Are There Any Do-It-Yourself Home Remedies for Removal of Seborrheic Keratosis?
On the Internet, people are eager to share ideas for home remedies and “natural” products to treat just about anything, and seborrheic keratosis (SK) is no exception.
Sites with inviting, earthy-sounding names feature chronicles of people who use home remedies to treat seborrheic keratosis. They advocate things like soaking cotton balls in apple cider vinegar and then taping them to their faces. (Presumably, these people go into hiding). Reported success is, as expected, mixed. On YouTube, a woman posts a video of a large facial SK that appears to have shrunken after dabbing drops of tea tree oil on it twice a day. Comments following the video include assurances that she will continue using the home remedy to treat the seborrheic keratosis until it is gone. Whether it’s the lure of the so-called “natural” approach, unhappiness with the currently available treatment options, or the desire to save money, some people would rather turn to their pantry than to their doctor when it comes to treating an SK. Many of these self-reliant types decide to go the do-it-yourself (DIY) route by trying over-the-counter wart treatments, even though SKs are different from warts.
First and foremost, it’s important to bear in mind that the home remedies mentioned “have never been tested for the treatment of seborrheic keratosis. So there is no scientific data to suggest they are safe and effective,” emphasizes Robert Brodell, M.D., professor and chair of the department of dermatology at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson.
What’s more, you shouldn’t be experimenting on your own with a lesion that should be checked out by a professional in the first place. “What if you’re wrong, and you’re trying to treat a melanoma instead of an SK?” says Deirdre Hooper, M.D., a dermatologist in private practice in New Orleans.
“I see many patients who try wart treatments first before they come in to see me,” says Dr. Brodell. “The salicylic acid in these products tends to chew into their lesions. So the patients manage to get irritated SKs, but they don’t get rid of them,” he says. “A wart treatment can take weeks to get to the point of irritating an SK lesion enough to loosen it somewhat,” says Dr. Brodell. The slow pace then spurs people “to overuse the treatment, increasing the chance of blistering and scarring,” points out Jerome Potozkin, M.D., a dermatologist in private practice in Danville, CA, and professor of dermatology at UCSF Medical School. One of Dr. Potozkin’s patients tried a caustic product that he bought online and ended up “burning a hole” in his back. “It was some kind of paste. I never saw the product, but he had an ulcerated crater on his back measuring about an inch in diameter.”
Some home remedies to treat seborrheic keratosis, such as lemon, apple cider vinegar, and coconut oil, contain citric and other natural acids that can irritate the lesion and possibly cause parts of it to dry up and crumble away (at least according to accounts on the Internet), but even if effective to some degree, this can take a very long time. Some people chart their progress over weeks and months, applying the fruits or vinegar multiple times a day. “Ultimately, such herbal remedies may not scar the skin, as wart treatments may, but they can be too weak to be effective,” says Dr. Hooper. Another herbal SK remedy mentioned on the Internet is tea tree oil. “This plant extract may act as a slightly stronger irritant than apple cider vinegar, for instance, but it can sometimes cause an immune system reaction known as allergic contact dermatitis,” says Dr. Potozkin. “Many of my patients have developed allergic contact dermatitis to tea tree oil,” he says. In these cases, an itchy or inflamed rash or bump developed around the SK.
In sum, it’s best to be wary of these DIY remedies and to consult your doctor about available treatments instead. You may spend a little more money upfront, but you’ll have greater peace of mind—not to mention a safe treatment that works.