Skin Deep

Seborrheic keratoses or skin cancer?

When it comes to suspicious skin lesions, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. This is why so many patients come into my office concerned about slightly raised, pigmented lesions that are technically called seborrheic keratoses (SKs). Similar to liver spots on the backs of the hands, these lesions are usually found in sun-exposed areas like the face, chest, shoulders and back. Seborrheic keratoses generally begin to appear after age 40, and genetics seem to play a role. So if you’re parents had these spots, you’re more likely to develop them.

But the good news is these lesions are benign (not cancerous), and there is no need to remove them unless they are in spots that are easily irritated by clothing, jewelry or bra straps. Even if they’re solely an aesthetic issue, there are a few ways to remove them. Your dermatologist’s first approach is likely to be freezing them off with liquid nitrogen. You may feel some stinging or discomfort when the liquid nitrogen is applied, and the lesion instantly freezes and forms a scab that can take up to three weeks to fall off. (Don’t pick!)

Another treatment option is trichloroacetic acid (TCA). Often used for medium-depth chemical peels, TCA can be used instead of liquid nitrogen, or after liquid nitrogen to further even out skin tone.

It’s important to know that it’s imperative to protect your skin from sun exposure after the lesions have been removed in order to prevent scarring. Since the arms are most likely to have SKs, this means a long-sleeved shirt will be in order for at least three weeks. That’s why I advise having them removed sooner rather than later, because summer and its sweltering heat aren’t that far off!

Dr. Leslie Baumann is a board-certified dermatologist, New York Times best-selling author and CEO of Baumann Cosmetic & Research Institute in Miami.