The ABCs of Skin Lesions

Published September 28th, 2021 by Chris Riley
Fact Checked by
Jacqueline Hensler
Medically Reviewed:
Dr. Angel Rivera

Skin lesions can be a source of anxiety for many people. Whether they're due to an infection, injury, or disease, skin lesions are often hard to ignore and sometimes difficult to diagnose. We’ll discuss the ABCs (and DEFs) of what you need to know about skin lesions such as what causes them, how you can treat them, and more.

What are skin lesions?

Skin lesions are abnormal skin formations and are usually benign. It is a skin condition that causes the development of bumps, growths, or spots on your skin. These bumps could appear anywhere but they usually develop around areas such as the lower back, neck, face, and genital area. Skin conditions like these can create problems with self-esteem, as skin lesions can cause a person to feel different from others. Lesions are quite common and may go unnoticed for a long time before being diagnosed. This is because they can be mistaken for something else such as acne or eczema. Skin lesions can also be caused by conditions that affect other parts of your body like skin cancer, diabetes, and liver disease, to name a few. It's important to know what you're dealing with so you can make an informed decision about treatment options. 

What causes skin lesions?

There are many causes of skin lesions, but there is no way for you or anyone else to know what has caused it if it develops without symptoms beforehand. Some common causes include genetic predisposition, trauma, and psoriasis. There are also several other causes that are less common. We will provide a list of conditions later that can cause skin lesions. If you are uncertain what is causing your skin lesion, you can always see your doctor or dermatologist. 

How do you treat skin lesions?

Skin lesions can be treated in a number of different ways, but the main thing to keep in mind is that the bumps must first be diagnosed by an expert before you can start to treat them. Some ways of treating skin conditions include creams, ointments, laser surgery, and dermabrasion which is a skin resurfacing procedure. Some skin lesions can be removed completely with these methods, but not all will respond to treatment. Sometimes the conditions that cause them need serious medical attention first before skin lesions can be treated. There are also other ways to prevent the appearance of skin lesions from causing you emotional distress, such as wearing clothing that covers the lesion.

What's the difference between primary and secondary lesions?

Primary skin lesions

Primary skin lesions are skin conditions that are caused by internal and external environments. There are a number of examples of primary lesions and here are some of the most common:

  • Acne, also called acne vulgaris, is the common acne most teenagers suffer from that can cause pustules  
  • Bullae are bumps filled with a clear fluid that can be caused by abrasion 
  • Blisters, whether from heat, steam, sunburn–all are primary lesions 
  • Birthmarks 
  • Macules are flat discolorations that can be brown, red, or white; moles and freckles are included in this group
  • Papules are elevated firm lesions like warts 
  • Plaques are elevated like papules and can be firm and rough and can be caused by psoriasis
  • Tumors 
  • Wheals, these are irregular edemas or areas that are elevated due to excess fluid in the tissue; mosquito bites and hives are examples of this 
  • Rashes, whether caused by an allergic reaction or not 

There are a few other examples of primary skin lesions but these are some of the most common. 

Secondary skin lesions

Secondary skin lesions are caused by an irritation or trauma to a primary lesion or from gradual changes over time. Examples of secondary skin lesions include:

  • Crust, this is a scab 
  • Scales, or a patch of skin that forms and flakes away from the skin and can be caused by actinic keratosis 
  • Scars caused by surgery or accident, leave tissues to replace the injured skin; they can also cause keloids which are raised scars that are larger than the initial injury 
  • Ulcers, which are deep open wounds where part of the skin is gone 
  • Fissures or tiny cracks in the skin that may or may not bleed; athlete's foot is a common cause of them 

There are a few other examples but the above are the most common. Should you have any further questions about primary or secondary skin lesions, please consult your medical professional. 

What are skin conditions that cause lesions?

There are a number of skin conditions, also called cutaneous conditions, that can cause skin lesions. Below are some of the skin lesion causes along with a brief explanation for each.

  • Acne, covered above, is typically harmless although it can lower your self-esteem
  • Eczema is one of the most common skin lesions characterized by red, itchy, dry, patches of skin 
  • Cold sores which are caused by the herpes simplex virus and can leave blister-like sores around your mouth and lips
  • Blisters which can be caused by burns or abrasions, form when serum fills a pocket created between layers of skin 
  • Actinic keratosis occurs with too much exposure to the sun and appears as a crusty piece of skin that is pink, brown, red, or grey 
  • Seborrheic keratosis are slightly raised patches of skin that are brown, black, or light tan that are noncancerous and tend to occur as you age
  • Impetigo is a condition mostly affecting children that consists of lots of easily popped blisters around the mouth that form golden scabs
  • Contact dermatitis is a rash caused by an irritant or allergen 
  • Psoriasis is another very common skin condition that leaves patches of silvery, red, irritated skin 
  • Chickenpox, which is still somewhat common, and forms blisters all over the body that itch
  • Shingles can cause patches of blisters or rash that can be very painful
  • Bullae are raised blisters with water fluid inside caused by friction or skin conditions
  • Rashes can be caused by a number of things including allergic reactions and are red patches of skin that may be itchy
  • Hives occur when exposed to an allergen and they cause patches of raised red bumps 
  • Warts are raised, rough bumps caused by the human papillomavirus or HPV
  • Ringworm leaves a rash and is caused by a fungus 

There are other skin conditions that can lead to skin lesions. These are some of the most common, although it is not the full list. If you have any further questions please talk to your doctor or pharmacist. 

Can you prevent skin lesions?

You may be able to prevent some skin lesions but others may be beyond your control. Skin lesions are usually formed in response to certain triggers, so the best way to prevent them is to know your specific triggers. There are a number of ways that you can prevent certain skin lesions from happening to your body. One way is by protecting yourself against sun damage with sunscreen or protective clothing whenever you will be exposed to direct sunlight for long periods of time without protection regardless if you have fair skin or not. Another method involves changing your diet in order to make sure that any vitamin deficiencies related to certain diseases do not cause lesions as well. In addition, it might help if you stopped smoking because this habit has been found to increase the likelihood of developing some types of cancerous tumors which could result in skin lesion formation elsewhere on the body.

Summary

Skin lesions are abnormal skin formations. There are a number of different skin conditions that can cause lesions. Some examples include acne, eczema, cold sores, blisters caused by burns or friction, and psoriasis among many other types. Treatment can involve creams, ointments, cosmetic procedures, and even surgery. You may not be able to prevent all skin lesions but there are some steps you can take in order to avoid certain triggers such as not smoking and avoiding sun exposure without protection when the sun is bright. Another way might involve eating foods rich in vitamins if your diet does not have enough of them already in order to strengthen your immunity against disease-related issues which could lead to further lesions forming elsewhere on the body. If you have any further questions regarding skin lesions, we encourage you to talk to your doctor. 

References and Sources: 

Merck Manual – Description of Skin Lesion

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skin_condition

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lesion

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