What to Do About Thinning Hair
Are You More Conservative or More Liberal Than When You Were Younger?

Toad Spots: A Minor Affliction of Old Age

category_bug_journal2.gif As long as we are already talking about non-life threatening medical conditions of old age this week (see Hair Thinning story), why not follow up today with another which Darlene Costner identified in yesterday's comments:

”Now write about those ugly brown mole-like spots that start cropping up all over the body. I am getting so many I think I am turning into a toad.”

No kidding, Darlene, and the toad comparison is exactly right. I've had more than a dozen removed over the years and I currently have a new crop – one on my back, three on my left torso, a small one on my upper chest – waiting to be attended to. But there is no hurry.

SeborrheicKeratosis150 They are called seborrheic keratoses (singular: keratosis), they have no known cause and are never malignant. This example is dark brown but color can range from white to light tan through black. They grow slowly sometimes in groups, tend to look like they are pasted onto the skin and cannot be prevented.

Although they are known to show up starting in teen years and throughout life, they are most often seen on elders and generally increase in number with age. The Mayo Clinic website, which has an informative section on these toad spots, notes:

”Seborrheic keratoses are normally painless and require no treatment. You may decide, however, to have them removed if they become irritated by clothing or for cosmetic reasons.”

Yes – like the one many years ago that grew on my forehead near the hairline along with another on the top center of my head. Although seborrheic keratoses are not contagious, those two prevented me from seeing the hair cutter/stylist until I had them removed.

The several methods of removal are simple; it takes only a few moments in a physician's office.

Because they are removed primarily for cosmetic reasons, private insurance and Medicare usually do not pay for the procedures although they may if your seborrheic keratoses are removed for such medical reasons as intense itching, pain, inflammation, bleeding and infection. These symptoms are rare.

Recurring basal cell carcinomas (carcinomae?) and a whole lot of seborrheic keratoses have left me well versed in which are the harmless toad spots and those that should be seen quickly by a medical professional. Unless you are equally experienced, any new skin growth should be checked by your physician as soon as possible.

Overall, this is hardly a serious health issue – just an unsightly annoyance. Still, it doesn't seem quite fair, does it, to turn so many of us into toads in our old age.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Terry Hamburg: Tails in Black and White


I have so many my wife threatens to play connect the dots some day. Thank goodness I'm well past the age where I'd parade around a beach with my shirt off. I seem to add new ones on a monthly basis.

Every time I find a new one, I leap toward my doctor's office.

Between the wrinkles, toad spots and ugly witch hairs that spring unbidden onto my chin, I can see why crones throughout history have been suspected of being scary old witches. Well, we might as well laugh about it.

Charlotte -- thanks for the language "witch hairs"! I didn't know the name. And I don't need a beard at this age, thank you, universe, very much!

Just another physical symbol of our maturity. :-)

Seems to me there are at least one of these ugly and itchy spots on my body for every year of age! I am 80 years old!
The word "toad", for people who travel with a motor home, refers to the small car that is "toad" behind using a hitch to secure the car to the motor home!

I paste alpha hydroxy cream on these spots. It doesn't take much to dot the spots with this stuff after a shower. While it doesn't get rid of them it softens them and reduces mine considerably.

In addition to toad spots I do have kertoses of a different kind that are pre-malignant and I have had as many as 30 burned off (actually frozen with dry ice) at one time. They are not deadly in themselves but can turn into a malignancy. Insurance does pay for their removal. I see a dermatologist at least 4 times a year.

I have had 12 skin cancers removed. The first two were found when I was in my 40's and the last one a few years ago. They appear on all parts of my body that has been exposed to the sun. Unfortunately, that includes the time when I wore a bikini (don't laugh).

So far I have only had Basel Cell and Squamous Cell carcinomas and have not had a Malanoma.

These skin carcinomas appear mostly on fair skinned blue eyed people, but a melanoma can appear on anyone. If you suspect one, 'hie thee' to the dermatologist post haste because they are fast spreading and deadly.

I have discovered that use of a brush in the daily shower keeps these ugly things at bay. Feels good to gently scrub the dead skin cells away. I suppose a loofah would do the same. I like the idea of alpha hydroxy too!

I'm going to leave the references to alpha hydroxy today, but remind everyone that the rules here include no promotion or recommendation for any kind of medication, prescription or not.

The obvious reason is that I have no way to know of you are a physician and I am not one, so there is no way to know if suggestions and recommendations are safe.

In this case, alpha hydroxy in over-the-counter concentrations is mostly harmless. However, the FDA has warned consumers that using alpha hydroxy creams can increase photosensitivity to the sun.

Therefore, always use sunscreen when exposing skin treated with alpha hydroxy to the sun.

I relate very well to all of this…thinning hair, toad spots and what about yellowing teeth?

I once joked with my dentist about VP Biden’s very white perfect teeth and he and I being the same age. My dentist laughed and said he did not think they were so great…too white and too perfect for his age.

Ahhh..the yellowing teeth. I was just looking through some pictures taken at a party on New Year's Eve. There were several people who I noticed had very yellow teeth. Most are in their late 60's and are well dressed and well coiffed, but..in pictures..the yellow teeth are much more noticeable than in real life.

This is the most I've read about these spots so I'm far more informed than previously. I have had one such spot for sometime and been told "nothing to worry about" and no further information. I haven't worried and it's in a place on my side that is neither publicly viewable nor irritating. Adding to my store of knowledge always makes me happy even when on a matter of so little importance. Thanks.

Just a word about melanoma. My then 39 year-old-son had one removed. It was a-melanotic meaning it was without color; it was sort of a pale shadowy color - not the black color that is a major clue. At the time he and the dermatologist found it he did not tune into any medical things going on in his body. It was a total fluke he said to the MD - "what about this one?". Some serious treatment began - luckily he lives in San Francisco where he got state-of-the-art medical care. All is well today. Scared me though.

PS Ronni - will you tell us what you decide about your hair?

And then there are those little purplish spots just under the skin that appear suddenly for no reason, last for weeks and fade away. When I saw the first one, I said "I have become my grandmother!"

The spots that bug me are the nickel and dime sized purple blotches that appear on my lower arms without apparent trauma. They result from the blood thinner I must take plus, I suspect, fragile capillaries from years of sun damage. Unlike a bruise, they are painless and eventually disappear, only to be replaced by a new one. They are called "senile purpura", adding insult to injury. Ick.

My dermatologist calls them "maturity" spots. I call them barnacles and go see him every six months because I have so many cropping up, can't see most of them except with my fingers and have such a variety that its easier to leave it to him. In these few years, only one was a base cell carcinoma. It looked just like all the other harmless ones but he spotted it right away. I'd never try to discern the nature of any of them after that. I'm grateful to the mirror to look at my back. They seem "other" than me, that way. Indeed, all part of the aging process.

Yikes!!! Something else to worry about!!!

Timely piece. I have a "rash" of barnacles growing on my upper torso in areas sunburned ages ago. As I have had two kind of skin cancer (basal cell carcinoma and melanoma) I see the dematologist every six months. Dianne

You are making me smile and laugh out loud--toad spots, barnacles...good to know I'm not alone in becoming polka-dotted. Another thing: I swear my pubic hair is migrating at night and voyaging to my chin while I sleep. Without GPS, some lose their way, miss my chin completely, and end up on my ear. I wrote an essay about it once...will have to dig it up. This journey toward wisdom and eldering we're taking is not for the faint of heart--or the humorless. Nice to share it with you brave voyagers.

--Patricia Comroe Frank

Yeah, as if we needed something more to worry about, right? So far, I haven't developed a lot of toad spots and just one basal cell carcinoma that I had removed 2 years ago. Being a '50s "California girl"--and dedicated suntanner for far too many years beyond that--I have a variety of skin discolorations (I can relate to polka-dotted) that seem to appear and sometimes disappear out of the blue. However, since they haven't changed over time I don't worry a lot about them. My regular doc says they're keratoses.

As a melanoma survivor, I'd like to suggest that you ALWAYS have strange spots checked out by a dermatologist. Family docs are notoriously under-educated in recognizing malignant skin spots. I'm here today because I got a melanoma removed at the right time, before it spread. Although it was visible and at a critical width and depth, I had to point it out to my family doc. He suspected melanoma, removed it the next day, then sent me to a derm surgeon, who did more extensive surgery looking for mets or signs of mets. That was in 1995. I'm here today thanks to these two guys. Now I know enough to always go to the dermatologist first. If it's nothing, that's fine with both me and him.

These "barnacles" - as my dermatologist jokingly called them - just began to appear on my back over a several year period in my late sixties. They did itch considerably, so when annual skin body checks became appropriate the Dr. said they should be removed which we've done. What a relief! They aren't returning presently.

I had a couple sunburns on my back in my youth which I've been inclined to think has contributed to those skin growths.

About skin aberrations...
Recently a true wart that took on the features of undersea creatures I've seen with hair-like tentacles appeared on my arm, so had to have that removed. Over-the-counter remedies contraindicated.

I didn't know warts of all kinds can be contagious to other parts of the body and to other people though they don't readily do so.

Though this isn't a dermatologist's area of expertise, about the same time the barnacles appeared, what a GYN nurse practitioner identified as sebaceous glands (several) began to fill up in a rather delicate area of my anatomy which was most disconcerting for a time.

Nothing more unusual seems to be growing at the moment, but I'm on the lookout wondering what other cells may go haywire.

Ronni--$$$-saving tip: If you are comfortable with the idea, it may be less expensive to see a Physician's Assistant (PA), rather than an MD dermatologist. Six years ago, my Internist told me to get myself hence to a dermatologist for a "thing" (which I had shrugged off as being of no significance) on my upper lip. In order to be seen earlier, I saw the PA whom I had previously seen for minor skin stuff. She immediately diagnosed the "thing" as a probable basal cell carcinoma (biopsy confirmed, later) and offered to help me find a plastic surgeon to remove it since it was on my face. I asked if she was licensed to do the surgery herself. When she said, "Yes", I insisted that she go ahead and remove the "thing" right then and there.
The PA did a check of the site every 6 months for 5 years; but, has now settled on an annual check. She and I are both pleased with the appearance of the surgical site. Having the PA perform the surgery at the time saved me/Medicare having another appointment to keep/pay for and the expense of a plastic surgeon. The benefit to the PA was that she got to practice on a surgical procedure. Win-win.

I had one that was being rubbed by my clothing, and I went to the dermatologist to have it removed. He told me that if you remove one, two come to the funeral - but I had it off anyway and none have returned in that spot (but in other places.)

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