No matter how healthy you are, as you get older, you’re going to get skin growths. There are lots of different ones, but today I want to discuss the most common type associated with aging: seborrheic keratoses. They’re tan to brown colored growths, that I’m happy to tell you, are benign, non-cancerous, and harmless. So why should you care? I’m going to tell you.
Some people start getting seborrheic keratoses in their 20’s, some people in their 50’s, and once you start getting them you just make more of them.
They start as small, tan or brown spots or freckles from a match size to a half of an inch. Over time they very gradually get a little thicker and a little darker… it takes many years. Their surface looks slightly shiny or greasy as if they have oil on them… so that’s where the term seborrheic comes from, because seborrhea means oil or flowing of oil. And they have the name keratosis because keratosis just means a thickening of the upper layer of the skin, especially the normal top layer of dead cells that is almost entirely composed of keratin. They can occur anywhere on the skin, even on the scalp.
They are, however, important for three reasons.
Number one. Because they can be confused with pre-cancerous or cancerous growths, especially melanomas. And when they’re confused with melanomas, that causes some people to have unnecessarily large surgical procedures to remove them.
Second, most people don’t like the way they look, either because they look like age spots or just because they look unattractive.
And number three, occasionally they get broken, torn or scratched which may cause bleeding or pain. Once they’re broken, they can’t be repaired or healed. They just become crusty and more annoying.
While seborrheic keratoses can’t be fixed, they can very easily be removed by a simple, in office, one minute procedure which is done with this instrument, which is called a curette. It’s almost like a round knife. With a little bit of local anesthesia, a dermatologist can literally just peel them off with a rolling scooping action.
Because they’re so common and older people tend to have so many of them, I try to reassure my keratosis adorned patients that “who ever has the most keratoses when they die wins, because he or she lived to be the oldest!” And that always makes them laugh.