Beauty mark or icky mole? You make the call
by Kate Traynor
ery few people have skin as smooth as the proverbial baby's bottom. Most of us have at least a few lumps, bumps or spots on our skin. We're going to talk about three common skin ailments: Warts, skin tags and moles.
Warts are annoying but generally harmless skin growths caused by a papillomavirus. They are found in the outer layer of the skin, and can occur just about anywhere on the body. Some people develop a single wart, while others have clusters of many warts. Skin irritated by shaving or nail-biting is more prone to developing warts than is unbroken skin. Although they are caused by a virus, warts aren't very infectious. The exception is genital warts, which can be transmitted by sexual contact. Any wart that is found in the genital area should be examined by a doctor.
If you look closely, you may notice that the surface of a wart is bumpy, and there may be tiny flecks of blood inside the wart. Plantar warts, which develop on the soles of the feet, look flat because they are compressed by the weight of your body. Walking on plantar warts can be painful or annoying, like having a stone in your shoe.
Warts can be removed or treated by several methods. Freezing, burning and chemical painting can be done by a healthcare professional. There are also over-the-counter preparations that can be painted on warts at home. High-tech treatments such as laser therapy are sometimes successful, particularly with plantar warts. But most warts will gradually disappear with no treatment at all. If a wart is in an inconspicuous place, just leaving it alone and waiting for it to go away is a good treatment option.
Those interested in less conventional treatments should know that warts are susceptible to the power of suggestion. Hypnosis, autosuggestion, and the use of visual imagery are common folk remedies for warts. Dr. Andrew Weil recommends visual self-healing for the treatment of warts. If your visualization skills aren't good you may want to try the banana skin treatment.
No matter what treatment is used, warts tend to recur. The original wart can shed virus into the surrounding skin, causing new warts to form near the old ones. Treating warts as soon as they are noticed will minimize the spread of virus and the growth of new warts.
Skin tags (also called acrochordons or papillomas) are another benign but annoying skin growth. No one really knows what causes them. Skin tags tend to appear in midlife, and may be an inherited condition. Some women develop skin tags during pregnancy.
Although they are sometimes caused papillomas, skin tags aren't caused by a papillomavirus, as warts are. The term papilloma describes the appearance of the growths, not the cause.
Skin tags are usually very small, skin-colored growths commonly found on the neck, arms, and trunk. They may appear elsewhere on the body, as well. Sometimes a small stalk connects the main part of the growth to the skin.
Skin tags that are located on the face or another visible area of the body, and growths that become irritated from contact with clothing can be removed easily. The simplest treatment is surgical removal, usually with scissors, to snip the skin tag off. This should be done by your healthcare practitioner, and not attempted at home. Another removal method is the use of liquid nitrogen to freeze the growth. Whatever treatment is used, remember that even if all skin tags are removed, new ones may appear. There is no known way to prevent the formation of skin tags.
Dr. Weil describes the use of bloodroot paste (applied externally) to remove skin tags. But he cautions that bloodroot is much more potent than the herbal remedies he typically recommends for other medical conditions, and should be used with great care.
Just about everyone has a few moles. The tendency to develop moles is probably genetic. Unlike freckles, which appear on skin exposed to sunlight and fade gradually, moles can appear just about anywhere on your skin. Although most moles are brown, some normal moles may be pink, red, black, or blue-black.
Moles usually begin to form during the first twenty years of life. Often, they first appear as tiny brown specks, then they gradually enlarge. Most moles complete a sort of life cycle, slowly growing, then slowly fading until they disappear after about fifty years. A mole may sometimes slowly increase in size and gradually lighten in color before finally fading away. Some moles will become raised from the skin, and may eventually develop a small stalk and eventually fall off or be rubbed of by clothing. Other moles may grow hairs during their life cycle.
The changes in appearance described here occur very, very slowly. Any mole that suddenly changes in size or appearance, bleeds, or becomes painful or itchy, should be examined by your doctor. Very few moles develop into malignant growths, but any mole that doesn't fit the normal pattern needs to be evaluated. The Journal if the American Medical Association is one of several organizations that describe the ABCD method for evaluating pigmented skin spots.
If you have a mole that you would rather do without, fifty years is a long time to wait and see if it will disappear without treatment. The most common removal method is surgical excision, a quick, simple procedure. If the mole is large, a stitch may be needed to pull the surrounding skin back together, but most moles don't require anything this elaborate. Moles located in conspicuous places, or in areas of the skin that are rubbed or shaved may be candidates for removal. Although shaving over a mole won't cause it to become malignant, the repeated irritation can become annoying enough to warrant removal of the mole. Moles can also be made less conspicuous by using special cosmetics.
Warts, skin tags, and moles are just a few of the many lumps and bumps that can develop on your skin. Although these and most other skin growths are harmless, anything that looks out of the ordinary should be examined by your healthcare provider.
Kate Traynor is a fabulous medical writer babe and mother of two boys. Plus also she's a friend of Lynn. © 1999-2005 Kate Traynor, used by permission.