A papule is a raised area of skin tissue that’s less than 1 centimeter around. A papule can have distinct or indistinct borders. It can appear in a variety of shapes, colors, and sizes. It’s not a diagnosis or disease.
Papules are often called skin lesions, which are essentially changes in your skin’s color or texture. Sometimes, papules cluster together to form a rash.
In most cases, papules are not serious. Depending on the cause of the papule, such as a wart, it can be relieved with home treatments.
However, if the papules appear soon after you start a new medication, consult your doctor immediately.
Papules are by definition, small, usually less than a centimeter in size, which is about the width of your fingernail. Your papule may have a dome shape, or it may be flat on the top.
It may even be umbilicated, meaning it has a small impression in the middle that looks like a navel. Umbilicated papules can be seen in disorders such as Molluscum contagiosum.
Papules can be seen in almost any skin disease or condition that causes small bumps to appear on your skin. Some examples may be:
- contact dermatitis, which is caused when certain materials touch the skin and create an irritation or allergic reaction
- warts, which are bumps on the skin caused by human papillomavirus (HPV)
- seborrheic keratosis, a condition in which skin growths develop a rough, wart-like appearance)
- actinic keratosis, which is commonly known as sun spots
- cherry angioma, a condition in which red moles caused by a collection of small blood vessels develop
- molluscum contagiosum, which is a skin infection caused by Molluscum contagiosum
- keratosis pilaris, a condition in which patches of rough bumps sometimes referred to as “chicken skin” develop
- eczema, which is also known as atopic dermatitis
Other potential causes
Though less common, the following may also cause papules:
- an adverse reaction to a medicine
- lichen planus, which is a noncontagious skin disease that often occurs on the wrist and is characterized by reddish-purple, shiny bumps
- psoriasis, which is a skin condition characterized by red, tough skin and flaky, scale-like patches
- shingles or chickenpox, which is a viral infection characterized by a painful rash and blisters caused by the varicella zoster virus
- Hansen’s disease (leprosy), which is a disease characterized by skin sores, muscle weakness, and nerve damage
- acrodermatitis, which is a childhood skin condition that has been associated with conditions such as hepatitis B
- bug bites
If you’ve recently started a new medication and think you have developed papules as a result, talk to your doctor about your concern.
Don’t stop taking any medications without letting your doctor know first. You might also want to see your doctor if you have papules as the result of a bug bite.
Some bugs, such as ticks, can carry harmful diseases, such as Lyme disease. Lyme disease can cause symptoms ranging from an uncomfortable rash to brain inflammation.
Talk to your doctor if your symptoms from a bug bite don’t get better after home treatment.
In many cases, you can treat your papule effectively at home. Avoiding materials that irritate your skin can help clear the papules. Some additional treatment steps include:
- Don’t scrub your skin during cleaning.
- Use warm water — not hot water — and gentle soaps when washing.
- Don’t put makeup or perfumed lotions on the affected area.
- Discontinue use of any new makeup or lotion to see if it’s the cause.
- Let the affected area get as much air as possible.
If you or your child who’s healthy, age 12 and younger, and has papules because of chickenpox, the recommended treatment is letting the disease run its course. However, talk to your doctor if your child has chickenpox and:
- is a newborn or infant
- has other skin conditions
- already has a weakened immune system
- is age 13 or older
These individuals may develop more serious complications from chickenpox and may require antiviral treatment. Also, notify the doctor if your child has chickenpox and someone else in the household has a weakened immune system.
If eczema is the cause of your papules, you might want to try bath products made of oatmeal that can soothe your skin. You can also moisturize twice a day with thicker emollients, such as lotions, creams, or ointments. Topical steroids are the most common treatment of eczema and are doctor-prescribed.
While some papules are unavoidable, others may be preventable. For example:
- Getting the varicella vaccine can help to prevent chickenpox.
- Taking probiotic supplementation during pregnancy and continuing through the first 6 months of the child’s life may prevent atopic dermatitis.
- Keeping your skin clean and dry can help prevent cutaneous candidiasis.