Seborrheic Keratosis

What is Seborrheic Keratosis?

Seborrheic keratosis is a form of benign, or noncancerous, skin growth. Typically, they are found in older adults. These spots usually show up on the face, shoulders, back, or chest. These growths are usually one of the following colors:

  • Light tan
  • Brown,
  • Black
  • Tan

Typically, the growth appears to be elevated, scaly, and slightly waxy. Sometimes, a person will only get one of these growths. However, most of the time they appear in clusters. These growths do not become cancerous, but on first glance, even your doctor may think they appear cancerous.

These growths rarely cause pain, and normally do not require any treatment. If the growth bothers you, consult your dermatologist to see if it would be safe to remove it. This is especially true if they are in locations that can be easily irritated by clothing, or for cosmetic reasons to boost your self-image.

What are the Symptoms of Seborrheic Keratosis?

Seborrheic keratosis appears similar to a growth or a wart. The growths usually have a waxy type appearance, and come up on the chest, back, shoulders, or chest.

Each keratosis growth:

  • Can range dramatically in color. Some are brown, some are tan, and some are black.
  • They are usually oval shaped
  • They appear as though they have been glued onto the skin
  • They can range from flat, to slightly elevated from the skins surface.
  • The top of each growth appears scaly
  • They can range in size from very small, up to one inch.
  • Some of the growths may itch.
  • Growths can develop in singular form, or they can develop in clusters

The growths are not painful. However, depending on their location, they can be irritating and rub against seams on clothing.

Seborrheic Keratosis Causes

Unfortunately, the exact cause of seborrheic keratosis is not entirely known. However, certain factors and elements of the condition are known. Scientists do know that, in spite of the name, the condition is not entirely seborrheic in nature; the distribution of the condition is not consistent with the name, and the disorder is not caused by sebaceous glands.

Scientists believe that seborrheic keratosis is largely hereditary. Because the condition has been observed to run in families, there is likely a genetic component to the disease. Furthermore, the condition seems to increase with age; as one gets older, one develops a greater number of keratoses (the lesions symptomatic of the condition). Certain mutations in particular genes have been found in the keratoses. Seborrheic dermatitis is rarely seen in children, teenagers, or young adults.

Eruptive seborrheic keratoses may be triggered by an irritation to the skin – for example, dermatitis (a skin rash) or a sunburn. Solar lentigo – dark spots on one’s skin which tend to accumulate with age – may trigger seborrheic keratosis. Fortunately, scientists are confident that there is no viral component to the condition, and that the lesions brought on by the condition are benign in nature.

How is Seborrheic Keratosis Treated?

Treatment of the growths is not necessary, unless they are in a location where they are bothersome. However, many people choose to have them removed for cosmetic reasons. A dermatologist can remove the growths using one of the following methods:

  • Freezing them away with liquid nitrogen
  • Scraping them from the skin with special surgical instruments
  • Burning them away with a surgical electric current generator
  • Vaporizing them with a medical grade laser.

Never try to remove one of these growths yourself. It can lead to extensive bleeding and become infected rather quickly.

Last Reviewed:
October 10, 2016
Last Updated:
November 06, 2017