your older family members. Try not to worry, it's very likely they are seborrheic keratoses. No one could blame you for not knowing what we're talking about — it's not exactly a hot conversation topic.

Seborrheic keratoses are common and, most importantly, benign skin growths. At first glance, the raised skin might look harmful — and a cluster of them may be even more disturbing. But by definition, these brown skin spots are non-cancerous skin growths. Though any unexpected skin changes should always be checked out by a dermatologist.

If you do have a seborrheic keratosis, you're definitely not alone. About 83 million Americans have one or more of these skin growths on the face, neck, chest, shoulders, or back, according to a 2015 study. But seborrheic keratoses can be found anywhere on the skin, except the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet. Because many folks get these growths when they are middle-aged or older, they are often informally known as the "barnacles of aging" or "senile warts." Yeesh!



(Photo Credit: BSIP/UIG via Getty Images)

Seborrheic keratoses are usually tan, brown, or black in color, with slightly raised, flat surfaces. 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 non-cancerous skin growths, but most people develop clusters of them. Don't be surprised if they don't all look alike; some growths have that warty surface, while others look like simple dabs of wax that have been pasted on the skin. 



(Photo Credit: BSIP/UIG via Getty Images)

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. It's good to know they are not contagious. 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.

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. Though you may want to remove them if they become irritated or start bleeding from clothing rubbing up against them or for aesthetic reasons. Luckily, there are several methods  to remove seborrheic keratoses, according to Mayo Clinic.

One is cryosurgery, which involves freezing the seborrheic keratosis with liquid nitrogen. Though it can be effective, it's not guaranteed to work on all raised skin growths and may end up lightening the treated skin. Curettage, another option, involves scraping the skin's surface with a special instrument. Yet another method is electrocautery, which means burning with an electric current. There's also ablation, or vaporizing the skin growths with a laser.  

If those methods sound a little intense to you, the FDA recently approved the first topical, non-invasive treatment. After years of so-called seborrheic keratosis removal cream that didn't get the job done, we finally have ESKATA, a hydrogen peroxide solution that can clear raised seborrheic keratoses without freezing, cutting, or burning the skin. Judging by the before-and-after photos released by Aclaris Therapeutics, the results look mighty promising.



(Photo Credit: Aclaris Therapeutics, Inc.)

Remember: Always talk to a trusted doctor to find out what seborrheic keratosis treatment is right for you. Keep in mind that a treatment  — no matter how effective — doesn't necessarily 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.

Don't attempt to remove a seborrheic keratosis by yourself. As tempting as it may be to try new trends in seborrheic keratosis home removal, experts warn that there is a risk of infection. No matter how legitimate an at-home treatment may seem, this is one of those things that you — quite literally — shouldn’t take into your own hands.

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