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Medical Dermatology

Seborrheic Keratosis

What is seborrheic keratosis?

Seborrheic keratosis refers to a non-cancerous growth of the outer layer of skin which is waxy in appearance. These lesions are often confused with warts and are sometimes referred to as "barnacles of old age". This condition is very common and becomes more so with advancing age. However, this condition can also appear during pregnancy or following estrogen therapy. These lesions vary in color from light tan to black. Most commonly found on the chest or back, they can also appear on the scalp, face or neck and are less often found below the waist. In the initial stages, seborrheic keratoses appear as small rough bumps, but over time they thicken and develop a rough wart like surface. They are not transmitted from person to person. These growths are not related to skin cancer. In some cases seborrheic keratoses may become black in color. In order to differentiate this condition from malignant melanoma, the growth is removed and studied under a microscope.

What is the difference between seborrheic keratosis and actinic keratosis?

Actinic keratosis also called solar keratosis occurs on areas of the body that have been exposed to sunlight. The face, hands, forearms and the neckline are common areas on which to find these growths. Actinic keratoses are found most commonly on fair haired, light skinned individuals and are raised, rough, and red in appearance. Unlike seborrheic keratosis, actinic keratosis is a precancerous condition.

How is seborrheic keratosis treated?

No topical formula will cure this condition. Surgical treatments may be used to remove the keratoses and would include one of the following approaches:

  • Cryotherapy or freezing
  • Curettage or scraping the surface of the skin
  • Electrosurgery

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