“We all want to stay alert for skin cancer,” notes Jennifer Wong, a certified registered physician’s assistant specializing in dermatology with Advanced Dermatology PC. “But it’s important to acknowledge that other ‘safe’ skin conditions can cause real quality-of-life-issues. And they can be treated to improve people’s day-to-day.”
From the discomfort of corns and calluses to the disruptive appearance of keratosis pilaris bumps, seborrheic keratosis growths and skin tags, there are a number of non-threatening skin conditions that can pop up.
“These conditions are common,” notes Wong. “About half of us will develop skin tags – medical name acrochordons. Their prevalence means that dermatologists have developed a range of treatments – some do-it-yourself, some in the office.”
The benign skin growths people contend with have different causes – some lifestyle, others still being researched.
“Corns and calluses,” Wong explains, “are directly connected to the wear and tear we subject our skin to: these extra layers of skin build up as protection: in the case of corns, due to pressure against our skin onto the bone underneath; in the case of calluses, due repeated friction from regular activities, like gripping tools or playing an instrument.”
Other benign skin growths do not have a direct lifestyle origin.
“Skin tags are typically small, dangling ovals of skin,” describes Wong. “They may be related to genes, hormones, or underlying conditions. The same is true for keratosis pilaris: small bumps that usually show up on the upper arms and thighs due to pores becoming plugged with the skin protein keratin. Seborrheic keratoses, which are warty- or waxy-looking tan or brown growths, generally develop as people age; genes and the sun may be factors.”
“Fortunately,” continues Wong, “we do know how to treat these conditions so that they don’t interfere with people’s lives.”
With that in mind, she offers the following suggestions.
5 Tips to Take the Bother Out of Benign Skin Growths:
1. Rule out more serious problems: “It’s really important to make sure that the problem is benign,” emphasizes Wong. “For example, we want to make sure that it’s seborrheic keratosis and not skin cancer – or a wart, which is due to a contagious virus. It’s important for everyone to develop a skin check-up schedule that will establish their baseline skin condition and support ongoing monitoring for problems, especially skin cancer.”
2. Relieve the pressure: “With corns and calluses,” says Wong, “lifestyle adjustments are the solution. Protective padding – for example moleskin for a callus, adhesive pads for corns – can alleviate the friction and pressure. For both, a warm-water soak and gentle use of a pumice stone can remove the thickened skin. And then, for corns, it’s time to re-evaluate our footwear choices: we need comfortable shoes that will not exert pressure. Fortunately, there are lots of stylish and gentle options available today.”
3. Remember: maintenance matters: “Regular moisturizing is important for the gradual resolution of corns and calluses,” advises Wong. “Moisturizing is also important to address keratosis pilaris. And to get rid of the bumps, exfoliation is key. Chemical exfoliants like glycolic acid, lactic acid, or salicylic acid can be effective. But if the condition is stubborn, an office visit for laser treatments or microdermabrasion can clear the way. After treatment, moisturizing and exfoliating need to be a regular routine.”
4. Growths interfering with life? Get rid of them: “If skin tags or seborrheic keratoses are obvious or interfere with clothing or jewelry,” Wong suggests, “they can be removed. Your dermatologist has a range of options, including freezing (cryosurgery) or electrosurgery. Skin tags can also be removed by scissor excision.”
5. Excessive? Changing? Painful? See a doctor: “If a ‘benign’ skin growth changes or becomes painful, it needs evaluation to rule out a medical problem,” states Wong. “And with skin tags, if there are a great number, that requires a checkup for underlying health problems, in particular diabetes.”
“‘Harmless’ skin growths can still be problems,” concludes Wong. “Your dermatologist can help solve them.”
Jennifer Wong, RPA-C is a certified registered physician’s assistant specializing in dermatology with Advanced Dermatology PC.
Advanced Dermatology P.C. and the Center for Laser and Cosmetic Surgery (New York & New Jersey) is one of the leading dermatology centers in the nation, offering highly experienced physicians in the fields of cosmetic and laser dermatology as well as plastic surgery and state-of-the-art medical technologies.