Everything You Need To Know About That Weird Thing On Your Skin

A guide to all the little red bumps, scaly spots, raised veins and other weird skin things you may be wondering about.

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Dermatologist inspecting skin changes and skin aging

Photo, iStock.

Everyone’s got them: Weird spots, tags, or markings that seemingly appear on your skin overnight. Which ones are harmless and which ones should you flag for a doctor? The three main contributors to your skin changing are biological (through the loss of collagen, which keeps your skin firm), environmental (from sun damage), and personal (based on lifestyle choices). Here’s a list of what experts say are the most common skin conditions that women may develop.

Actinic Keratosis

What is it?

Actinic keratosis is a focused area of sun damage on the skin, commonly on the face, hands or arms. This condition usually appears as red scaly spots (which can also be white or brown) and according to Dr. Renée Beach of the Bay Dermatology Centre in Toronto, it has a distinct sandpaper-like texture.

Actinic keratosis generally affects both men and women with fairer skin, but on different parts of the body. “Men are more likely to have them at the tops or the helix of the ear because they wear their hair short,” says Beach. “Women are more likely to have them on the chest because [they] wear a lot of V-necks, scoop necks and tank tops.”

While it usually starts appearing in one’s 50s and 60s, actinic keratosis can develop earlier if you spend a lot of time in the sun. “It depends on how much cumulative sun exposure you’ve had,” says Beach.

Should I worry?

Actinic keratosis can be an early marker for skin cancer, specifically for squamous cell carcinoma. With that in mind, Beach recommends that you see a doctor for a confirmed diagnosis and discussion of potential treatments. Because this condition is a sign of sun damage, Dr. Kristy Bailey of Compass Dermatology in Toronto recommends you get checked for any other types of skin cancers like Basal cell carcinoma and melanoma.

If you start to notice any changes in the size of a patch of actinic keratosis or if it becomes painful, tender or starts to erode and bleed, you should consult a doctor.

 

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Seborrheic Keratosis

What is it?

Seborrheic keratosis appears as a tan or skin-coloured warty spot and is one of the most common non-cancerous growths that can appear on the face, chest, shoulders and back.

Unlike actinic keratosis, seborrheic keratosis is often genetically predisposed and starts appearing in one’s 30s or 40s, according to Dr. Jennifer Salsberg of Bay Dermatology Centre. These spots also tend to increase in number as you age.

Should I worry?

Unless you notice that a lesion is growing or changing shape, there’s nothing to worry about. “They look bad, so the bark is worse than the bite,” says Beach.

How can I prevent it?

There’s no proven way to prevent seborrheic keratosis, but if you want to remove a lesion for cosmetic purposes, common treatments  involve liquid nitrogen or electrosurgery.

Cherry Angioma

What is it?

These cherry red spots, which can appear on most areas of the body, are actually tiny bulging blood vessels that can be both flat or raised. They’re the most common vascular growths adults develop. They can vary in size and colour, but are usually known for their bright red shade and are more noticeable on fairer skin.

If you’re an adult over 30, you’ll most likely start developing these angiomas, especially if you’ve noticed that they run in your family. According to Salsberg, pregnancy can cause an increased number of angiomas and other vascular conditions due to the increase in blood in a woman’s system.

Should I worry?

These growths are common, but they’re harmless. You can have them removed if you don’t like the way they look or feel, but they’re nothing to worry about unless you notice a change in shape or bleeding.

How can I prevent it?

These angiomas are usually genetically predisposed and just a natural part of aging, so there’s no way to prevent them.

‘Age Spots’ or Lentigo

What is it?

These small sunspots, which look like large freckles, usually start accumulating on your skin in your 30s. They’re common on the back of the hands and face and are usually flat with an irregular shape.

If you’re in your 20s or 30s and older, have lighter skin and spend a lot of time in the sun, you’re at risk of developing lentigo. They’re more commonly associated with older individuals only because you accumulate more spots as you age.

Should I worry?

Most of the time, these spots are harmless and can be removed for cosmetic reasons, but like any skin lesion, if you notice a change in shape, size or colour, get it checked by your doctor.

How can I prevent it?

Sun protection! Wear more sunscreen and protective clothing.

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Skin Tags

What are they?

These pesky little bumps are benign and often appear on areas of the body that receive a lot of friction, like the neck, armpit, groin folds, under the breast and eyelids.

Skin tags are extremely common and almost everyone will develop at least one in their lifetime. Individuals who are middle aged, pregnant, or suffering from diabetes have a higher chance of developing skin tags.

Should I worry?

When someone comes into her clinic to remove a skin tag, Bailey will analyze it under a microscope to confirm that it isn’t anything other than a tag. She’s had cases in the past where tests revealed that what looked like a skin tag was actually an early form of skin cancer. So before you run to the pharmacy for a skin tag remover, run it by your doctor.

Varicose Veins and Spider Veins

What are they?

Spider veins are the common little blue or red veins that you see on the surface of your skin. They’re broken capillaries, found on the legs or the ankles.

Varicose veins are a more severe form of spider veins and more of a nuisance. They are larger and are caused by leaky valves, which result in blood pooling in the veins, causing them to bulge.

Both are more common after age 30 and during pregnancy, partly because fluctuating hormones can relax the walls of veins, causing blood to pool and putting additional pressure on the valves responsible for circulating blood up to the heart.

Varicose and spider veins can also be hereditary, so there’s an increased chance you’ll develop them if they run in your family.

Should I worry?

“If you have sudden pain or swelling in one of your legs, that’s an emergency because there could be a clot there that’s blocking blood flow,” says Bailey. Both varicose and spider veins usually don’t cause health problems, but if you notice any changes with the veins or experience pain, that’s when you should visit your doctor.

Spider veins can be treated at the dermatologist’s office through salt water injections, while varicose veins often require a vascular surgeon. They can be prevented to a certain extent by wearing compression stockings (which encourage healthy blood flow in the legs), making sure you get enough physical activity, and elevating your legs when you’re sitting for long periods of time.