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What is Sebaceous Keratosis?

By D. Jeffress
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Sebaceous keratosis is a common skin condition that typically affects elderly people. It is characterized by one or more raised, discolored, wart-like bumps on the surface of the skin. The bumps are benign in almost all cases and do not cause any negative health effects. A person can develop the condition anywhere on the body, but groups of lesions are most often isolated on the back, shoulders, arms, or scalp. Since sebaceous keratosis is harmless, most doctors discourage treatment. Especially large bumps that mar a patient's appearance or become irritated from clothing or movement may be surgically removed.

Doctors are not sure what causes sebaceous keratosis to develop. Some people have family histories of the condition, suggesting that there may be an inheritable genetic component. Since sun-exposed areas of skin such as the arms and scalp are more prone to developing lesions, it is thought that ultraviolet light exposure may play a role as well. The condition is rare in children and young adults, and the likelihood of bumps emerging increases steadily after a person reaches the sixth or seventh decade of life.

An individual might have a single abnormal bump, a cluster of lesions, or a widespread area of skin growths. Most lesions begin as very small skin-colored bumps that gradually grow in diameter and turn dark. They are often soft and rough to the touch, and they only rarely feel tender or itchy. Sebaceous oils that are secreted from skin pores can give large bumps a greasy feel and appearance.

It is important to visit a primary care doctor or a dermatologist whenever an abnormal skin lesion develops. Sebaceous keratosis is benign, but the condition can resemble other more serious problems, including skin cancer. A doctor can inspect the bumps and collect a small sample of tissue for laboratory analysis. After other conditions have been ruled out, he or she can explain possible treatment options.

Most patients do not need to do anything about their skin lesions. A doctor may simply suggest attending regular health checkups to ensure the bumps do not suddenly change in size or appearance. A severe case of sebaceous keratosis can be remedied by a dermatologist through a simple surgical procedure. The doctor can freeze lesions with liquid nitrogen, cauterize them with an electric heating device, or cut them off of the underlying skin with a scalpel. A skilled doctor is usually able to remove most or all of a person's lesions without leaving behind obvious scars.

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Discussion Comments

By andee — On Jul 31, 2011

My mother has several brown spots like this and calls them brown warts. Her doctor told her that if she wanted to have them removed he could use laser surgery to get rid of them.

Since they are so common in the elderly, he told her she would probably get more of them, and that they would not turn in to cancer or anything.

Since they are mostly on her back and shoulders, she has decided not to have them removed yet. Her doctor told her there isn't really anything you can do to prevent them.

By sunshined — On Jul 30, 2011

My dad had some small bumps that appeared on his back. Because he had a history of skin cancer, he went to the doctor right away to have them checked out.

The doctor told him that they were nothing to worry about and told him they were sebaceous keratosis lesions. He told him that unless they bothered him, they would just watch them and did not have to treat them.

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