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What are benign skin growths?

A benign skin growth is essentially a mass of cells that appears as a growth on the skin. Alterations in the normal genetic growth and function of the skin also present in other ways such as discoloration or skin pigmentation disorders.

It's important to note that not all benign skin growths or pigmentation disorders require a form of treatment or intervention and most can be treated easily by a dermatologist — and should be if they create secondary symptoms and discomfort (be it physical or psychological).


Benign skin growths and skin pigmentation disorders come in a wide variety of forms. The following are among the most common:

  • Birthmarks - Areas of discolored and/or raised skin that are apparent at birth or within a few weeks of birth. Birthmarks are made up of malformed pigment cells or blood vessels. About 10 in every 100 babies have vascular birthmarks (birthmarks made up of blood vessels). Although the cause of birthmarks is not known, most of them are benign (non-cancerous) skin pigmentation disorders and do not require treatment. Despite most birthmarks being benign, parents should have those birthmarks examined and diagnosed by a physician.

The following are the most common types of vascular birthmarks:

  • Flat not elevated stains — These skin pigmentation disorders are the most common type of vascular birthmark. They are characterized by pink to red marks that may appear anywhere on the body.
    • "Angel's kisses" — These marks are located on the forehead and eyelids, and usually disappear on or after two years of age.
    • "Stork bites" — Stork bites are marks on the back of the neck and while some fade partially or completely, they may last into adulthood.
  • Hemangioma — Hemangiomas (or strawberry hemangiomas) are a common skin pigmentation disorder. They typically become visible within the first few weeks of life and continue to grow rapidly for about six to nine months. Once the growth period is finished the hemangioma gradually loses the red pigmentation and begins to shrink.
  • Port-wine stains — A port-wine stain (or a nevus flammeus) is a flat, pink mark that is red or purple in color. The mark appears at birth, often on the face, arms, and/or legs, and continues to grow as the child grows. Unlike other skin pigmentation disorders that fade over time, port-wine stains do not go away. If located on the forehead or eyelid, treatment is commonly recommended as port-wine stains involving the face sometimes lead to eye problems.

Other types of benign skin growths:

As a person grows older there are a number of variables that cause the skin to change including things like sunlight. Most people have some kind of benign skin growths such as freckles and moles, which may multiply or darken over time. Other benign skin growths include:

  • Dermatofibromas – Small, firm, red or brown bumps caused by an accumulation of fibroblasts (soft tissue cells under the skin). They often occur on the legs and may itch.
  • Dermoid cyst – A benign skin growth (tumor) which is made up of hairs, sweat glands, and sebaceous glands. Some internal dermoid tumors may even contain cartilage, bone fragments and teeth.
  • Freckles – Darkened, flat spots that typically appear only on sun-exposed areas of the skin. Freckles are common in people with blond or red hair.
  • Keloids – Smooth, firm, raised, fibrous benign skin growths on the skin that form in wound sites. Keloids are more common in African-Americans.
  • Keratoacanthomas – Round, flesh-colored benign skin growths that have a crater that contains a pasty material. These growths tend to appear on the face, forearm, or back of the hand. They usually disappear after a couple of months, but may leave scars.
  • Lipomas – Round or oval lumps under the skin caused by fatty deposits. Lipomas are more common in women and tend to appear on the forearms, torso and back of the neck.
  • Moles (nevi) – Small skin marks caused by pigment-producing cells in the skin. Moles can be flat or raised, smooth or rough, and some contain hair. Most moles are dark brown or black, but some are skin-colored or yellowish. Moles can change over time and often respond to hormonal changes.
  • Atypical moles (dysplastic nevi) – Larger than normal moles (more than a half inch across), atypical moles are not always round. Atypical moles can be tan to dark brown, on a pink background. These types of moles may occur anywhere on the body.
  • Seborrheic keratoses – Flesh-colored, brown or black wart-like spots. More common in middle-aged and older people, seborrheic keratoses may be round or oval and look like they are "stuck" on the skin.
  • Skin tags – Soft, small, flesh-colored skin flaps on the neck, armpits or groin.
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