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Seborrheic keratosis may be found on every body part except the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.

Cherry angiomas may range in size from a pinpoint to about 1/4" in diameter.

Acrochordons, or skin tags, occur in places that rub and can become painful when irritated.

The small, white-to-yellow cysts known as milia can be easily extracted by your SSDP dermatologist.

 Caused by enlargement  of an oil gland, seba-  ceous hyperplasia may  look like a basal cell  carcinoma. 

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Amy S. Chang, MD

By Amy S. Chang, MD

It is a common scenario for the dermatologist. A patient says his wife has noticed a new mole on his back and wants him to have it checked. The growth is dark, raised, and itchy, at times. They wonder if it could be skin cancer.


Although the growth on this patient's back shares some of skin cancer's characteristics, it is, in fact, a benign skin lesion known as a seborrheic keratosis. These non-cancerous growths result from an overgrowth of superficial skin cells and can be found on almost every part of the body except the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. Thick and wart-like with a pasted or stuck on appearance, seborrheic keratoses may have varied colors, including flesh-tone, tan, brown or black and are harmless, although they may be cosmetically undesirable. They usually begin to appear after the age of 40 and continue to arise throughout life. People
who get them often have relatives who've had them, too.

Seborrheic keratosis is one of a number of benign lesions found on the skin of adults. I tell my patients the skin is like a garden, and over time, weeds and wildflowers will arise. Similarly, the skin is always changing and we develop new growths on our skin, most of which are benign. Benign skin lesions are in fact much more common than malignant ones. Nonetheless, benign skin lesions may be hard to distinguish from skin cancer and other conditions, so a correct diagnosis is important. 


"I tell my patients, the skin is like a garden, and over time, weeds and wildflowers will arise."


Another common, non-cancerous skin growth is the cherry angioma, so named because of its resemblance to a small, red dot. Made up of a benign growth of blood vessels, cherry angiomas may range in size from barely visible to about 1/4 inch in diameter. Often appearing on the trunk, they can arise anywhere on the body.  The cause of cherry angiomas is unknown, although they, too, tend to run in families.

The good news is that cherry angiomas are harmless. The bad news is they still can be troublesome. Sometimes, a cherry angioma may turn purplish or blackish in color, making it hard to distinguish from a melanoma. If a cherry angioma is injured and starts to bleed, it can be hard to stop. At SSDP, cherry angiomas are removed by electrocautery, laser therapy or shave removal.


The acrochordon or skin tag is a fleshy, skin-colored growth that tends to occur in creases and parts of the body that rub, such as the neck, eyelids and armpits. Skin tags are harmless but they may become painful when irritated. The cause of skin tags is not clear, but people who are obese seem to develop them more frequently. Following a healthy diet and lifestyle may help to reduce the number of these growths.

Affecting infants through adults

The tiny white-to-yellow cysts known as milia are found in people of all ages, including infants, children and adults. Resembling pearls below the skin, milia may appear on the face and genitals. In infants, milia usually disappear within the first four weeks of life. In older children and adults, these small growths can be easily extracted by a Board certified dermatologist.


The benign skin lesion known as sebaceous hyperplasia is caused by oil gland enlargement. Often found on the forehead and side of the face, sebaceous hyperplasia is yellow in color and has a dimpled surface. It can sometimes be confused with basal cell carcinoma because of its shiny appearance and domed shape.  


Unlike basal cell carcinoma, sebaceous hyperplasia rarely bleeds or forms a crust, and is not medically dangerous. Nonetheless, a biopsy may be needed to make an accurate diagnosis.

All of the growths described in this article, including seborrheic keratoses, cherry angiomas, acrochordons or skin tags, milia, and sebaceous hyperplasia, share certain characteristics. They are:

  • Self-limiting and don't spread to other organs;
  • Not "ugly ducklings," meaning they may be accompanied by similar-looking "brothers and sisters" on the skin;
  • Not harmful to one's health. 

Nonetheless, many patients want these benign growths removed. For these people, there is a range of options from which to choose, including freezing with liquid nitrogen, electrocautery, removal with a vascular laser, shave removal, or removal by incision and extraction. Your SSDP dermatologist can help you choose the right treatment for your condition, depending on the nature of the lesion, its size and location. Most treatments for benign skin lesions are not covered by insurance.


If you have a skin growth about which you are concerned, call our office at 508.535.5576, or email us from the Contact Us page on the SSDP website to schedule an appointment with a Board certified dermatologist.  

Learn more about our practice's treatment of benign skin lesions in the blog on the SSDP website


Amy S. Chang, MD, is a board certified dermatologist at South Shore Dermatology Physicians (SSDP).