What is seborrheic keratosis?

You would be forgiven to think that seborrheic keratosis and seborrheic dermatitis belong to the same family of conditions. Alas, they are separate entities with no links to each other.

Seborrheic keratosis (SK) is a common, benign skin growth that typically appears as small, scaly raised patches on the face, chest, or back. Although SK can occur at any age, it is most common in middle-aged and older adults. SK is not contagious and does not lead to skin cancer. However, some people may choose to treat SK for cosmetic reasons.

Let’s take a deep dive:

Symptoms of seborrheic keratosis

Seborrheic keratosis is a common, harmless skin growth. The most common symptom of seborrheic keratosis is the appearance of one or more waxy, greasy or crumbly bumps on the skin. These bumps can range in color from white to yellow to light brown to black. They are often described as looking like warts, and can vary in size from very small to large.

SK lesions are usually found on the face, chest, back or shoulders — areas that get a lot of sun exposure. Seborrheic keratoses can also occur on the scalp, neck, groin or underarm area.

Seborrheic keratoses are usually asymptomatic (not painful or itchy). However, some people may experience irritation from rubbing against clothing or jewelry.

What causes seborrheic keratosis?

The exact cause of seborrheic keratosis is unknown. However, it is thought to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

There are several things that can increase your risk of developing seborrheic keratoses:

UV light exposure

The main cause of seborrheic keratosis is sun exposure. The more time you spend in the sun, the greater your risk of developing seborrheic keratosis. UV light exposure also includes spending time outdoors without wearing sunscreen or working with UV-light emitting devices such as tanning beds.

Sperti Fiji Sun Home Tanning Lamp - Face and Body SunlampSun home-tanning lamp

Fair skin

People with fair skin are more likely to develop seborrheic keratosis than those with darker skin. This is because fair skin is more susceptible to damage from ultraviolet (UV) rays.


Seborrheic keratosis typically occurs in middle-aged or older adults. The condition is rare in children and young adults. As you age, your skin cell turnover rate slows down. This means that dead skin cells can accumulate on the surface of your skin, leading to the formation of seborrheic keratoses.

woman in green crew neck shirt wearing eyeglasses

Family history

If you have a family member with seborrheic keratosis, you may be at increased risk of developing the condition yourself.

How to treat seborrheic keratosis

Seborrheic keratoses do not require treatment as they are harmless and pose no threat to health. However, some people choose to have them removed for cosmetic reasons. There are several treatment options available:

Medical and surgical treatments

The most effective way of treating seborrheic keratosis is through surgical removal or non-invasive medical therapy:

  • Laser therapy is a non-invasive treatment option that uses intense pulsed light or lasers to destroy seborrheic keratosis lesions. It is generally considered a safe and effective treatment, but it can be expensive and is not always covered by insurance
  • Cryotherapy: This involves freezing the growths with liquid nitrogen.
  • Surgical removal: Small seborrheic keratoses can be easily removed at your doctor’s rooms under local anaesthetic.

Over-the-counter treatments for seborrheic keratosis

There are a number of over-the-counter treatments available for seborrheic keratosis. These include:

  • Salicylic acid: This is a common ingredient in many skincare products and can be effective in treating seborrheic keratosis. It works by exfoliating the skin and helping to remove the build-up of dead skin cells.

Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Salicylic Acid Exfoliant, Gentle Facial Exfoliator for Blackheads, Large Pores, Wrinkles & Fine Lines, Travel Size, 1 Fluid Ounce - PACKAGING MAY VARYCheck it out on Amazon

  • Glycolic acid: This is another type of exfoliating agent that can be used to treat seborrheic keratosis. It works by breaking down the bonds between dead skin cells, making them easier to remove from the surface of the skin.

The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution 240mlCheck it out on Amazon

  • Retinoids: These are vitamin A derivatives that can help to improve the appearance of seborrheic keratosis by increasing cell turnover and preventing the buildup of dead skin cells. Retinoids are available in both topical and oral forms, but they can cause side effects such as dryness, redness, and irritation, so they should be used with caution.

The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion (Previously Advanced Retinoid 2%), 30mlCheck it out on Amazon

  • Topical corticosteroids: These are anti-inflammatory medications that can be used to reduce the redness and itchiness associated with seborrheic keratoses.

Home remedies for seborrheic keratoses

There are no home remedies that have been proven to be effective in treating seborrheic keratosis. However, some people may find relief from using over-the-counter (OTC) products that contain salicylic acid or lactic acid. These products can help to exfoliate the skin and remove the growths.

You can also try exfoliating the affected area with a loofah or other exfoliating device or applying a warm compress to the affected area for 10 minutes at a time.

Some home remedies may help to lighten the appearance of seborrheic keratosis or remove them completely. These include:

• Using apple cider vinegar: Apple cider vinegar has acidic properties that may help to exfoliate the skin and remove seborrheic keratosis growths.

Bragg Organic Apple Cider Vinegar With the Mother– USDA Certified Organic – Raw, Unfiltered All Natural Ingredients, 16 ounce, 2 PackCheck it out on Amazon

• Applying baking soda: Baking soda is another gentle exfoliant that may help to get rid of seborrheic keratosis growths (never use baking soda as a face wash when you have seb derm)

• Using tea tree oil: Tea tree oil has antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties which could help to reduce irritation caused by seborrheic keratosis.

Plant Therapy Organic Tea Tree Oil (Melaleuca) 100% Pure, USDA Certified Organic, Undiluted, Natural Aromatherapy, Therapeutic Grade 10 mL (1/3 oz)Check it out on Amazon

When to see a doctor

While seborrheic keratosis is harmless, skin cancers can sometimes mimic the look of benign growths. If you have any concerns about a growth on your skin, it’s important to see your doctor for an evaluation.

You should see a doctor if you have any concerns about a growth on your skin. Your doctor can confirm the diagnosis and discuss treatment options with you.

Prevention of seborrheic keratoses

You may not be able to prevent seborrheic keratoses from developing, but there are some things you can do to reduce your risk. These include avoiding sun exposure or using sunscreen with at least SPF 30 , avoiding tanning beds and using protective clothing when outdoors .

These include:

  • Wearing sunscreen: This will help to protect your skin from the sun’s ultraviolet rays, which can trigger the growth of seborrheic keratosis lesions. Be sure to use a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 and reapply it every two hours when you are outdoors.
  • Avoiding sun exposure, especially during peak hours
  • Avoiding tanning beds
  • Avoiding irritants: Certain substances, such as harsh soaps, detergents, and solvents, can irritate the skin and make seborrheic keratosis lesions more likely to develop. If you have sensitive skin, be sure to use gentle skincare products and avoid contact with potential irritants.
  • Managing stress: Stress can worsen many skin conditions, including seborrheic keratosis. Try to find ways to manage stress in your life through relaxation techniques like yoga or meditation.

To wrap up

Seborrheic keratosis is a common, benign skin condition that can occur at any age. It is characterized by the development of one or more lesions on the face, chest, back, or other body areas. Treatment is not usually necessary, but may be needed for cosmetic reasons.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *