What All Those Different Bumps On Your Face Mean

A dermatologist tells us which skin conditions are harmless and which ones we may have to worry about.

In a time when politicians deem it necessary to tax beauty as a form of sin, it might be time to redefine the role that beauty plays in our lives. For health care professionals, especially dermatologists, a huge chunk of beauty is defined by healthy, glowing skin. It is the body’s largest organ, after all, and will often reflect the status of one’s health.

In looking to improve one's skin, it is good to remember that for the most part, the majority of skin conditions are harmless and oftentimes, treatable.

Here, a list of very common skin conditions that may or may not be benign:

Pimples or acne

Whether on the face, back, or bottom, acne is a curse that plagues us from puberty. Acne comes in different forms, from non-inflammatory comedones to nasty red pustules and cysts. Located mostly on the face and greasy areas, this condition is multifactorial in nature. Hormone surges, abnormal keratinization of the skin, inflammation, and bacterial colonization are the usual culprits.


But if this scourge of puberty fails to recede after one reaches adulthood, it may be a good idea to have one’s gynecologic status checked for issues that can affect hormone balance, like polycystic ovarian syndrome. Given that hormone imbalances play a huge role in its pathogenesis, gynecologic conditions like PCOS may require a multi-specialty approach. Early detection is key because lifestyle changes are best made at a younger age.

Treatment options may range from topical, oral, or light or energy devices, and may result in unwanted side effects and complications. It's best to consult a dermatologist before trying any of these options.

It would be wise to make a few lifestyle changes, such as managing stress or cutting down on sugar, since these contribute to inflammation.

It's also a good idea to see if certain products exacerbate acne—these include products that contain petroleum or oral or topical steroids. The latter are often found in whitening creams or anabolic steroids or precursors for bodybuilding. Often, these go unnoticed and patients themselves are unaware that they are contributing to the problem.

It is best to seek the help of a dermatologist for proper treatment.

Seborrheic dermatitis

This common inflammatory condition appears as red bumps on the central, most greasy portion of the face. It may or may not be accompanied by dandruff and may cause mild itching and greasy yellowish flaking on the forehead, eyebrows, cheeks, sides of the nose, and back of the ears. It looks similar to skin conditions like psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, and allergic reactions.

The exact origins of seborrheic dermatitis are not completely known but a combination of stress, genetics, cold and dry weather, medical conditions, medications and a weakened immune system have been implicated in its pathology. A yeast called Malassezia, that normally lives on skin, is linked to its occurrence as well. It is not a form of allergy nor is it reflective of one’s hygiene. In fact, it even occurs in newborns, often called “cradle cap”.

Adults between ages 30 to 60 years may have it but men and people with oily skin types are more prone to this condition.

Just as it appears out of nowhere, it can resolve itself spontaneously, often not requiring any treatment. But if it causes great social distress and discomfort from itching, it is best to seek the help of your dermatologist. A trained clinical eye is necessary for differentiating it from other similar looking conditions. Treatment often is topical to alleviate inflammation and itching but your dermatologist may be able to offer options like low-level light treatment (like the Lutronic Healite) or even lasers like the 595 nm Gold Toning Spectra XT laser to help with the redness.


Common skin growths called warts are small, rough, and brown or flesh-colored bumps. These are transmitted by touch and are caused by a virus called Human Papilloma Virus. This virus has many serotypes (about a hundred) and there are types that causes one to have warts on specific areas like the hands and feet, mucosal membranes, and the genital areas. Since it is transmitted by touch or broken areas of the skin, it is best not to stimulate these lesions in order to not spread them or cause autoinoculation.

Warts may disappear on their own but if you have a weakened immune system, they may spread. Many people have them removed because they can be embarrassing or bothersome. Electrocautery or lasers are good treatment options.

Due to their viral nature, they are transmissible. The disinfectant at the gym, slippers in common shower rooms, and fresh towels at the club? Use them. Also use disposable emery boards and your own manicure set when having a manicure or pedicure.

See your doctor about warts if they cause you pain and discomfort. Genital warts are caused by HPV serotypes that are linked to cancer and should be addressed immediately. The best way to treat them is to prevent them from happening. Adopt a no-contact attitude if you suspect that you or someone you are in contact with have them.


Moles, also known as nevi, are common and are a benign proliferation of cells. Junctional nevi are usually small, brown colored, dome-shaped papules. Nevi are classified according to histology and appearance and may be congenital or acquired. Almost everyone has them, as they may appear during childhood or adolescence.

Moles may change in color and size throughout the years, but while these changes are seldom cancerous, it is important to monitor the changes using your ABCDE’s: asymmetry, irregular borders, changing multiple colors, increasing diameter, and evolving changes.

From a dermatologist’s point of view, moles should not really be touched but cultural changes sometimes demand that they are removed because certain positions can bring bad luck. Depending on the type of moles, they may be surgically excised or ablated using an energy device.


Syringoma are benign tumors of sweat ducts that are often small, smooth, and flesh-colored bumps symmetrically seen around the eyes of females. These are normally benign but are mostly multiple in nature. They may or may not be treated using cautery or laser ablation. What makes this a bit tricky to treat is the location of the lesions. The skin around the eye area is a very thin region and very aggressive ablation can lead to scarring, textural changes, and pigmentary issues. Keep in mind that multiple sessions may also be needed to remove syringomas and it is best to treat them when they are smaller.


Milia are small epidermoid cysts that are either single or multiple firm white or cream-colored papules. They are not inflamed, nor are they symptomatic. These can easily be removed by scraping out the contents after breaking the surface of the papule with a sterile needle.

Sebaceous gland hyperplasia

These are asymptomatic small lesions on the face that look like small yellow papules with a central depression. These can usually be found on the forehead and cheeks of patients with oily skin. These are basically oil glands that have gone wild. The surface of the glands are often dilated with debris-containing ducts. The best way to treat this condition is to remove it using cautery or laser ablation. The glands may be mistaken for basal cell carcinoma so it is best to have this checked by a dermatologist.

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