Identifying benign skin lumps and bumps

submitted by Emily Schwarz MD,

In a Dermatology office, patients often call about lumps and bumps, especially after watching Dr. Pimple Popper episodes.

Many patients skip checking with their primary care physician first and make an appointment directly with a Dermatologist for a spot that may be new or concerning.

While some lesions may indeed be cancerous growths, there are also many benign growths on the skin that come with maturity and are part of the normal skin landscape.

I’ll outline a few of those here.

The infamous seborrheic keratosis, otherwise known as a barnacle or a wisdom spot. I have even referred to these as birthday presents.

Many patients come in urgently for these benign barnacles and indeed one can be covered in them. They aren’t dangerous and can show up overnight as a waxy stuck-on brownish bump.

They usually have a rough surface. Most of the time they are cosmetic in nature.

However, if they are irritated or bleeding, they can be treated most commonly with liquid nitrogen or cryotherapy.

These lesions can occur on almost anyone past age 30. They tend to be bumpy on the center of the body and flatter on the arms and legs.

Most importantly, they are harmless! You may notice some “red” moles come up with age. They are bright red and can be numerous.

Look at your parent’s skin because they most likely have them too. They are called cherry angiomas and have nothing to do with skin cancer. They are cosmetic and can be lasered off if desired.  

Also common are cysts, otherwise knows as epidermal inclusion cysts. They are circular lumps under the skin that can sometimes explode, get inflamed, or leak whitish material.

They can be left alone if not bothersome. If they are painful or irritated, they can be excised or removed surgically.

Cysts can also be drained and injected with a steroid.

Fun stuff!

Other benign lesions include skin tags, those fleshy little “hangers” that can come around the neck, armpits, and groin.

Most insurance companies don’t cover these, but they can still be removed cosmetically.  

Lesions to worry about would be spots bleeding on their own, sores that don’t heal, and lesions that look different form the other spots…the “ugly duckling “sign.

If you aren’t sure about a lesion, check with your primary care physician or make an appointment with a Board-Certified Dermatologist.