Learn more about the symptoms and treatments of this common, noncancerous skin growth that gradually appears as you age.
A seborrheic keratosis (seb-o-REE-ik ker-uh-TOE-sis) is a common noncancerous (benign) skin growth. People tend to get more of them as they get older.
Seborrheic keratoses are usually brown, black or light tan. The growths (lesions) look waxy or scaly and slightly raised. They appear gradually, usually on the face, neck, chest or back.
Seborrheic keratoses are harmless and not contagious. They don't need treatment, but you may decide to have them removed if they become irritated by clothing or you don't like how they look.
Seborrheic keratoses are very common on the back. They appear as waxy light tan, brown or black growths that look as if they were dripped onto the skin by a candle. Some can grow large, more than 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) across.
A seborrheic keratosis grows gradually. Signs and symptoms might include:
See your doctor if the appearance of the growth bothers you or if it gets irritated or bleeds when your clothing rubs against it. Also see your doctor if you notice suspicious changes in your skin, such as sores or growths that grow rapidly, bleed and don't heal. These could be signs of skin cancer.
Experts don't completely understand what causes a seborrheic keratosis. This type of skin growth does tend to run in families, so there is likely an inherited tendency. If you've had one seborrheic keratosis, you're at risk of developing others.
A seborrheic keratosis isn't contagious or cancerous.
The peak time for developing seborrheic keratoses is after your 50s. You're also more likely to have them if you have a family history of the condition.
Your doctor can usually tell whether you have a seborrheic keratosis by looking at the affected skin. If there is a question about the diagnosis, your doctor might recommend removing the growth so that it can be examined under a microscope.
A seborrheic keratosis typically doesn't go away on its own, but treatment isn't needed. You might choose to have it removed if it becomes irritated or bleeds, or if you don't like how it looks or feels.
Seborrheic keratosis removal can be achieved with one or a combination of the following methods:
Talk with your doctors about the risks and benefits of each method. Some methods can cause permanent or temporary skin discoloration and scarring. After treatment, you might develop a new seborrheic dermatosis elsewhere on your body.
You're likely to start by seeing your primary care doctor. In some cases when you call to set up an appointment, you may be referred directly to a specialist in skin diseases (dermatologist).
Because appointments can be brief, it's a good idea to be well prepared for your appointment. Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment.
For a seborrheic keratosis, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
Don't hesitate to ask other questions that come up during your appointment.
Your doctor may ask: