Skin Mysteries Explained

Is it a keloid?

WEERACHAT/SHUTTERSTOCKKeloids occur when scar tissue grows excessively, explains Gary Goldenberg, MD, a dermatologist and an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Keloids often form around a wound or incision, but they may appear after a bad bout of acne. (They’re actually one of five common acne scars.) “Keloids are red, raised and can be itchy or painful,” he says. They’re more common in darker skin and often show up on the ears, chest, face or back. Many different treatments work alone or together to improve keloid scarring including steroid injections to flatten the scar, cryosurgery to freeze the scar tissue so it sloughs off, laser resurfacing, and surgery, he says. “You do need realistic expectations about how much keloid scarring can be improved with any treatment.”

Is it a skin tag?

PHOTOSTHAI/SHUTTERSTOCKSkin tags are exactly what they sound like—tiny, soft skin-colored growths, Dr. Goldenberg says. “They often develop around the eyelids, armpits, groin or other areas that are easily rubbed or irritated.” (Before you do anything, check out this advice on skin tags.) Medically known as acrochordons, skin tags are more common if you are overweight, pregnant, or have diabetes. They are not harmful in any way, shape or form, he says. “If they bother you, a doctor can freeze, laser, or snip them off.”

Is it a hive?

JANA KOLLAROVA/SHUTTERSTOCKDoes the bump itch like crazy? Tend to come and go? Get worse at night? If so, it could be a hive, Dr. Goldenberg says. Also known as urticaria, hives are usually a result of an allergy—and there are plenty of more surprising everyday things you can be allergic to. Viruses can cause hives too, but many times hives are idiopathic in nature, meaning that there is no known cause. This can be extremely frustrating and vexing, he says. “If you know you break out in hives when you eat a certain food or are exposed to a specific chemical, avoid those triggers,” he says. Over-the-counter antihistamines such as Benadryl or Zyrtec can also help curb the itching. A new injectable, Xolair (omalizumab), is now U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved to treat chronic hives. Talk to your doctor about the best treatment for you.

Is it a wart?

MARTIN BOWRA/SHUTTERSTOCKWarts are usually small skin-colored growths that feel rough when you touch them. Some may be sprinkled with tiny black dots. “They are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), and often occur on the hands and feet,” Dr. Goldenberg says. They can also show up in the genital area. You can try over-the-counter solutions, or opt for lasers or even surgery. And then there are natural remedies that can help get rid of warts on your face, hands, or feet.