Pictures of Moles, Nevus, Actinic Keratosis, Psoriasis

Most skin blemishes are not cancerous and don't have the potential to become cancer. If you are worried about a spot on your skin, this gallery of photographs can help you distinguish between cancerous, noncancerous, and precancerous lesions.

Of course, diagnosing skin cancer is far from straightforward, so if you have any doubts, contact your dermatologist or primary care physician as soon as possible.

Actinic Keratosis on an Arm

This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.

Actinic Keratosis skin cancer
Jodi Jacobson / Getty Images

Actinic keratosis, also called solar keratosis, is usually caused by too much sun exposure. It can also be caused by other factors such as radiation or arsenic exposure.

They appear predominantly on sun-exposed areas of the skin such as the face, neck, back of the hands and forearms, upper chest, and upper back. You can also develop keratoses along the rim of your ear. They are typically pink scaley, and flat. Brown spots or "liver spots" are common, and they are benign.

Actinic keratosis is caused by cumulative skin damage from repeated exposure to ultraviolet light, including that found in sunshine. Sometimes actinic keratoses can develop into an invasive and potentially disfiguring skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma.

Most actinic keratoses is not premalignant. Only about 10% will become squamous cell carcinomas.

Actinic Keratosis on a Scalp

This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.

Actinic keratoses are precancerous lesions common on sun-exposed areas of the skin. They can assume many different appearances, but this image shows a very common presentation of AKs on a balding head.
Future FamDoc/Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-SA-4.0

Areas with high sun exposure such as the scalp (on bald individuals), forearms, face, and back of the neck are common sites for actinic keratoses.

Actinic Keratosis on an Ear

This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.

Actinic keratoses are precancerous lesions common on sun-exposed areas of the skin. They can assume many different appearances, but this image shows a very common presentation of AKs on an ear.
Future FamDoc/Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-SA-4.0

These brown spots in the photo are scaly, rough, ​and can bleed. Here, they are shown on an ear, a typical, sun-exposed area of skin.

Actinic Keratosis Close-Up

This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.

Actinic keratoses are precancerous lesions common on sun-exposed areas of the skin. They can assume many different appearances, but this image shows a close-up of a very common presentation of an AK
Future FamDoc/Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-SA-4.0

Actinic keratoses lesions feel rough and dry, which often makes them easier to feel than to see.

They are initially flat and scaly on the surface and become slightly raised. Over time, they become hard and wart-like or gritty, rough, and sandpapery. They may develop a horn-like texture (called a cutaneous horn) from overgrowth of skin keratin layer also known as hyperkeratosis.

Spitz Nevus

Children may develop a benign lesion called a Spitz nevus. This type of mole is typically firm, raised, and pink or reddish-brown. It may be smooth or scaly and usually appears on the face, particularly the cheeks.

It is not harmful but may be difficult to differentiate from melanoma, even for experts.

Atypical Nevi

This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.

Congenital melanocytic nevus. Brown papule on the nose, which developed shortly after birth. The brownish exophytic lesion is well circumscribed.
M. Sand, D. Sand, C. Thrandorf, V. Paech, P. Altmeyer, F. G. Bechara/Wikimedia Commons/ CC-BY-2.0

Although most moles are benign, certain types of moles carry a higher risk for melanoma. It's possible that up to 50% of the population has moles called dysplastic nevi, which are larger than ordinary moles. Most are 5 mm across or larger, have irregular borders, and are various shades or colors. 

If you have dysplastic nevi plus a family history of melanoma—a syndrome known as FAMM—you have a high risk for developing melanoma at an early age, younger than 40.

Similarly, giant congenital nevi (shown in the photo), are major risk factors for melanoma. In such cases, cancer usually appears by age 10.

Psoriasis

This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.

Psoriasis
VOISIN/PHANIE / Getty Images

Psoriasis is an autoimmune skin condition that can increase your risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma. Studies conflict on whether it has any effect on melanoma. There is some evidence that long-term treatment for psoriasis using UVA radiation (PUVA) may increase your risk of melanoma.

Psoriasis appears on the skin as red, scaly patches of skin. These patches are often very itchy and dry. 

Keratoacanthoma

Keratoacanthomas are a low-grade subtype of squamous cell carcinoma. The majority occur in sun-exposed skin, usually on the hands or face.

They are typically skin-colored or slightly red when they first develop and can grow rapidly to 1 to 2 cm in size. Most will spontaneously get better within 1 year, but they almost always scar after healing.

Removal by surgery, or sometimes by radiation, is recommended. In cases not appropriate for excision, due to their size or location, keratoacanthomas may be treated with 5-fluorouracil, a type of medication used to treat cancer, either as a cream or by injection.

Skin Cancer Doctor Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

Doctor Discussion Guide Woman
Was this page helpful?
11 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Cancer Society. How to Spot Skin Cancer.

  2. Hinojosa JA, Williams CL, Vandergriff T, Le LQ. Arsenical keratosis secondary to Fowler solutionJAAD Case Rep. 2017;4(1):72-74. doi:10.1016/j.jdcr.2017.11.008

  3. Sand M, Sand D, Brors D, Altmeyer P, Mann B, Bechara FG. Cutaneous lesions of the external earHead Face Med. 2008;4:2. doi:10.1186/1746-160X-4-2

  4. Hashim PW, Chen T, Rigel D, Bhatia N, Kircik LH. Actinic Keratosis: Current Therapies and Insights Into New TreatmentsJ Drugs Dermatol. 2019;18(5):s161-166..

  5. Nair PA, Chaudhary AH, Mehta MJ.

    Actinic keratosis underlying cutaneous horn at an unusual site-a case report. Ecancermedicalscience. 2013;7:376.

  6. American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. Spitz Nevus.

  7. Silva JH, Sá BC, Avila AL, Landman G, Duprat Neto JP. Atypical mole syndrome and dysplastic nevi: identification of populations at risk for developing melanoma - review articleClinics (Sao Paulo). 2011;66(3):493-499. doi:10.1590/s1807-59322011000300023

  8. Common Moles, Dysplastic Nevi, and Risk of Melanoma. National Cancer Institute.

  9. Viana AC, Gontijo B, Bittencourt FV. Giant congenital melanocytic nevus [published correction appears in An Bras Dermatol. 2014 Jan-Feb;89(1):190]. An Bras Dermatol. 2013;88(6):863-878. doi:10.1590/abd1806-4841.20132233

  10. Geller S, Xu H, Lebwohl M, Nardone B, Lacouture ME, Kheterpal M. Malignancy Risk and Recurrence with Psoriasis and its Treatments: A Concise UpdateAm J Clin Dermatol. 2018;19(3):363-375. doi:10.1007/s40257-017-0337-2

  11. Keratoacanthoma. American Osteopathic College of Dermatology.