Our Health Library information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Please be advised that this information is made available to assist our patients to learn more about their health. Our providers may not see and/or treat all topics found herein.
Most skin bumps, spots, growths, and moles are harmless. Colored skin spots, also called pigmented lesions (such as freckles, moles, or flesh-colored skin spots), or growths (such as warts or skin tags) may be there at birth or develop as the skin ages.
Most skin spots on babies will go away without treatment within a few months. Birthmarks are colored marks on the skin that are there at birth or appear shortly after birth. They can be many different sizes, shapes, and colors, such as brown, tan, black, blue, pink, white, red, or purple. Some birthmarks appear on the surface of the skin. Some are raised above the surface of the skin, and some occur under the skin. Most birthmarks are harmless and don't need treatment. Many birthmarks change, grow, shrink, or disappear. There are many types of birthmarks. Some are more common than others.
Causes of skin changes
Acne is a common skin change that occurs during the teen years and may last into adulthood. Acne may be mild, with just a few blackheads (comedones). Or it may be severe, with large and painful pimples deep under the skin (cystic lesions). It may be on the chest and back as well as on the face and neck. Boys often have more severe outbreaks of acne than girls. Many girls have acne before their periods that occurs because of changes in hormone levels.
During pregnancy, dark patches may form on a woman's face. This is known as the "mask of pregnancy," or chloasma. It usually fades after the baby is born. The cause of chloasma isn't fully understood. But experts think that increased levels of pregnancy hormones cause the pigment-producing cells in the skin (melanocytes) to produce more pigment. You can reduce skin pigment changes when you are pregnant by using sunscreen and staying out of the sun.
Actinic keratosis and actinic lentigines are types of colored skin spots that are caused by too much sun exposure. These spots aren't skin cancers. But they may mean that you have an increased chance of getting skin cancer, such as squamous cell skin cancer or a type of melanoma.
You may have an allergic reaction to a medicine that causes a skin change. Or you may get a skin reaction when you are out in the sun while you are taking a medicine. (This is called photosensitivity.) Rashes, hives, and itching may occur. In some cases, they may spread to areas of your skin that weren't exposed to the sun (photoallergy).
Skin changes can also be caused by:
- Autoimmune diseases, such as lupus and scleroderma.
- Reactions to a bite, such as Lyme disease from a tick bite.
- Bacterial skin infections, such as impetigo and cellulitis.
- Viral infections, such as chickenpox, shingles, and fifth disease.
- Liver problems, such as hepatitis, which may cause your skin and the whites of your eye to turn yellow (jaundice).
Common skin changes
Some common skin growths include:
Most people have 10 to 40 moles. You may get new moles until you are in your 40s. Moles may change over time. They can gradually get bigger, develop a hair, become more raised, get lighter in color, fade away, or fall off.
- Skin tags.
These are harmless growths that appear in the skin folds on the neck, under the arms, under the breasts, or in the groin. They start as small fleshy brown spots and may grow a small stalk. Skin tags never turn into skin cancer.
- Seborrheic keratoses.
These skin growths are almost always harmless. They are found most often on the chest or back. Sometimes they're on the scalp, face, or neck. Less often, they are below the waist. They start as slightly raised tan spots that form a crusty appearance like a wart.
Treatment of a skin change depends on what's causing the skin change and what other symptoms you have. Moles, skin tags, and other growths can be removed if they get irritated, bleed, or make you feel embarrassed.
While most skin changes are normal and occur with aging, some may be caused by cancer. Skin cancer may start as a growth or mole, a change in a growth or mole, a sore that doesn't heal, or irritation of the skin. It's the most common form of cancer in North America.
Skin cancer destroys skin cells and tissues. It can spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body. The three most common types of skin cancer are basal cell cancer, squamous cell cancer, and melanoma.
Finding and treating skin cancer early can help prevent problems. Treatment depends on the type and location of the growth and how advanced it is when it is diagnosed. Surgery to remove the growth will help to find what treatment will be needed.
Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.
Check Your Symptoms
The medical assessment of symptoms is based on the body parts you have.
- If you are transgender or nonbinary, choose the sex that matches the body parts (such as ovaries, testes, prostate, breasts, penis, or vagina) you now have in the area where you are having symptoms.
- If your symptoms aren’t related to those organs, you can choose the gender you identify with.
- If you have some organs of both sexes, you may need to go through this triage tool twice (once as "male" and once as "female"). This will make sure that the tool asks the right questions for you.
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind of care you may need. These include:
- Your age. Babies and older adults tend to get sicker quicker.
- Your overall health. If you have a condition such as diabetes, HIV, cancer, or heart disease, you may need to pay closer attention to certain symptoms and seek care sooner.
- Medicines you take. Certain medicines, such as blood thinners (anticoagulants), medicines that suppress the immune system like steroids or chemotherapy, herbal remedies, or supplements can cause symptoms or make them worse.
- Recent health events, such as surgery or injury. These kinds of events can cause symptoms afterwards or make them more serious.
- Your health habits and lifestyle, such as eating and exercise habits, smoking, alcohol or drug use, sexual history, and travel.
Try Home Treatment
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be able to take care of this problem at home.
- Try home treatment to relieve the symptoms.
- Call your doctor if symptoms get worse or you have any concerns (for example, if symptoms are not getting better as you would expect). You may need care sooner.
Symptoms of an allergic reaction may include:
- A rash, or raised, red areas called hives.
- Trouble breathing.
Skin changes are a common side effect of many prescription and nonprescription medicines. Common side effects include:
- Rash. Any medicine can cause a rash. Two examples are aspirin and antibiotics.
- Color changes in the skin. A few examples of medicines that can cause this are:
- Birth control pills.
- Medicines for heart rhythm problems, such as amiodarone.
- Cancer medicines.
- Seizure medicines.
- Reactions when the skin is exposed to sunlight. Many medicines can cause these reactions. The reaction may include just the skin that was exposed to the sun (phototoxic reaction), or it can spread to other areas of the skin (photoallergic reaction).
A new yellow tint to the skin can be a symptom of jaundice. Jaundice occurs when levels of a substance called bilirubin build up in the blood and skin. It may be caused by a problem with the liver or the blood.
With jaundice, the whites of the eyes also may look yellow, and stools may be light-colored or whitish.
Symptoms of infection may include:
- Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness in or around the area.
- Red streaks leading from the area.
- Pus draining from the area.
- A fever.
Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system's ability to fight off infection and illness. Some examples in adults are:
- Diseases such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and HIV/AIDS.
- Long-term alcohol and drug problems.
- Steroid medicines, which may be used to treat a variety of conditions.
- Chemotherapy and radiation therapy for cancer.
- Other medicines used to treat autoimmune disease.
- Medicines taken after organ transplant.
- Not having a spleen.
A change to a mole or other skin spot can mean that the spot has:
- Gotten bigger.
- Developed uneven borders.
- Gotten thicker, raised, or worn down.
- Changed color.
- Started to bleed easily.
Seek Care Today
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The problem probably will not get better without medical care.
- Call your doctor today to discuss the symptoms and arrange for care.
- If you cannot reach your doctor or you don't have one, seek care today.
- If it is evening, watch the symptoms and seek care in the morning.
- If the symptoms get worse, seek care sooner.
Make an Appointment
Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical care.
- Make an appointment to see your doctor in the next 1 to 2 weeks.
- If appropriate, try home treatment while you are waiting for the appointment.
- If symptoms get worse or you have any concerns, call your doctor. You may need care sooner.
Seek Care Now
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
- Call your doctor now to discuss the symptoms and arrange for care.
- If you cannot reach your doctor or you don't have one, seek care in the next hour.
- You do not need to call an ambulance unless:
- You cannot travel safely either by driving yourself or by having someone else drive you.
- You are in an area where heavy traffic or other problems may slow you down.
Most bumps, spots, growths, or moles don't need any type of home treatment. But the following steps may help.
- Keep the area clean and dry.
- Wash with a mild soap and warm (not hot) water. Don't scrub.
- Shower after you swim or use a hot tub. It will rinse off chlorine or salt water. Use a moisturizer after you shower.
- Avoid irritating the area.
- Don't squeeze, scratch, or pick at the area.
- Leave the area exposed to the air whenever you can.
- Adjust your clothing to avoid rubbing the bump or spot. Or you can cover it with a bandage.
- Think about hiding a mole or birthmark if you don't like how it looks.
If you are worried about how a skin change looks, try using cosmetics that are made to hide them.
- Pay attention to your diet.
Eat a balanced diet and drink plenty of fluids each day.
To help you see how your skin may change, do regular skin self-exams.
When to call for help during self-care
Call a doctor if any of the following occur during self-care at home:
- There are new or worse signs of an infection, such as redness, warmth, swelling, pus, or a fever.
- A mole or colored skin spot:
- Bleeds or forms an ulcer.
- Changes in size, shape, or texture.
- Becomes sensitive, itchy, or painful.
- Symptoms occur more often or are more severe.
Preparing For Your Appointment
You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared for your appointment.
Current as of: August 2, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2022 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.