Skin Disorders
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What’s On My Skin? 8 Common Bumps, Lumps and Growths

From acne to hives, get the lowdown on your peskiest skin issues. 

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By Olivia DeLong

When a bump or rash pops on your skin, a lot of questions probably go through your mind. What happened here? Is it going to leave a scar? How can I get rid of this thing?

We talked with internist Vinod Nambudiri, MD, of Grand Strand Regional Medical Center in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, to learn about some of the most common skin growths, what causes them and how they’re treated.

Skin tags

2 / 9 Skin tags

What it is: Skin tags are little raised bumps that form on short stalks or stems. “They are essentially just small projections or growths of excess skin,” says Nambudiri.

Skin tags are commonly found in areas where there is skin-on-skin friction, like the neck, armpit, groin and sometimes on the side of the abdomen. Pregnancy, old age and obesity can all increase your risk. 

Prevention and treatment: Unless your skin tags are painful or you’re uncomfortable with the way they look, there is usually no reason to treat them. If they are bothering you, your healthcare provider may freeze, cut or burn them off.

Image credit: Oliver Riesen

Epidermal cysts

3 / 9 Epidermal cysts

What it is: Epidermal cysts are the most common type of skin cyst. They look like round bumps and typically don’t cause any issues.

The surface of your skin is protected by a layer of cells your body consistently sheds. In fact, you shed 30,000 to 40,000 old skin cells in a single day! Sometimes these layers grow deeper in your skin rather than shedding, forming a cyst.

Prevention and treatment: These cysts don’t usually cause problems, so you probably won’t need to treat them. However, if yours is growing quickly, hurts or has ruptured, see your healthcare provider so they can check for infection. If the cyst is infected, you may need antibiotics or it may need to be drained or removed.

Hives

4 / 9 Hives

What they are: Hives are itchy pink and red welts that form individually or in clusters. Individual hives normally go away within 24 hours, but new hives can keep popping up; all hives usually clear within six weeks.

“Hives are caused by reactions to things like bug bites, foods, sun or fragrances—things that are irritating to the skin,” says Nambudiri. Some of the most common triggers are eggs, peanuts, shellfish, pollen, latex, allergy shots, stress, medications and infections.

Prevention and treatment: If you notice that you break out after eating certain foods, steer clear of them. If you can’t figure out what’s causing your hives or your hives last more than six weeks, your dermatologist may suggest allergy tests, blood tests or a skin biopsy. Hives with other symptoms like shortness of breath or facial swelling are signs of a more serious reaction.

When you do break out, over-the-counter antihistamines can help reduce swelling and itching for mild or moderate cases. Prescription antihistamines, corticosteroids and other anti-inflammatory medications can help relieve symptoms of chronic hives, too.

Warts

5 / 9 Warts

What it is: “Warts, or small raised growths, commonly form on the hands, feet or groin,” says Nambudiri. Some warts may not give you any problems, while others may itch or become uncomfortable. Warts can bleed or become sensitive when touched or bumped.  

The growths are caused by a type of virus, called human papillomavirus (HPV), that infects the top layer of the skin. Warts are contagious and can pass from person to person through sex, touch and even exposure to things like towels and linens.

Prevention and treatment: Sometimes, though it may take years, warts go away on their own. But as you get older, your warts may take longer to clear up, or they may become permanent. Depending on the type of wart you have, your dermatologist may be able to cut it out or treat it with topical medications like cantharidin or salicylic acid. Cyrotherapy (freezing) and electrosurgery are other options.

Common moles

6 / 9 Common moles

What it is: Most adults who have light skin have 10 to 40 common moles—rounded or oval-shaped growths that form when pigmented cells grow in a cluster. If you have 50 or more of them, you have a greater chance of developing melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, says Nambudiri. While common moles aren’t cancerous, if a new mole pops up or you notice any of the following changes, see your dermatologist so they can check for melanoma:

  • Changes in color
  • Uneven change in size (bigger or smaller)
  • Skin surface is dry or scaly
  • Itching
  • Oozing

Sun exposure can lead to mole development, melanoma and other skin cancers. A family history of melanoma, a fair skin tone and medications that make your skin more susceptible to sun damage can also raise your risk. 

Prevention and treatment: Protect your skin from ultraviolet (UV) radiation by wearing a daily sunscreen with broad-spectrum coverage, which defends against both UVA and UVB rays. And when you head outdoors, cover up with sunglasses, wear a wide-brim hat and opt for long pants. If you have a lot of moles, check your skin once a month. 

Acne

7 / 9 Acne

What it is: The tiny holes on your face are called pores; they usually house oils, dead skin cells and bacteria. But topical products, sweat, irritation and hormone changes during life stages like pregnancy and puberty may clog those pores, causing inflammation and blemishes called acne.

Acne literally means “skin eruption,” and breakouts and pimples come in different forms: blackheads are blocked pores that remain open, whiteheads are blocked pores that have closed over and pustules are yellowish, pus-filled bumps. If your blocked pores become irritated, your pimples may grow harder and bigger, forming nodules (if they’re hard) or cysts (if they're softer and pus-filled).  

Prevention and treatment: Many times, over-the-counter treatments with benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid can help you manage acne. But if you have frequent breakouts, your dermatologist can prescribe topical treatments, isotretinoin, antibiotics, chemical peels or light therapies. 

Skin boils

8 / 9 Skin boils

What it is: Sometimes, a skin infection around a hair follicle or oil gland will create a red, painful lump called a boil.

Boils, usually caused by the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus, tend to pop up in areas where you sweat, like the face, neck, armpits and thighs. You may be at an increased risk if you have a bug bite or scrape with an opening; this allows bacteria to get in the skin. A weakened immune system, diabetes, acne and eczema can also raise your chances.

Prevention and treatment: You can actually treat small boils at home. Apply a warm washcloth on the area for 10 to 15 minutes, three to four times a day until you notice the pus releases and the boil has healed. It’s important you don’t squeeze or poke at your boil, as it can spread infection. The spot should clear up within three weeks, but if gets worse, see your dermatologist. If you have larger boils, or multiple boils, you’ll need to see a doctor. 

Ringworm

9 / 9 Ringworm

What it is: Surprisingly, ringworm is not caused by worms, but a fungus. It appears most commonly on the feet, hands and scalp in the form of itchy, scaly pink, red or gray patches. Sometimes, the rash can grow larger and form circles or rings.

Chafing against clothes, participating in contact sports like wrestling and football and hanging out in hot, humid weather can all raise your risk of contracting ringworm. It’s very contagious, so sharing towels or combs with someone who has infection can up your risk, too.

Prevention and treatment: To prevent ringworm, be sure to maintain good hygiene: always shower after exercise, refrain from sharing personal items and change your clothing every day to ensure it's dry and clean.

If you think you have ringworm, anti-fungal medications will clear up the infection within a few days.

Skin Disorders

Skin Disorders

Skin disorders affect people of all ages. Rashes, cysts, breakouts, redness and blisters all can be symptoms of conditions as varied as hives, rosacea, psoriasis, eczema and acne. Talk to your doctor or a dermatologist about any l...

asting symptoms to find the appropriate treatment. A doctor also can recommend the proper therapy for conditions like brown spots, spider veins, and fungal infections.
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