Skin Growths (Benign / Non-cancerous)

Skin Growths (Benign / Non-cancerous)

What is a skin growth?

A skin growth is defined by the accumulation of skin cells and underlying tissue which results in either flat or raised markings, lesions or tumours on the surface of the skin. Growths can occur from the time of birth or develop later due to a variety of causes. Growths also range in colour, and can appear red, dark brown, black or even the same colour as a person’s skin.

Skin growths are typically characterised as either ‘controlled’ or ‘uncontrolled’. When ‘controlled’, the accumulation of cells and tissue does not spread to other parts of the body. Thus, the growth is classified as benign (non-cancerous). An ‘uncontrolled’ growth has the ability to metastasize (accumulate more cells and tissue in other areas of the body) and affect normal skin cells and tissue elsewhere. ‘Uncontrolled’ growths are thus classified as malignant and can spread to other areas of the body.

The majority of known skin growths are benign and are more often than not, a cosmetic issue rather than a threat to a person’s medical wellbeing. All growths, however, should be checked (even tested) by a medical doctor (or dermatologist) in order to be absolutely sure as to what type of growth it is. It is not advisable to leave a growth and assume that it is harmless to your health.

What commonly causes skin growths?

The underlying causes of most benign skin growths are often unknown. Some of the most common underlying causes, that are known, include:

  • Genetics
  • Environmental factors (such as those that are stimulated by sunlight)
  • Viruses
  • Systemic diseases (body-wide) such as hormonal abnormalities and disorders

How are skin growths commonly diagnosed and treated?

In general, all skin growths will be diagnosed with a physical examination by a medical practitioner and if deemed necessary, a biopsy will be taken (a sample of the growth is taken for analysis under a microscope and testing in a laboratory). Sometimes, further testing may be needed. This will depend on the type of growth and the possible underlying cause. Often, a doctor will be able to recognise a type of growth through a physical examination alone.

A medical doctor should be consulted when any growth develops or is noted on the body. He or she will be able to determine whether it is malignant (cancerous) or not. If there is any indication of change to a particular marking or growth, it is important for a doctor to evaluate and determine whether there are any signs of cutaneous malignancy.

Treatment will depend on the type of skin growth diagnosed. Many that are benign may not require treatment and clear on their own over a certain period of time. Sometimes an underlying cause may require treatment, which will help to clear problematic areas.

Benign skin growths that are more bothersome on a cosmetic level and do not clear on their own may sometimes be removed. Doctors can do this using an electric needle, laser, scalpel or by means of freezing with liquid nitrogen.

Common types of benign (non-cancerous) skin growths

Skin changes with age are common for most people. It is not uncommon for a variety of different marks, such as moles and freckles, to develop as a result of sun exposure too.

Some of the most common types of non-cancerous (controlled or benign) skin growths which can develop include:

Dermatofibromas

  • Characteristics: Dermal nodules (small and firm flesh-coloured, dusky red, brown or black coloured bumps) develop as a result of accumulated fibroblasts (soft tissue cells beneath the skin’s surface). The overlaying epidermis (layer of skin) is slightly thickened and ranges between 0.5 and 1.5 centimetres in diameter. Occasionally, these growths can develop a little larger. Sometimes, these growths can ‘retract’ forming a dimple in the area. Dermatofibromas can sometimes be itchy or painful to the touch, but are predominantly asymptomatic (displaying no noticeable symptoms). These growths are common among women, but are not unusually experienced in children or teenagers.
  • Cause: These growths may form as multiples or as solitary lesions, often developing spontaneously following a minor trauma to the skin (for instance an insect bite).
  • Diagnosis and treatment: A doctor may apply lateral pressure to the growth. Sometimes this action can cause it to dimple. These growths are usually harmless, but can be assessed through biopsy analysis if a doctor feels it necessary to differentiate it from other conditions. Dermatofibromas can be surgically removed for cosmetic reasons or if they become bothersome due to itchiness or pain, and especially if they begin changing colour, grow larger or bleed.

Close-up of a conjunctival dermoid cyst during an eye examination.Dermoid Cyst

  • Characteristics: These saclike growths are often present at birth on the surface of the skin (usually the face, lower back, in the ovaries or even inside the skull) and are made up of hairs, sweat glands, sebaceous glands and fluid. A growth that develops internally can even contain bone fragments, cartilage or teeth. The growths typically develop slowly and can become tender to the touch when broken open (or ruptured). The growths are normally firm to the touch and painless (unless they break open). These growths have also been known to develop, although rarely, in the brain, nasal sinuses, the eyes or spinal cord.
  • Cause: During foetal development the skin and multiple skin structures become trapped. The cell walls of these structures are almost identical, containing hair follicles, sweat glands and even nerves. The slow growth of these cysts means that they are often only noticed in early childhood and even adulthood.
  • Diagnosis and treatment: These growths can be unsightly and for this reason alone, may be safely removed. They can also become inflamed and painful, and removed for this reason too. Inflammation and rupture of these growths can be accompanied by fever. If a cyst increases in size or changes colour, a doctor must assess the growth, which will most likely be treated with surgical removal as well. Growths which occur on the surface of the skin (often termed ‘superficial’) can mostly be removed surgically without complications. Rarer forms of dermoid cysts may require removal using special techniques. Deeper-level growths (i.e. those that are internal) may require testing to determine other possible abnormalities associated with various conditions, such as CT scans or scope procedures (and other imaging procedures). A growth should never be removed at home. A medical doctor should perform removal, ensuring that the procedure is safely done without risk of infection or bleeding. A growth can also develop again if not completely removed. Removal is done with an injected local anaesthetic and a small incision (cut into the skin) directly over the growth.

Keloids (pronounced: kee-loids)

  • Characteristics: Fibrous tissue (or scar tissue) that forms following injury to the skin forms a protective scar which can grow excessively to form a smooth, hard growth. These growths can become itchy, tender and even painful or cause a burning sensation, but are mostly not a risk to your overall health. Keloids can be larger in size than the actual wound and often occur on the chest, shoulder area, cheeks and earlobes. A keloid, however, can develop anywhere on the body.
  • Cause: These growths are thought to occur as a result of a collagen production defect. The most common causes include injuries to the skin such as burns, acne scars, chickenpox scars, scratches, vaccination sites, ear piercings and surgical incision sites.
  • Diagnosis and treatment: Treatment can be administered with cortisone injections (to flatten the growth and reduce inflammation), pressure dressings or silicone gel pads, radiation therapy (to shrink the growth), freezing of tissue, laser removal treatments (to reduce scar tissue) and silicone gel applications or moisturising oils. Most keloids don’t typically require medical intervention, however unsightly they may be. If a keloid grows in size or develops other symptoms, you should seek assistance from your doctor, so that he or she can check for any potential problems, such as signs of skin cancer. If necessary a biopsy can be performed to either determine or rule out any other possible medical conditions. For cosmetic reasons alone, a doctor can also treat the growth by trying to remove it. Treating keloids can be tricky as scar tissue can grow back again, and larger than before. Initial treatment may involve less invasive forms, applied frequently. Many keloids do typically shrink over time without any necessary treatment. Keloids which are quite large may be surgically removed, although as mentioned, this is not without risk of further scarring if the keloid returns.

Keloid on the shoulder.

Keratoacanthomas

  • Characteristics: These growths are round or dome-shaped, often with a crater (almost resembling a small skin-coloured or red volcano) consisting of pasty material (keratin and dead skin cells). These grows typically occur on the face, neck, forearms or the back of the hands. They can also occur on the legs. These growths can clear on their own, but often leave scars and may recur. Initially the appearance of these growths can resemble a pimple or boil. They do tend to enlarge fairly quickly (within a matter of months) and reach a size of about 1.75 mm (millimetres) wide.
  • Cause: These growths are linked to sun exposure, but often begin in a hair follicle on the skin. Areas of the body that are regularly exposed to the sun are most vulnerable for these growths to develop. Other possible causes that are linked with keratoacanthomas includeHPV (Human papillomavirus) infections, genetics, a compromised or weakened immune system and some cancer-causing chemicals.
  • Diagnosis and treatment: If this growth develops it is important to seek medical assessment from your doctor. Although, usually benign, these growths can develop into a squamous cell carcinoma (a type of skin cancer) which will require treatment. In order to assess the nature of the growth, a skin biopsy will likely be required. The tissue sample will need careful analysis under a microscope as they closely resemble those of squamous cell carcinomas. The shape and distinctive crater are important characteristics of the growth in determining it as a keratoacanthoma. Corticosteroid injections or fluorouracil injections (or creams), as well as surgical removal are the more common means of treatment for these growths. Surgical removal may involve scraping, freezing with liquid nitrogen, excision (cutting out) of the growth, or removing a layer of tissue at a time. Wounds will be sealed or stitched to allow for healing following removal. Chemotherapy medications, radiation or orally taken retinoid drugs are also means of treatment your doctor may consider. It is advisable to have these growths checked and treated as they can recur or spread to other areas of the body.

Close-up of a mole on human skin.Moles (pigmented nevi)

  • Characteristics: Moles are typically brown or black in colour (sometimes flesh-coloured or yellowish), and are usually benign rounded skin growths (usually symmetrical with a uniform colour and regular borders) that often begin in childhood and can continue throughout a person’s lifetime. Pigmented nevi, or moles, are known to consistently change shape or colour over time, making some more prone to developing cancerous cells (melanoma) than others. Moles can be smooth or rough (some contain hair), as well as flat or raised in appearance. Changes to moles can also sometimes be as a physical response to hormonal adjustments in the body. These growths can appear anywhere on the body, alone or in clusters.
  • Cause: When skin cells (melanocytes) grow in clusters (in one spot) instead of spreading throughout the skin, pigment that gives skin its natural colour can darken with sun exposure. Causes of moles are strongly linked to genes, in combination with the amount of sun exposure experienced, especially during childhood. It has been noted that skin that has been exposed to sun often tends to have more moles. These growths are also more commonly found in those who are prone to freckles (ephelides) – those with paler complexions.
  • Malignant melanoma (skin cancer).Diagnosis and treatment: In many cases, moles can lighten and disappear on their own over time. When this happens, the body effectively causes a regression by “attacking the unusual formation”. As such, many moles, whether lightened or not, may never require treatment at all. Any noticeable changes to a mole must be checked by a medical doctor as soon as possible for a thorough physical assessment and possibly a biopsy as well. Not all enlarging moles are cause for alarm and may not become malignant (cancerous). Some enlarge and darken during pregnancy and do not pose a threat to a woman’s health at all. A biopsy of any mole being assessed can help to determine irregularity. Those to be concerned about will display changes in size and colour, as well as other symptomatic signs such as bleeding. These may be examined periodically, treated or removed altogether. If detected early many melanoma types can be diagnosed, and cured with appropriate treatment. Surgical removal for cosmetic reasons is also acceptable if desired. Moles should never be treated with lightening or fading creams, bleaches or other chemicals. A medical doctor must perform any desired or necessary removal. Scarring can occur and can be treated with creams, gels laser treatments or cortisone injections.

Atypical moles (dysplastic nevi)

  • Characteristics: These moles are normally larger than pigmented nevi and are irregular in shape (not always rounded). The colour of these moles is often uneven with darker centres and lighter, patchy or jagged edges. Typical colours are tan or a dark brown shade, sometimes surrounding by a pinkish area of skin. Atypical moles can occur anywhere on the body, and are often flat (nearly or completely) in appearance. A person who has between 20 and 25 atypical or irregular moles on the body will need to have them checked by a medical doctor, as the risk for skin cancer (melanoma) increases. Some people have been known to have as many as 100 atypical moles on their body. Risk may be increased, but not all atypical moles will develop into skin cancer.
  • Cause: These moles are typically passed through family genes (i.e. they are hereditary – from parent to child). The combination of genes and sun exposure to various parts of the skin can cause atypical moles. These growths are more common with people who have experienced severe sunburn or who have chronically sun-exposed areas of their body, such as the upper back and shoulders, head, neck and ears, as well as the lower legs and calves. Sun exposure on an atypical mole can accelerate changes to its appearance.
  • Diagnosis and treatment: Diagnosis and treatment is similar to that of pigmented nevi. Removal of the mole can be done for both health and cosmetic reasons.

Pyogenic granulomas

  • Characteristics: Small, round and often blood red, brown or bluish-black in colour, these growths form as raised marks on the surface of the skin. They can develop at any age, affecting both men and women (especially during pregnancy). Hormonal changes in the body can lead to the development of these growths. Pyogenic granulomas initially grow quickly over a period of a few weeks, after which they begin to form a raised, reddish nodule. Growths can either be completely smooth or have a slightly rough or crusty surface. They typically occur on the face, neck, arms, hands, fingers, back and genitals. They can also develop on the eyelids and lips too. Although rare, these can develop on the cornea of the eye (or conjunctiva), the clear covering protecting the iris and pupil. During pregnancy, hormonal changes can lead to the development of these growths on the gums. These are often referred to as ‘pregnancy tumours’.
  • Cause: Pyogenic granulomas (also known as lobular capillary haemangioma or granuloma telangiectaticum) typically form as a result of excessive capillary (small blood vessel) growth and swelling. This can happen following injury to the skin or for those who bleed easily. Injury can be as a result of insect bites, scratching of the skin (broken skin), hormonal changes in the body, as well as certain medications (such as birth control or oral contraceptive pills). The actual growths are prone to bleeding as they contain a large number of small blood vessels. They can bleed for quite a while, so it is best not to pick at one or scratch it.
  • Diagnosis and treatment: The only thing to really be concerned about when it comes to these growths is how easily they rupture and bleed. They are almost always non-cancerous and thus don’t typically pose a threat to your overall health. They can be removed, but must be done by a medical doctor who ensure to remove the growth completely. If not removed completely, these growths can recur. In many instances, pyogenic granulomas clear on their own. A diagnosis is likely to be made during a physical examination, but a doctor may recommend a biopsy to either confirm or rule out any possibility of malignancy or other underlying conditions. Treatment may depend on the size and location of the growth on the body, but must be performed by a medical doctor to ensure the entire growth is handled with care (during removal or when using appropriate tools for bleeding control). Small growths may be left alone to clear in time, as they often do naturally. Larger growths may be removed by scraping and cauterisation (burning). This can prevent bleeding and considerably reduce the possibility of recurrence. Larger growths can also be surgically removed and the wound stitched up. A doctor can also opt to treat bleeding of the growth by applying chemicals, such as silver nitrate, or remove it in a less invasive way using laser surgery. Growths may be left alone during pregnancy, and removed thereafter if they do not resolve themselves during the time it takes for the body to adjust in the months following birth.

Seborrheic keratoses

  • Characteristics: These growths typically develop with age (especially after middle age and older). A seborrheic keratosis is usually a round or oval shaped, wart-like growth that looks like a separate object that has been stuck down on the skin’s surface. These growths are normally flesh-coloured, white, tan, yellow, brown or black in colour (hyperpigmented), occurring more commonly on the scalp, back, shoulders, abdomen or chest. They can, however, occur anywhere on the body but do not usually develop on the palms or soles of the feet. The growths enlarge slowly in clusters or on their own and are often roughly textured, bumpy, scaly (hyperkeratotic) or grainy (crumble easily). Sometimes they can also have a smoother, raised texture which is waxy. Seborrheic keratoses are often mistaken for moles, warts, skin tags or melanoma, but are more often than not, benign (not harmful at all).
  • Cause: Age and frequent sun exposure do appear to be linked as common causes (or underlying reasons) for development. These growths do appear to run in families, so genetics may play a role too. Risk may increase according the number of blood relatives with the skin condition.
  • Diagnosis and treatment: A doctor can diagnose these growths during a physical examination, but may order a biopsy if he or she feels necessary for confirmation, as well as to potentially rule out any other underlying health / medical conditions. Although the growths are not usually harmful, it is a good idea not to ignore them. Any change to the skin is best assessed by a medical doctor. It can happen that a person experiences a sudden eruption of these growths. This normally signals some form of internal malignancy which will need medical evaluation (testing) for diagnosis and treatment. The appearance of melanoma (a serious form of skin cancer) and seborrheic keratoses are quite similar. Thus, a doctor should assess them to be sure, especially if the appearance of a growth begins to change (size and colour). A doctor should check any growth that changes in size, shape (develops irregular borders which are jagged or blurred), colour (especially if the growth becomes blue, purple or reddish-black), swollen, inflamed or ruptures (causing bleeding). If the growth is small and is not a cause for further concern, a doctor may not implement any treatment procedures. If requested any growth can be safely removed for cosmetic reasons. Removal can be done via cryosurgery (frozen off with liquid nitrogen), electro-surgery (high frequency electrical current applied to the tissue to cut, scrape or desiccate it) or curettage (a scraping technique in a scoop-like manoeuvre).

Skin tag or acrochondon on the surface of the skin.

Skin Tags

  • Characteristics: These growths, also known as fibroepithelial polyps, acrochordons, cutaneous papillomas, and soft fibromas, are small, soft flaps of skin tissue that appear on the surface of the body. Most skin tags are harmless and do not pose a threat to a person’s health or cause any discomfort for pain. A hiccup in blood circulation in the affected area may result in some discomfort, but not necessarily pain. Skin tags are common around areas of the eyelids, neck, back, chest, armpits, beneath the breasts or in the folds of the groin and buttocks. As such they are exposed to contact and can cause irritation when rubbed against clothing etc. These growths look a little like small, soft, smooth balloons of skin, suspended on a slender stalk, and can vary in numbers (from just one up to a 100). These growths can form as small as a flat pinhead-sized bump of the skin or grow as big as a large grape.
  • Cause: Skin tags have been noted as more common amongst women, especially those who are middle-aged or elderly, or who have gained weight. A distinctive cause is not entirely known. It is thought that tags may occur as a result of skin surfaces rubbing against one another (hence the reason why some areas of the body more commonly experience tags than other parts). Skin tags are common amongst pregnant women too. The reason for this is thought to be changes in hormones during the 9-month gestation period.
  • Diagnosis and treatment: Skin tags are more often than not, completely harmless. Some may even spontaneously fall off the body on their own. Many aren’t likely to be bothersome or become cancerous (if left alone untreated), but they can be a little unsightly. They can be removed for cosmetic reasons or if they become bothersome. A doctor will assess the tag and diagnose by sight. Tags can sometimes resemble growths caused by other conditions, such as accessory tragus or an accessory digit. If questionable (especially if a tag grows, displays multiple colours or begins to bleed), a biopsy of tissue can be done to assess for other conditions or check if the growth has become precancerous. A biopsy may also be done for larger growths. For the most part, skin tags can be removed with a scalpel or scissors, an electro-surgery (burning off with an electric current) or cryosurgery (freezing with liquid nitrogen). Skin tags can recur and aren’t preventable.

What other types of benign skin growths can occur?

  • Dermatosis papulosa nigra (DPN): Similar in appearance to seborrheic keratosis or skin tags, these growths can occur commonly on the face and neck, as well as the back or chest. The growths are also more common among darker complexions. Growths are typically small, and black or brown in colour, occurring in isolated spots (a few or on many areas of the body). DPNs may be flat or as raised growths that hang off the body (similar to a skin tag). Causes are unknown, but these growths are not normally a cause for concern. A diagnosis can be made by sight, rarely needing a biopsy. Treatment can help to minimise the appearance of these growths, instead of providing complete removal. Affecting skin with darker pigment, a person is at risk of developing pigmentation defects (such as a lightening or darkening of the skin), as well as scarring (giving a blotchy appearance). Treatment can be administered by means of scissor or shave excision (removal), electrodessication, cryosurgery, dermabrasion or laser removal.
  • Sebaceous hyperplasia: When the sebaceous glands surrounding a follicle in the skin enlarge, these growths occur. They are typically characterised as flesh-coloured or yellowish papules with a central dell (resembling a bump with a dimple or crater) and range from 2 to 9mm in size. These growths often occur on the facial area, especially the cheeks, forehead and nose, but can also occur on the mouth, chest (especially the areola – ring of pigmented skin around the nipple), or vulva (outer portion of the female genitals) and scrotum, penis shaft or foreskin (male genitals). It is thought that facial sebaceous hyperplasia is caused by declining androgen circulation due to aging. A biopsy may be warranted if the growth resembles a basal cell carcinoma (form of skin cancer). Laser therapy or surgical removal procedures can be performed to treat these growths.
  • Woman with liver spots on her cheek.Lentigines (liver spots): Often resembling moles (nevi), these hyperpigmented macules (patches) are usually a pale tan or brown colour. Lentigines commonly occur on sun-exposed skin areas, such as the face, neck, shoulders, back, chest, forearms and hands. These markings mostly indicate excessive photodamage which can result in an increased risk of sun-induced skin cancer. Rapid growth and changes in colour are typical indicators for a doctor to perform a biopsy and evaluate further. Treatment, however, is usually for cosmetic purposes and involves cryotherapy, laser therapy, bleaching creams or chemical peels.
  • Cherry angiomas (senile angiomas): These growths are common in adulthood and are usually classified as ‘benign vascular growths’. These small, red circular or oval papules or macules (that appear cherry-like) can occur in most areas of the body, but seem to frequent the chest, abdomen or back areas more often. The growths are often smooth or even on the skin, but can also appear raised. These growths are typically asymptomatic, but can bleed when exposed to injury. Broken blood vessels in the growth give it a cherry-red appearance. Changes in size, shape or colour are usually indicators for concern (carrying a risk of skin cancer), especially if bleeding occurs. In this case, a biopsy may be necessary for assessment. Causes are linked to chemical exposure, climatic elements, as well as pregnancy. Treatment is, for the most part, unnecessary, unless removal is needed for medical reasons. Regular bleeding due to constant friction (bumping against the affected area) or cosmetic purposes are other reasons these growths may be removed. Treatment options include electrocauterisation (burning with an electric current), cryosurgery, laser surgery (using a pulsed dye laser), or shave excision.
  • Epidermal inclusion cyst (EIC): These growths are typically caused by injury or trauma to the skin, such as following a minor surgery or as a result of body-piercings. A firm-to-the-touch cyst (fluid-containing membranous sac) forms at the site of injury when the surface of the skin (epidermis) gets into the deeper layers (dermis). Cysts may be flesh-coloured or reddish and inflamed (the skin covering the nodule), but are usually painless, and are not normally itchy. Singular growths are more common than multiples and can range in size. A physical examination can be done to diagnose the cyst. Ways in which a cyst may be physically assessed include a dermascopy (magnified lens), a Wood’s lamp examination (using ultraviolet light) or skin biopsy (although this is not usually necessary unless there is a need to rule out other potential medical conditions). Removal of the cyst can be done if bothersome (or if it ruptures which can cause pain) or for cosmetic reasons and usually involves a surgical excision (complete removal of all cystic contents). Treatment following removal may require warm compresses, corticosteroids or systemic antibiotics to prevent a secondary infection. If determined, an underlying injury or medical condition may also require treatment.
  • Milium cyst: Often referred to a ‘baby acne’ (although inaccurate), a milium cyst is a small, white bump which often surfaces on the nose, eyelids and cheek areas of the face. Cysts can occur as groupings (milia) and form when keratin (protein) becomes trapped beneath the skin’s surface. These cysts are most common among new-borns (from the time of birth), but a cause is yet to be distinctively determined. These growths can occur in older children and adults too, usually as a result of damage to the skin, such as burns, blistering injuries, long-term sun damage or following skin resurfacing procedures (such as laser resurfacing or dermabrasion). Cysts are not normally accompanied by any inflammation or swelling. Diagnosis is made based on physical appearance (a physical exam), and very rarely requires treatment. Usually these cysts resolve themselves within a matter of weeks. If there is a degree of discomfort or pain, these cysts can be treated with chemical peels, deroofing (cyst contents are picked out using a sterile needle), topical retinoid creams, laser ablation, cryotherapy, diathermy (extreme heat) or destruction curettage (surgical scraping).

Are freckles (Ephelides) considered a type of skin growth?

Young girl with auburn hair, blue eyes and freckles.

  • Characteristics: Freckles are characterised as tiny, flat, circular spots and not necessarily growths per se. Freckles develop as multiples on sun-exposed skin (usually the upper body areas such as the face – the nose and cheeks, as we as the shoulder and arms). Those with fair complexions most notably experience freckles, especially if they have blonde or red hair. For the most part, freckles are uniform in appearance and colour (yellowish, reddish, tan, light brown, darker brown or black). With additional sun-exposure, freckles can darken. They can also lighten during periods of the year that a person isn’t as exposed to the sun (such as during winter). These markings are very common, but not harmful at all.
  • Cause: Freckles develop as a result of uneven distribution of dark pigment (a heavy deposit of melanin in one place or spot) in the skin combined with various other factors, such as a fair complexion, genetics and sun-exposure. Sun-exposure can also result in the forming of larger, darker freckles on the body. These can sometimes have more irregular or jagged borders.
  • Diagnosis and treatment: As freckles are harmless skin markings, there is no real need to diagnose or treat them. They are usually not cancerous and do not generally become so in a person’s lifetime either. In this instance, preventative methods for aggravating more freckles is best implemented. Using a good sunscreen on areas of the skin that are normally exposed to the sun and taking care with how much time skin is exposed are advised for those who freckle easily. Avoiding artificial sun-tanning lights (ultraviolet light) is also advisable. This can thicken the outer layer of the skin and increase the rate of melanin production in pigment producing cells. Those who do freckle easily are more prone to sunburn, placing them at higher risk of developing skin cancer. Freckles can be lightened with bleaching or fading creams containing hydroquinone and kojic acid. Low concentrations are available over-the-counter, but higher concentrations may require a prescription. Laser treatment, chemical peels and photofacials (or intense pulsed light treatments) are all methods a skin specialist may be able to use to lighten the appearance of freckles. These treatments are most applied for cosmetic reasons.

When should I worry about a marking on my skin?

Skin reacts to both internal and external factors on a constant basis. This can result in serious conditions, as well as those that do not pose a threat to your overall health. Benign growths are usually only more unsightly to look at (or even slightly uncomfortable) than they are a health hazard.

When in doubt, it is a good idea to have a growth checked by a medical professional such as a dermatologist. A doctor can help you to understand the nature of the growth, possible underlying causes and how to recognise ‘behavioural changes’ that can occur on the skin which may require careful monitoring, and even medical treatment.

Illustration showing the essential rules for detecting skin cancer.

What signs should you look out for?

Skin cancer in its various forms (particularly melanoma) is often what most will worry about when it comes to unusual markings on skin. Regular examinations, whether done privately in the home or in the doctor’s office are recommended.

It’s important to recognise any changes which may place you at higher risk of various conditions, including malignant melanoma.

Signs to look out for to detect melanoma (skin cancer).The general rule of thumb for recognising possible condition problems can be done using the following appearance chart:

  • Asymmetry: Does one half of the growth appear to match the other or is it mismatched?
  • Border: Is the border (outline or edge) of the growth fairly rounded or is it jagged and irregularly shaped?
  • Colour: Is the colour uniform (consistent throughout the area)? Are there different shades of the same colour (such as shades of brown) or is the growth varied in colour (pink, red, blue or white)?
  • Diameter and evolving: Does the growth appear to be growing larger and changing in size? Is the growth diameter larger than that of a pencil eraser?

Early assessment of mismatched, jagged borders, irregularly coloured and large growths can be effectively treated.

It is important to assess any growth you notice on your body, whether it develops slowly or suddenly. When in doubt, seek analysis from a medical professional as soon as possible.

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