20 Types of Skin Lesions

Skin lesions are an abnormal change of the skin compared to the surrounding tissue. They may be something you are born with or something you acquire. They can be benign or severe, generalized or localized, symmetrical or irregular.

A skin lesion's physical characteristics—including color, size, texture, and location—can be used to help establish if there is an underlying cause. Skin lesions are broadly classified as being either primary or secondary. 

Primary Lesions

Primary skin lesions are either present from birth or develop over your lifetime. They are associated with a specific cause or can be a reaction to either internal or external environments. They tend to be divided into three types of groups:

  • Skin lesions formed by fluid within the skin layers, such as vesicles or pustules.
  • Skin lesions that are solid, palpable, masses, such as nodules or tumors.
  • Flat, non-palpable skin lesions like patches and macules

Types of primary lesion include:

  • Bulla: A vesicle that is greater than 0.5 centimeters (cm) or 1/5 of an inch and filled with fluid
  • Cyst: A raised, circumscribed area of the skin, filled with fluid or semi-solid fluid
  • Macule: A non-palpable, flat lesion that is different in color, and less than 0.5cm in size
  • Papule (also maculopapular): An elevated solid lesion, up to 0.5 cm in size, circumscribed and firm. It can appear in various colors
  • Patch: A non-palpable, flat lesion that is different in color and greater than 0.5 cm in size
  • Plaque: Greater than 1-2 cm in diameter, raised like a papule, solid, rough, and flat-topped 
  • Vesicle: A fluid-filled blister less than 0.5 cm in size
  • Pustule: Similar to a vesicle but filled with pus instead of fluid
  • Nodule: A circular, elevated, solid bump of greater than 0.5 cm 
  • Telangiectasia: Clusters of 'spider veins' where tiny blood vessels cause red lines on the skin
  • Tumor: Is larger than 0.5 cm but similar to a nodule in appearance. They can be benign or malignant
  • Wheal: An irregular- shaped, solid, elevated area that can vary in color and is transient

Secondary Lesions

Secondary skin lesions are caused when a primary skin lesion is disturbed, irritated, or changes over time. For example, if eczema is scratched and causes a crust to form, the crust is a secondary lesion. 

Examples of secondary skin lesions include:

  • Atrophy: Occurs when skin becomes paper-thin, transparent, and wrinkled, usually due to the use of a topic agent like topical steroids
  • Crust: A rough, elevated area formed from dried fluid (which can be pus, blood, or serum)
  • Erosion: Loss of the epidermis, moist and glistening in appearance
  • Excoriation: Linear scratches that result in the loss of epidermis
  • Fissure: Linear breaks in the skin that go deeper than the epidermis into the dermis. They can be painful and can be caused by excessive dryness.
  • Lichenification: A rough, thickening of the epidermis
  • Maceration: This is when skin becomes wet, wrinkly, and lighter in color due to being in contact with water or fluid for too long. This can occur due to leaking wounds due to improper wound care.
  • Phyma: A thickening of the skin, often seen in advanced rosacea
  • Scale: A build-up of keratinized cells that form patches and then flake off the skin
  • Ulcer: A wound deeper than the epidermis, damaging the dermis, concave, variable in size, and graded depending on depth
  • Umbilication: A dip inside a skin lesion that looks similar to a navel
1

Acne

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acne vulgaris on face

DermNet / CC BY-NC-ND

Acne presents primarily as papules but can also cause pustules, nodules, or cysts. It is most common on the face, neck, chest, and upper back and can leave scars if not treated.

Acne is caused when your pores become blocked with sebum (oil) or dead skin. It can also be caused by the overproduction of a specific type of bacteria on the skin.

Mild to moderate cases of acne can usually be treated at home with over-the-counter skin treatments and medications. However, if acne persists or is very severe, it is advised to seek medical advice and treatment.

2

Actinic Keratosis

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actinic keratosis
Actinic keratosis.

DermNet / CC BY-NC-ND

Actinic keratosis is caused by exposure to sunlight (ultraviolet radiation) and appears as thick, scaly crusts on the skin. It usually doesn't appear until later in life (most common over the age of 40) due to being caused by years of sun exposure.

Actinic keratosis is often easier to feel than see due to its scaly raised surface. Over time, it can turn hard and wart-like, sometimes developing a horn-like texture.

Get It Checked

If left untreated, there is a 5-10% chance that actinic keratosis can turn into squamous cell skin cancer. If you are concerned, you might have actinic keratosis, then see your doctor or dermatologist.

About 40-60% of squamous cell cancer cases begin as actinic keratosis; therefore, identifying and treating it early can help prevent skin cancer from developing.

Treatment for actinic keratosis can be removal by freezing (cryosurgery), scraping (curettage), or laser ablation. There are also topical creams including fluorouracil, diclofenac, and imiquimod.

3

Blisters

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blisters on feet


Johnny Eickelman / EyeEm / Getty Images

Blisters are fluid-filled areas of the skin. Blisters can be caused by friction (for example, a shoe rubbing when walking) or can be due to a burn, skin disorder, or allergic reaction.

Most blisters can be treated at home. Try not to pop blisters and avoid putting further pressure on the blister area. If a blister does pop, clean the area and cover it with a sterile bandage until healed.

See a doctor if any signs of infection such as pus, fever, or red hot skin around the blister occur.

When a blister is less than 0.5 cm, it is known as a vesicle, and when greater than 0.5 cm, it is known as a bulla.

4

Cellulitis

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Cellulitis infection on ankle
Cellulitis infection on ankle.

LagunaticPhoto / Getty Images 

Cellulitis is a skin infection caused by bacteria or fungi entering the skin. Skin becomes red, swollen, painful, and can leak fluid. It is hot to the touch and can cause a fever and feeling unwell.

Most cases can be treated on an outpatient basis with a course of antibiotics if identified early. However, if left untreated, severe and serious complications can occur, and hospitalization may be needed.

When to Seek Medical Attention

If you have signs of cellulitis, it is vital to seek medical attention. If you notice areas of swelling, redness, pain, or heat in your skin (especially at a site where you've had a cut, bite, or burn), seek medical care immediately.

5

Chickenpox

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Chickenpox

 Alex Tihonovs / EyeEm / Getty Images 

Chickenpox, also known as varicella, is a viral skin infection. It causes red, fluid-filled blisters all over the body that are known for being hot and itchy. These blisters can ooze pus and caused secondary crusting.

Chickenpox is contagious from two days before the rash appears until all the blisters have crusted over. It is possible to recognize chickenpox at home. However, you may want to seek medical advice to confirm the diagnosis.

There is a range of topical treatments that can help soothe chickenpox until the itching and pain subside.

6

Comedones

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comedonal acne on forehead

DermNet / CC BY-NC-ND

Different types of comedones can develop due to acne:

  • Blackheads are open comedones.
  • Soft, painless, smooth macules and papules are known as soft closed comedones.
  • Hard closed comedones have white heads and are also known as milia.

Comedones can be treated with an appropriate skin treatment or can be extracted if necessary. 

7

Cold Sores

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Herpes cold sore
Herpes cold sore.

DermNet / CC BY-NC-ND 

Cold sores are sores that present on the mouth, lip area. They can be red, painful, and cause fluid-filled blisters. There is often a tingling feeling before the sore arrives. Due to cold sores being caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV), people with cold sores may also feel flu-like symptoms simultaneously. 

Cold sores usually go away on their own without any treatment. However, there are over-the-counter topical treatments that can help speed up the process. If a cold sore is very severe or not healing, then a doctor can prescribe antiviral medication.

HSV-1 vs. HSV-2

The general differences between HSV-1 and HSV-2 include:

  • HSV-1: Usually causes oral herpes, with cold sores and fever blisters around the lip and mouth area.
  • HSV-2: Is usually responsible for genital herpes outbreaks.

However, oral or genital outbreaks may be caused by either virus.

8

Contact Dermatitis

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contact dermatitis on ear lobe
Contact dermatitis on ear lobe.

DermNet / CC BY-NC-ND

Contact dermatitis is caused by an allergen or substance that irritates the skin. Symptoms are usually present just in the area of contact with the irritant. It can present as redness, itching, macules, papules, fissures, blisters, swelling, or tenderness to touch. Chronic contact dermatitis can often form plaques. 

Keeping the skin clean and well moisturized can help treat contact dermatitis. Avoiding the allergen or irritant is key.

If contact dermatitis persists and cannot be managed at home, seek advice from a doctor who may prescribe an antihistamine or corticosteroid cream. If infection has developed, an antibiotic may be prescribed.

9

Eczema

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Dermatitis eczema texture of ill human skin
Dermatitis eczema texture of ill human skin.

Pan Xunbin / Getty Images 

Eczema is also known as atopic dermatitis. It presents as an itchy, red rash. Other symptoms include red, grey, brown, or yellow patches of skin, itching, dryness, blisters, fissures, plaques, sensitive and painful patches.

Certain conditions like hot or cold weather can cause symptoms to flare up, and some skin products can irritate. Food allergies, hormonal changes, and pet/dust mites may often worsen symptoms.

The most common treatment types include keeping skin hydrated with emollient, topical soaps and creams, corticosteroid cream, and avoiding triggers and irritants. Mild eczema can be managed at home with over-the-counter remedies, however, your doctor or dermatologist can help you with a treatment plan for more severe eczema.

10

Freckles

woman with freckles on face

Talia Ali / EyeEm / Getty Images

Freckles are small, flat light-brown macules on the skin caused by sun exposure. Most common freckles are harmless and rarely turn into skin cancer. They are more common in people with light, fair skin, or red hair. Freckles do not any treatment unless they change and skin cancer is suspected.

Ephelides and Solar Lentigines

Two types of lesions commonly called freckles are:

  • Ephelides are typical freckles that occur from childhood and are more common in people with fair skin and/or red hair. They tend to be round in shape, just millimeters in size, and appear in various brown shades. 
  • Solar lentigines are circumscribed macules that vary from light brown to black. Most often referred to as sun spots, liver spots, age spots, or actinic lentigines. Caused by chronic photodamage, they are most commonly seen in the elderly.
11

Hives

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Hives on legs
Hives on legs.

Raimo Suhonen / DermNet / CC BY-NC-ND 

Hives are also known as urticaria. They present as red, swollen, raised wheals on the skin. They are usually caused by an allergic reaction to something specific but can happen for unknown reasons.

Hives can sometimes itch or sting. Typically, the individual wheals caused by hives last less than 24 hours, although more can continue to appear. Most cases of hives can be treated with an antihistamine and managed at home.

Urticaria vs. Angioedema

Urticaria and angioedema are very similar, but urticaria only affects the skin, and each wheal lasts less than 24 hours, while angioedema may last for days.

Urticaria occurs on the outer layer of the skin, whereas angioedema occurs under the skin in the subcutaneous tissue. Angioedema can also affect the mucosa, such as the eyelids and lips, and can be painful. It often presents as deep swelling around the mouth and eye areas and sometimes affects the genitals, hands, or feet.

Severe angioedema can cause the throat or tongue to swell, creating breathing difficulties. It can also cause swelling intestinal tract lining, which can lead to gastrointestinal cramping.

It is possible to get both urticaria and angioedema at the same time. Treatment for both urticaria and angioedema is similar. However, if breathing is affected, it is essential to seek emergency medical attention immediately to keep the airway open.

Whether it is urticaria or angioedema, call seek emergency medical care if you experience difficulty breathing, wheezing, chest tightness, tongue/facial swelling, or dizziness.

12

Impetigo

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Impetigo on a child's arm
Impetigo on a child's arm.

Matthew Roberge / Getty Images

Impetigo is a bacterial skin infection caused by bacteria entering the skin through a hair follicle or a small cut. It is very contagious, causing sores, crusts, and blister-like bumps. It most commonly affects young children and is treated with topical antibiotics or oral antibiotics prescribed by your doctor.

13

Keloids

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Keloid scar on hand
Keloid scar on hand.

 

wutwhanfoto / Getty Images

Keloids range in color from flesh-colored to red. They are raised scars that form after an injury or trauma and are caused by an overgrowth of scar tissue. They are often itchy and uncomfortable.

Some people are more prone to developing keloids, and preventative measures are advised to these people to help stop formation. Keloids are harmless and do not require medical attention, but treatment options are available if they are causing cosmetic distress. 

14

Moles

normal mole
Normal mole.

Skin Cancer Foundation

A mole is also known as a melanocytic nevus or simply a nevus. They are usually brown/pink macules, papules, or nodules on the skin that are round in shape. They can be found anywhere on the body and appear at any stage of life.

Moles are usually harmless. However, if a mole changes shape, color, size, or begins to bleed/crust, it might signify melanoma—a type of skin cancer.

ABCDE Rule

When checking your moles, these changes may be suggestive of melanoma and you should see a doctor:

  • Asymmetrical: Look at the shape of the mole. Moles are usually even in shape and relatively symmetrical. Melanomas tend to be asymmetrical and uneven.
  • Border: Normal moles have a smooth edge whereas, melanomas typically have an irregular, jagged border.
  • Color: Melanomas might be uneven in color, whereas moles tend to keep an even color throughout. 
  • Diameter: Moles tend to be small, but melanomas are usually over 6 millimeters (mm) wide.
  • Evolving: Moles don't tend to change much. Melanomas often change in size, shape, color, or texture, so look out for changes.
15

Psoriasis

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psoriasis
Psoriasis.

DermNet / CC BY-NC-ND

Psoriasis presents as red, flaky skin, crusty patches of skin, and silvery skin scales. It can also itch and burn. With psoriasis, the body produces skin cells too quickly over days rather than weeks. The excess growth of skin cells causes thick, raised, scaly patches.

The most common areas for psoriasis to occur are the knees, elbows, scalp, and lower back. Still, it can occur anywhere on the body.

Psoriasis is managed with a combination of self-care, topical medications, oral or injectable immune suppressants, and ultraviolet (UV) light therapy. There is no cure.

Eczema vs. Psoriasis

It can be challenging to tell the difference between eczema and psoriasis. However, there are a few things to look out for:

  • Itching tends to be much more intense with eczema and milder in psoriasis.
  • Eczema tends to occur in places like the crooks of the knees and the elbows. Psoriasis most commonly occurs on the elbows, knees, scalp, and lower back.
  • With eczema, the skin tends to be red, inflamed, cracked, blistered, and may leak pus. However, with psoriasis, the skin appears scaly, flaky, thickened, raised, and can be silvery.

If you are unsure if you have eczema or psoriasis, consult a doctor or dermatologist to ensure you get the correct diagnosis and treatment.

16

Scabies

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Scabies

DermNet / CC BY-NC-ND 

Scabies is caused by a mite and begins with intense itching. A rash can also develop, presenting as small red papules, welts, or scaly lesions. Repeated scratching can cause excoriation.

Symptoms can worsen if an allergy to the mite is present. You can use oral and topical medications prescribed by your doctor to treat scabies, which kills the mites.

17

Sebaceous Cyst

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Cyst of a sebaceous gland on the scalp
Cyst of a sebaceous gland on the scalp. Lester V. Bergman / Getty Images​

Sebaceous cysts are round and filled with keratin. The nodules are firm and usually skin-colored. They can range in size, appearing mostly on the upper body or face, and occasionally rupture.

They do not usually require treatment unless the cyst ruptures, as this can lead to an infection. They tend to grow slowly and are benign.

18

Shingles

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Getty-shingles-rash.jpg
Shingles causes a blistering rash. CMSP / Gettty Images

Shingles are caused by the reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus that causes chickenpox. It is a very painful red rash comprised of macules, papules, and blisters that can break and weep fluid. This can lead to secondary crusting.

The rash is accompanied by itching, burning, and painful sensations. Symptoms such as a fever, chills, headache, and lethargy can also occur. You might often hear the pattern of shingles referred to as a belt or band, as it commonly appears in a belt-like formation around the rib cage or waist. 

You can treat symptoms of shingles with home remedies such as a cool compress. You can also speak to your doctor, who may recommend antihistamines, pain relievers, antivirals, or other prescription medication.

The risk of shingles can be reduced with vaccines like Shingrix. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that people over 50 receive the Shingrix vaccine. It protects against both shingles and postherpetic neuralgia, which is the most common complication from shingles.

19

Skin Tag

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Skin tags
Skin tags on armpit.

DermNet / CC BY-NC-ND

Skin tags, also known as acrochordon, are soft small, skin-colored growths. They occur more often as people age. Removal is not usually necessary, and they do not require medical attention unless they are causing cosmetic concern or are in a position that causes irritation. 

20

Warts

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viral warts on hand
Viral warts on hand.

DermNet / CC BY-NC-ND

Warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). They tend to occur in groups and are contagious. They are raised, flesh-colored papules that may contain tiny black dots in the center. They are not dangerous but can be painful and are easily passed to others.

There are several different types of warts, including common warts, plantar warts, flat warts, filiform warts, genital warts, and periungual warts.

The majority of warts can be treated with over-the-counter remedies. If you have warts that are not improving with home treatments, then speak to your doctor. Your doctor can prescribe specific medication to treat warts or offer in-office minor surgical procedures such as cryotherapy.

Although warts are not considered dangerous, certain types of human papillomavirus that cause genital warts are rare causes of cervical or anal cancer, although they are considered low-risk.

A Word from Verywell

If you are ever concerned about a skin lesion, see a doctor, or ideally, a dermatologist for diagnosis, support, and advice. 

Sudden changes in any lesion should cause concern. Although cancer is a less likely cause of skin lesion changes, early diagnosis and treatment almost always lead to better outcomes. Therefore, if you notice changes in your skin, seek medical advice.

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Article 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.
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  10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Impetigo. Updated May 29, 2020.

  11. Harvard Medical School. Keloids. Updated April 2019. 

  12. Cancer Research UK. Symptoms - melanoma. Updated March 2020.

  13. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What is psoriasis? Updated August 18, 2020.

  14. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Scabies -general information - frequently asked questions (FAQs). Updated September 1, 2020.

  15. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Sebaceous cysts.

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