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Top of the pageCheck Your Symptoms

Skin Changes

Overview

Common skin changes

Most skin changes are normal and occur with aging. Some common skin growths include:

Moles.

Most moles are harmless. They 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.

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. They start as slightly raised tan spots that form a crusty appearance like a wart.

Birthmarks.

Birthmarks are colored marks on the skin that are there at birth or appear shortly after birth. Most birthmarks are harmless and don't need treatment. Many birthmarks change, grow, shrink, or disappear.

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 bother you.

Causes of skin changes

Causes of skin changes may include:

Hormones.

Acne is a common skin change that occurs during the teen years and may last into adulthood.

Melasma is a skin change in which a person develops patches of skin that are darker than the nearby skin. It can be caused by many things, including hormone changes during pregnancy or menopause.

Sun exposure.

Actinic keratosis and actinic lentigines are types of colored skin spots that are caused by too much sun exposure.

Medicines.

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.

Infections.

Bacterial skin infections, such as impetigo and cellulitis.

Fungal infections, such as ringworm, athlete's foot, and vaginal yeast infections.

Viral infections, such as chickenpox, shingles, and fifth disease.

Diseases.

Autoimmune diseases, such as lupus and scleroderma.

Hepatitis, which may cause your skin and the whites of your eyes to turn yellow (jaundice).

Lyme disease, which causes reactions from a tick bite.

Skin cancer, which may start as a new skin growth, a change in a growth or mole, or a sore that doesn't heal.

Health Tools

Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.

Actionsets are designed to help people take an active role in managing a health condition.

Check Your Symptoms

Have you had any changes to your skin?
This includes things like a change in the size or shape of a mole, a color change in the skin, or a new skin growth.
Yes
Skin changes
No
Skin changes
How old are you?
Less than 12 years
Less than 12 years
12 years or older
12 years or older
Are you male or female?
Male
Male
Female
Female

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.
Yes
Symptoms of allergic reaction
No
Symptoms of allergic reaction
Do you have a rash?
Yes
Rash
No
Rash
Are there any symptoms of infection?
Yes
Symptoms of infection
No
Symptoms of infection
Do you think you may have a fever?
Yes
Possible fever
No
Possible fever
Are there red streaks leading away from the area or pus draining from it?
Yes
Red streaks or pus
No
Red streaks or pus
Do you have diabetes, a weakened immune system, peripheral arterial disease, or any surgical hardware in the area?
"Hardware" includes things like artificial joints, plates or screws, catheters, and medicine pumps.
Yes
Diabetes, immune problems, peripheral arterial disease, or surgical hardware in affected area
No
Diabetes, immune problems, peripheral arterial disease, or surgical hardware in affected area
Does your skin look yellow (if it does not normally look yellow)?
Yes
Skin looks yellow
No
Skin looks yellow
Do you think that a medicine could be causing the changes in your skin?
Think about whether the skin changes appeared after you began using a new medicine or a higher dose of a medicine.
Yes
Medicine may be causing skin changes
No
Medicine may be causing skin changes
Does your skin itch?
Yes
Itchy skin
No
Itchy skin
Is the itching severe?
Severe means that you are scratching so hard that your skin is cut or bleeding.
Yes
Severe itching
No
Severe itching
Has the itching interfered with sleeping or normal activities for more than 2 days?
Yes
Itching has disrupted sleep or normal activities for more than 2 days
No
Itching has disrupted sleep or normal activities for more than 2 days
Has there been a change in a mole or other skin spot?
Yes
Changes in mole or skin spot
No
Changes in mole or skin spot
Are you concerned about or bothered by any skin changes?
Yes
Skin concerns
No
Skin concerns

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.
  • Itching.
  • Swelling.
  • 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.
    • Antibiotics.
    • 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.
Allergic Reaction
Rash, Age 12 and Older
Rash, Age 11 and Younger

Self-Care

Many spots, skin growths, or moles are harmless and don't need treatment. But if you saw a doctor for your skin problem, be sure to carefully follow any instructions you were given.

If you don't have instructions from your doctor, the following steps may help.

  • Keep the area clean and dry.
    • Wash with a gentle skin cleanser 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 covering 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 cover them. Or you may be able to cover the area another way, such as with clothing, a hat, a scarf, or a bandage.

  • Pay attention to your diet.

    Eat a variety of healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein. And drink plenty of fluids each day.

  • Protect your skin from the sun.
    • Stay out of the midday sun, or find shade when outdoors.
    • Wear a wide-brimmed hat, a long-sleeved shirt, and pants.
    • Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 on any exposed skin.
    • Wear sunglasses that block UV rays.

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.

Learn more

Preparing For Your Appointment

Credits

Current as of: March 22, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine

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