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What’s Causing This Skin Lesion?

What Are Skin Lesions?

A skin lesion is a part of the skin that has an abnormal growth or appearance compared to the skin around it.

Types of skin lesions

Two categories of skin lesions exist: primary and secondary. Primary skin lesions are abnormal skin conditions present at birth or acquired over one’s lifetime. Birthmarks are primary skin lesions. Other types include the following.


Small blisters are also called vesicles. These are skin lesions filled with a clear fluid less than 1/2 centimeter in size. Larger vesicles are called blisters or bullae. These lesions can be the result of:

  • sunburns
  • steam burns
  • insect bites
  • friction from shoes or clothes
  • viral infections


Examples of macules are freckles and flat moles. They are small spots that are typically brown, red, or white. They are usually about 1 centimeter in diameter.


This is a solid, raised skin lesion. Most nodules are more than 2 centimeters (cm) in diameter.


A papule is a raised lesion. Most papules develop with many other papules. A patch of papules or nodules is called a plaque. Plaques are common in people with psoriasis.


Pustules are small lesions filled with pus. They are typically the result of acne, boils, or impetigo.


Rashes are lesions that cover small or large areas of skin. They can be caused by an allergic reaction. A common allergic reaction rash occurs when someone touches poison ivy.


This is a skin lesion caused by an allergic reaction. Hives are an example of wheals.

Secondary skin lesions are the result of irritated or manipulated primary skin lesions. For example, if someone scratches a mole until it bleeds, the resulting lesion, a crust, is now a secondary skin lesion.

The most common secondary skin lesions include:


A crust, or a scab, is created when dried blood forms over a scratched and irritated skin lesion.


Ulcers are typically caused by a bacterial infection or physical trauma. They are often accompanied by poor circulation.


Scales are patches of skin cells that build up and then flake off the skin.


Some scratches, cuts, and scrapes will leave scars that are not replaced with healthy, normal skin. Instead, the skin returns as a thick, raised scar. This scar is called a keloid.

Skin atrophy

Skin atrophy occurs when areas of your skin become thin and wrinkled from overuse of topical steroids or poor circulation.

What causes skin lesions?

The most common cause of a skin lesion is an infection on or in the skin. One example is a wart. The wart virus is passed from one person to another through direct skin-to-skin contact.

A systemic infection, an infection that occurs throughout your body, such as chicken pox or shingles, can cause skin lesions all over your body.

Some skin lesions are hereditary, such as moles and freckles. Birthmarks are lesions that exist at the time of birth.

Others can be the result of an allergic reaction or sensitivity caused by conditions like poor circulation or diabetes.

Who is at risk for skin lesions?

Some skin lesions are hereditary. People with family members who have moles or freckles are more likely to develop those two lesions.

People with allergies may also be more likely to develop skin lesions related to their allergy. People diagnosed with an autoimmune disease such as psoriasis will continue to be at risk for skin lesions throughout their lives.

Diagnosing skin lesions

In order to diagnose a skin lesion, a dermatologist or doctor will want to conduct a full physical exam. This will include observing the skin lesion and asking for a full account of all symptoms. To confirm a diagnosis, they make take skin samples, perform a biopsy of the affected area, or take a swab from the lesion to send to a lab.

Treating skin lesions

Treatment is based on the underlying cause or causes for skin lesions. A doctor will take into account the type of lesion, personal health history, and any treatments previously attempted.


First-line treatments are often topical medications to help treat the inflammation and protect the affected area. Topical medication can also provide mild symptom relief to stop pain, itching, or burning caused by the skin lesion.

If your skin lesions are the result of a systemic infection, such as shingles or chicken pox, you may be prescribed oral medications to help ease the symptoms of the disease, including skin lesions.


Skin lesions that are infected are typically lanced and drained to provide treatment and relief. Suspicious-looking moles that have been changing over time may need to be removed surgically.

A type of vascular birthmark called hemangioma results from malformed blood vessels. Laser surgery is often used to remove this type of birthmark.

Home care

Some skin lesions are very itchy and uncomfortable and you may be interested in home remedies for relief. Oatmeal baths or lotions can provide relief from itching or burning caused by certain skin lesions. If chafing is causing contact dermatitis in places where the skin rubs against itself or a piece of clothing, absorbent powders or protective balms can reduce friction and prevent additional skin lesions from developing.

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Content licensed from:

Written by: Kimberly Holland
Medically reviewed on: Jul 26, 2016: Judith Marcin, MD

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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