What causes skin lesion? 34 possible conditions

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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 types 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:

  • blisters: also called vesicles; these are small lesions filled with a clear fluid. Vesicles can be the result of sunburns, steam burns, insect bites, friction from shoes or clothes, and viral infections.
  • macule: freckles and flat moles. Macules are small spots that are typically brown, red, or white. They are usually about one centimeter in diameter.
  • nodule: a solid, raised skin lesion. Most nodules are more than two centimeters in diameter.
  • papule: a lesion that is rough in texture. Most papules develop with many other papules. A patch of papules is called a plaque. Plaques are common in people with psoriasis.
  • pustule: small lesions filled with pus. They are typically the result of acne, boils, or impetigo.
  • rash: 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.
  • wheals: skin lesions 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:

  • crust: a crust, or a scab, is created when dried blood forms over a scratched and irritated skin lesion.
  • ulcer: typically caused by a bacterial infection or physical trauma.
  • scale: patches of skin cells that build up and then fall off the skin.
  • scar: 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: areas of your skin that become thin and wrinkled from over use of topical steroids or antibiotic creams. 

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. Warts are caused by a virus that is transmitted by touch. 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. Still 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 auto-immune 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 unsuccessful treatments previously attempted.


First-line treatments are often topical medications to help clean, disinfect, and protect the affected area. Topical medication can also provide mild symptom relief to stop pain, itching, or burning caused by the skin lesion. When skin lesions are the result of a systemic infection, such as shingles or chicken pox, patients may be prescribed oral medications to help ease the symptoms of the disease, including skin lesions. 


Skin lesions that are infected or extremely painful can be lanced and drained to provide relief. Moles that have become cancerous may need to be removed surgically. A type of birthmark called vascular birthmarks result from malformed blood vessels. Surgery can remove this type of birthmark, too. 

Home Care

Some skin lesions are very itchy and uncomfortable and patients may use home remedies. Some oatmeal baths or lotions can provide relief from itching or burning caused by certain skin lesions. If chaffing is causing contact dermatitis in places where the skin rubs against itself or a piece of clothing, absorbent powders or baby powder can reduce moisture and prevent additional skin lesions from developing.

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See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.


Seborrheic Keratosis

Seborrheic keratosis is a type of harmless skin growth that bears a resemblance to skin cancer. Growths may have a wart-like surface and waxy appearance.

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Warts are raised bumps on your skin caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). Warts have plagued humans for thousands of years-they have been discovered on 3,000-year-old mummies and were mentioned by Shakespeare...

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Actinic Keratosis

Actinic keratosis, or sun spots, is a common skin condition. It occurs when skin cells grow abnormally, forming scaly, discolored spots.

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Candida Fungus Skin Infection

Candida is a type of fungus that can cause an infection in your skin. In normal conditions, your skin may host small amounts of this fungus, but problems arise when it begins to multiply and creates an overgrowth...

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Allergic Eczema

When your body comes in contact with something that could make you ill, your immune system promotes chemical changes to help your body ward off disease. You are exposed to thousands of substances each day, and most wil...

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Gout Overview

More than 8 million Americans suffer from gout, and incidence of the disease has increased by about half in the last 20 years. Explore our gout learning center and learn more.

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Melanoma Overview

Because it often goes undetected, melanoma is the most dangerous of skin cancers. Learn about the causes, signs and treatments for melanoma.

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Ringworm of the Body (Tinea Corporis)

Ringworm is a contagious skin infection causing a small, itchy, ring-shaped rash. It is not caused by worms but rather a fungus.

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What is Skin Cancer?

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer people get in the United States. Read an overview about the causes and types of skin cancer.

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Lichen Planus

Lichen planus is a fairly common skin rash that is thought to be triggered by the immune system. It causes lesions in the mouth that may be painful or burn.

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The body's nervous system is divided into two main areas: the central nervous system (which includes the brain and the spinal cord) and the peripheral nervous system . The sympathetic nervous system , part of th...

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Impetigo is a highly contagious skin condition. It usually occurs on the face, neck, and hands of young children and infants. Children who wear diapers also tend to get it around the diaper area. Impetigo occurs mor...

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Erysipelas is a bacterial infection in the upper layer of your skin. It is similar to another skin disorder known as cellulitis, an infection in the lower layers of your skin. In practice, it is almost impossible fo...

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Leprosy is a chronic, progressive bacterial infection. It primarily affects the nerves of the extremities, the lining of the nose, and the upper respiratory tract. It is caused by the bacteria Mycobacteriu...

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Contact Dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is a condition that makes skin red or inflamed after contact with a particular substance. Contact dermatitis is either the result of an allergen or an irritant. Allergic dermatitis usually appear...

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Your skin has tiny holes called pores that that can become blocked by oil, bacteria, and dirt. When this occurs, you may develop a pimple or "zit." If your skin is repeatedly affected by this condition, you may hav...

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Eczema is a common skin condition hallmarked by itchy and inflamed patches of skin, particularly on faces in infants, as well as inside the elbow and behind the knees of children, teenagers, and adults. Also commonl...

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Keloid Scar of Skin

When skin is injured, fibrous tissue (called scar tissue) forms over the wound to repair and protect the injury. In some cases, scar tissue grows excessively, forming smooth, hard growths called keloids. Keloids can b...

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Also known as varicella, chickenpox is a virus that often affects children. It is characterized by itchy red blisters that appear all over the body. Chickenpox was once so common it was considered a childhood rite o...

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Postmenopausal Bleeding

Postmenopausal bleeding is bleeding from the vagina after a woman has stopped having menstrual cycles due to menopause.

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This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.
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