Seborrheic warts are so warty-looking that they are frequently mistaken for true warts. There are distinct differences, the most prominent of which is that real warts are caused by a virus, and seborrheic warts are not. Even the name seborrheic warts is incorrect as the correct title for this skin condition is seborrheic keratosis. Like warts, keratosis can be unsightly in appearance which leads sufferers to desire to remove the lesions. Beyond aesthetics, however, seborrheic keratosis are completely harmless. Follow along with this guide to understand the differences as well as your options for removal.

What is a seborrheic keratosis wart?

A seborrheic keratosis wart is a benign and harmless skin tumor that frequently appears as individuals age. A keratosis is a pigmented growth of skin, and is often brown or black. Designation as a wart is a misnomer in this case as they are unrelated to warts. Sometimes infected warts are mistaken for seborrheic keratosis tumors, but this is rare. For more information on infected warts, see this article. While the word tumor may sound scary, seborrheic keratosis does not cause cancer and is safe to leave on your skin.

Seborrheic Keratosis

Seborrheic Keratosis

There are many differences between seborrheic keratosis and actual warts, here are just a few:

  • Seborrheic keratosis is not caused by a virus.
  • They are not contagious.
  • They have waxy surfaces.
  • Will never grow on the palms or bottoms of feet.
  • They do not go away on their own after time.

Seborrheic keratosis often begins as small bumps that are often colored brown or tan. These tiny bumps grow into a more wart-like appearance but with a very waxy feel. They are often described as looking pasted on and not necessarily part of the skin. Some people may develop them singly while others may have many at a time. They can occur anywhere but the palms and soles of the feet. Warts often favor specific places but just because they occur at the joints of the fingers, elbows and knees does not mean they are normal warts. Click here to learn about normal warts on elbow, knee or other joints.

Who gets it?

Seborrheic keratosis is common in middle-aged and older individuals. Like liver spots, the likelihood of them appearing increases the older you get. While most common for the elderly, they can appear in teenagers and young adults as well. Studies have shown there can also be a genetic component to their emergence which likely contributes to their appearance on far younger individuals.

Older with seborrheic keratosis

Seborrheic keratosis is found in nearly all elderly people.

In short, anyone can get seborrheic keratosis, but the rarity for young children is quite extreme as it is almost never seen without the child having another condition which causes the child to age quickly. Other members of your family having these benign tumors can increase your likelihood of developing them solely through genetics, as they are not able to be spread person to person like a virus.

What causes keratosis warts?

The exact cause of keratosis warts is unknown, but there are general theories. Due to the age-related preference, it is theorized that it is a natural sign of skin degeneration or aging. The skin on the human body changes quite drastically as we age and imperfections and other skin issues develop. Once again liver spots are often the mirror comparison when considering the cause of keratosis warts.

Their similarities include:

  • Both are benign skin conditions.
  • Both are harmless and require no treatment.
  • Both are common in older individuals.
  • Tend to appear when the skin is less able to regenerate effectively.

Keratosis warts occur as skin ages and in those who spend a lot of time in the sun. Liver spots also occur as skin ages and for those who are frequently exposed to the sun. As for the genetic component, it may simply be that those individuals have skin that ages faster on average than other members of the population.

How to differentiate from melanoma?

Seborrheic keratosis is frequently mistaken for melanoma by individuals attempting to self-diagnose. Melanoma is the most serious kind of skin cancer. The opposite is also true which can lead to cancer not being detected until a later stage due to the mistake. Therefore it is important to visit a doctor for confirmation when suspect skin conditions occur. There are some signs to look for that will help you be able to differentiate seborrheic keratosis from skin cancer but should never be used as the only guide. With seborrheic keratosis, you do not need to worry about it eventually developing into a cancerous wart. For further detail about this subject, check out our page on a cancerous wart here.

Melanoma signs

Cancer detection warning
Malignant melanoma can resemble seborrheic keratosis even to doctors. While it frequently is easy to tell apart, there are exceptions and double-checking with your doctor can save your life. Never use online information as your only means of determining whether or not a lesion is cancerous or pre-cancerous.

One of the main ways to differentiate seborrheic keratosis from malignant melanoma is to look for signs of uniformity. Keratosis is uniform in color across the entire surface while skin cancer may have differences in shades and colors on the surface. Additionally, the surface of a keratosis is smooth, and the height of the growth is the same across the entire lesion. Melanoma, on the other hand, can be highly raised in some places and closer to the skin in others.

Other noteworthy features that distinguish seborrheic keratosis from melanoma are:

  • Melanoma has irregular borders while keratosis has smoother borders, circular or oval borders.

    Benign vs Malignant

    Benign vs Malignant
  • Keratosis are largely symmetrical, asymmetry is a sign of melanoma.
  • Lesions that are bigger around than a pencil eraser are more likely to be melanoma.


Seborrheic keratosis typically does not need to be treated as the lesions cause no harm. Removal is often requested due to the lesions being unsightly or because the friction of clothing rubbing against them has caused some irritation. In older people, it can be a fruitless endeavor as more of them will likely show up. Treatment is usually just for cosmetic reasons and thus can be expensive in some cases. Common treatments are laser surgery, cryosurgery, and surgical removal.

All of the aforementioned treatments will need to be performed by a doctor, but there are ways to treat your seborrheic keratosis at home. Home remedies such as dabbing with apple cider vinegar daily are frequently used, but successful results may vary. Many over-the-counter wart removing products can also work on seborrheic warts though treatment may take longer depending on size and thickness of the lesion.

Top 3 products to use

Here are the top three products to use to treat your seborrheic keratosis in the comfort of your own home. Each product listed is an inexpensive option when compared with conventional treatments that require a doctor’s visit or cosmetic surgical procedure.

  1. 40% Glycolic Acid Peel
    Glycolic acid peel 40%Price: $18
    Where to find: Amazon
    Benefits: Exfoliates skin, slowly works down seborrheic keratosis with twice weekly use. Removes without scars.
    Best use: Use only on the lesion, not on healthy skin.
  2. Dr. Scholl’s Freeze Away Wart Remover
    Dr.Scholl's Freeze Away Wart RemoverPrice: $12
    Where to find: CVS Pharmacy, Walmart, Amazon
    Benefits: Contains seven treatments in one package. Works great for quick removal of a keratosis.
    Best use: Use as directed as if treating a wart. Avoid healthy skin. May take more than one treatment.
  3. Tea Tree Oil
    Tea tree oilPrice: $6
    Where to find: Amazon, any therapy oil store.
    Benefits: Natural product without fillers or dilution. Improvements can be seen within 2 weeks.
    Best use: Apply directly to lesions once daily. Stop usage of oil if no improvement is seen after 2 weeks.

Seborrheic wart is the nickname of a skin condition manifesting as lesions that resemble warts. Although they are not warts, they share some characteristics and are removed by dermatologists in the same way. They are not contagious or caused by any virus or bacteria. Instead, they are a natural product of aging skin. Removal is unneeded as the lesions are harmless, but they are sometimes removed for cosmetic reasons.

You can find further details of Types of warts here.