Bumps on your face come in all different shapes, sizes, colors, and textures—and most are totally harmless. Some, however, are slightly more concerning or may take some detective work to figure out what they really are.
In general, if a bump on your face isn’t bleeding, turning darker, or changing in a concerning way, it probably doesn’t need any type of medical intervention, Joel Schlessinger, M.D., dermatologist and RealSelf Advisor, tells SELF. Other bumps, like acne, can often be managed at home or in consultation with your dermatologist through a skin-care regimen, he says.
But, “if a bump changes in color or shape, bleeds, or increases in size rapidly, it’s time to schedule an appointment with a board-certified dermatologist to have it checked out,” Dr. Schlessinger says. Those are signs that the bump could be associated with more serious health issues, so it’s crucial to get it looked at.
Here’s what you need to know about some of the most common bumps you might find on your face and how to manage them, as well as how to determine whether or not they’re worth bringing up to your doctor.
These common bumps can appear on the face and other parts of the body and are categorized in two groups: closed comedones (more commonly known as whiteheads) and open comedones (blackheads).
“They are similar in the fact that they are both pores that have been clogged with excess oil and dead skin cells,” Dr. Schlessinger says. The difference is that “with blackheads, the comedone is open so oil and dead skin cells become oxidized, taking on a brown or black hue,” he explains. Whiteheads, on the other hand, are closed, making the cocktail inside appear white, pinkish, or flesh-colored.
Comedones aren’t harmful, but they can be annoying. To manage them (and prevent full-blown breakouts), Dr. Schlessinger recommends that you always wash your face before you go to bed and use a cleanser that contains at least 2 percent salicylic acid to clear clogged pores and help prevent future breakouts. Retinoids, benzoyl peroxide, azelaic acid, and oral antibiotics may also be useful, and your dermatologist can help put together a skin-care regimen that makes sense for you.
It’s also important to avoid using pore strips to remove blackheads. “The adhesive used to adhere them to the skin can damage your complexion,” he says. “Plus, they strip the skin of natural oils and are usually only successful in removing the tops of blackheads, keeping pores clogged and your problem intact.”
2. Inflamed pimples
You know you’ve got one of these when you notice a painful bump crop up on your face, sometimes with a large white head and a red circle surrounding it. These occur when the bacteria in our pores starts to mix with the excess buildup of dead skin cells and oil that causes acne. Inflamed acne is often red, painful, swollen, and possibly filled with pus.
If you develop inflammatory acne, try not to panic—and, whatever you do, avoid squeezing or trying to pop the spot, as this can lead to even more redness and inflammation. Plus it could increase your risk for developing a scar, Jerome Garden, M.D., dermatologist and director of the Physicians Laser and Dermatology Institute in Chicago, tells SELF.
To try to reduce breakouts like these, he recommends using a gentle cleanser containing benzoyl peroxide and opting for oil-free skin-care products. You can also add in some antiinflammatory treatments: “Once the pimple sets in, a safe way to try to decrease the inflammation quickly is to mix hydrocortisone 1 percent cream and a benzoyl peroxide cream and apply to the pimple twice a day until the inflammation has resolved,” he says.
If you’re getting pimples like these regularly, talk to a dermatologist about prescription options.
If you’ve ever noticed a few tiny whitehead-looking bumps on your face that wouldn’t budge no matter how many times you attempted to pop them or wash them away with an acne-fighting cleanser, they were probably a type of harmless cysts known as milia.
These keratin-filled cysts “usually pop up near the eyes, cheeks, and nose, can occur in any skin type or skin color, and happen to be very common in newborns,” Dr. Schlessinger explains. “Milia often appear without any specific reason, although they are more prevalent in people with skin conditions like rosacea, as well as those that have excessive sun damage, have experienced skin trauma like burns, or for those whose pores are chronically clogged with oil-based makeup and skin care.”
Milia aren’t harmful. But if you want to attempt to get rid of them, Dr. Schlessinger recommends choosing products with alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs)—like glycolic or lactic acid—to exfoliate the skin. Additionally, a dermatologist can remove milia with a small incision.
4. Keratosis pilaris
These tiny, goosebump-like markings typically occur on the thighs and upper arms, Dr. Schlessinger says, but they can also appear on your face. They can also sometimes be hereditary, and although they can show up at any age, they are usually more prevalent in children.
“Keratosis pilaris bumps can be confused with ‘goosebumps’ or even pimples but are actually caused by small plugs of dead skin cells that block the hair follicle,” he explains. “They pose no health risk and don’t require treatment necessarily, but regularly exfoliating your skin can help improve keratosis pilaris bumps.”
Many people find that this condition improves with age, with most people outgrowing it by about 30. In the meantime, Dr. Schlessinger recommends a glycolic acid-containing wash, which exfoliates to provide a noticeable reduction in bumps.
Whether you’ve had them forever or are only noticing some cropping up on your skin as you age, moles are perfectly normal and, most of the time, harmless. They often appear as brown, red, or flesh-colored spots or bumps on the face, as well as other parts of the body, and are quite common. In fact, nearly every single person has at least one mole.
These types of bumps or spots form when melanocytes, the skin cells that create melanin, clump together or grow in clusters rather than being spread out. Experts aren’t totally sure what causes moles to form, but sun exposure is thought to increase the number of moles on your skin, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) explains.
“Moles can be flat or raised and, if harmless, are typically round-shaped,” Dr. Schlessinger says. The AAD also says it’s normal for them to lighten or darken as you age. A mole that doesn’t pose any risk for cancer doesn’t need to be treated or removed.
However, if a mole starts to change or grow in size, Dr. Schlessinger warns that could be a sign of something more serious, particularly skin cancer. It’s also concerning if a mole has an asymmetrical shape, an irregular border, changing or uneven color, and is over a quarter of an inch in diameter, the Mayo Clinic says.
If you notice any bleeding, irritation, or dark coloration associated with a mole anywhere on your body, have it checked out by a dermatologist as soon as you can to rule out melanoma. And schedule yearly checks with your derm to ensure you’re staying on top of your skin care overall.
6. Dermatosis papulosa nigra (DPN)
These are not moles, but are a different kind of skin bump: Dermatosis papulosa nigra (DPN), which are completely benign and harmless skin spots common in darker skin tones that usually runs in families. These spots are technically not moles and cannot become cancer, according to Dr. Garden. “Moles are deeper in the skin, but DPNs are a very superficial buildup of epidermal cells and usually starts to appear in your 20s,” he says. “These brown bumps can be very small and don’t grow much larger than a few millimeters; however, one person can have dozens of spots on the face.”
If you think you might have DPN, it’s still worth having a dermatologist take a look to make sure. There’s not much you can do to prevent DPNs from forming or becoming more noticeable other than wearing sunscreen and practicing sun protection. If you already have them, you can try using an over-the-counter wash containing salicylic acid or glycolic acid, which “are gentle chemical exfoliants might keep these spots a bit thinner or small,” adds Dr. Garden. “Additionally, prescription-strength retinoids can also potentially diminish the appearance of DPNs, although it is unlikely to remove them.”
You can also have these spots gently removed by a board-certified dermatologist with a laser or cautery.
7. Skin tags
These are usually oval-shaped, benign skin growths that connect to the skin on your body or face, via a stalk. They feel soft to the touch and typically appear on the neck, upper chest, eyelids, groin area, and underarms, Dr. Schlessinger says.
Skin tags are totally harmless as long as they don’t grow rapidly, change color, or become infected or painful in any way. “It is very common for me to have patients who think they have what looks like ‘skin tags,’ but in reality is a skin cancer or other, more concerning condition,” Dr. Schlessinger says. So if your skin tag exhibits any concerning changes (like those of moles), make an appointment with your dermatologist to get it checked out.
That said, if your skin tags aren’t bothering you, there’s no reason to remove them. “But for aesthetic purposes, a dermatologist can remove them by cutting them off or cauterizing them with heat,” Dr. Schlessinger says.
8. Allergic reaction
Sometimes bumps on the face or other parts of the body may be a result of an allergic reaction to something you ate or wore, or to a product you applied.
In some cases, marks on your body may be hives (also called urticaria), which is characterized by red, itchy bumps or welts that appear suddenly upon exposure to an allergen. If the hives are mild, Dr. Schlessinger recommends simply treating them at home with a cool bath, over-the-counter allergy medication, or applying a cool compress to the site. If the hives are more severe or you’re also experiencing shortness of breath, swelling, or having trouble breathing, seek medical attention right away.
Another type of common allergic reaction or skin sensitivity that appears on the skin is known as irritant contact dermatitis. It’s visibly different than hives in the sense that it presents more as an overall redness rather than specific welts. It’s also the result of direct skin contact with things like poison ivy, jewelry, or ingredients in skin-care or makeup products.
Once you’ve pinpointed the cause of the reaction, you should definitely stop using it or coming into contact with it (like a detergent or article of clothing), as SELF explained previously. Then, try your best not to scratch the area so that the damaged skin can start to heal. You can take an oral antihistamine and use an over-the-counter hydrocortisone treatment balm, Dr. Schlessinger says.
If those tactics don’t help, talk to your dermatologist who may prescribe a stronger anti-itch medication or a corticosteroid shot to calm the inflammation.
9. Bumps due to eczema
This common skin condition, also called atopic dermatitis, usually shows up before age five, but can technically occur at any age. “Eczema often appears as oozing or crusted bumps, patches or plaques and, if chronic, even as thick scales, and arises from an interaction between both genes and the environment,” Jeremy A. Brauer, M.D., a New York–based dermatologist, tells SELF.
The right treatment depends on several factors, including the age of the patient and their symptoms. Treatment can include oral, topical, or injected medications. “In many cases, a change in environmental factors—avoidance of known triggers, a change in bathing habits —can relieve symptoms,” says Dr. Brauer.
He recommends patients opt for shorter, lukewarm showers using gentle fragrance-free products followed by moisturizing. He also recommends washing clothes with detergent for sensitive skin (like Seventh Generation Free & Clear or Dreft) as well as washing your hands less frequently or making sure to use moisturizer afterwards.
10. Bumps due to rosacea
Another chronic inflammatory condition, rosacea, typically appears on the face, Dr. Garden says. “It tends to cause a background redness of the cheeks, nose, chin, and lower forehead, as well as acne-like bumps in some patients.”
Unfortunately, there’s no total cure for rosacea. However, there are ways to decrease the inflammation that causes the redness and bumps. “People with rosacea tend to have more sensitive skin in those parts of the face affected, so swapping out harsh soaps for gentle cleansers and light moisturizers is helpful,” says Dr. Garden. “Sun protection is also paramount in rosacea as the UV radiation from the sun makes the inflammation worse.”
But everyone has their own set of triggers, which may include things like alcohol, exercise, and specific skin-care or makeup ingredients. So it’s important to manage your exposure to those triggers as much as possible.
There are some other treatment options, such as topical azelaic acid, topical prescriptions, and oral antibiotics, which your dermatologist may steer you towards. Because there are many skin conditions that can mimic rosacea, such as acne, eczema, and Lupus, it’s important to seek the diagnosis of a board-certified dermatologist before self-treating at home.
11. Bumps due to ingrown hairs
Most of us have experienced an ingrown hair on our bodies or faces at some point as a result of hair removal. Normally, when hair regrows, it grows up and above the skin. But if it starts to curl instead, it may get trapped and form a small, raised, red bump that may or may not be filled with pus. Those with thick, curly hair tend to develop ingrown hairs more often than people with fine, thin hair, but no one is completely immune.
The best way to prevent ingrown hair is by not waxing, shaving, or plucking, but that’s not always a practical option, explains Dr. Garden. Other ways to limit ingrown hairs is to always wash the skin with a mild soap and rub a lubricating shaving cream gel on the skin before shaving.
“If your razor is several uses old, replace it with a fresh one, as dull blades don’t make clean, precise cuts and can increase your risk for an ingrown hair,” says Dr. Garden.
Another long-term solution is laser hair removal, which completely eliminates hair at a deeper level, damaging the hair follicle. “Laser hair removal requires several treatments over the course of a few weeks and months, but the results are usually semi-permanent, though it’s less effective on blond or very light-colored hair,” says Dr. Garden. “Because powerful lasers and risks are involved, including skin discoloration, burns and even scarring, it is important to seek out a board-certified dermatologist who has experience using lasers.”
A lipoma is a growth of fatty tissue that can occur almost anywhere on the body (including the face), but most commonly on the chest, back, shoulders, neck, and armpits. “Though they tend to grow slowly, often over a period of months or years, you will notice them as a rubbery bulge under the skin that’s typically less than 2 inches across and feels as though it can move,” explains Dr. Garden. “Sometimes larger lipomas do occur, with some reaching almost 8 inches across, although this is rare.”
The good news is that lipomas are nearly always benign. There is, however, a very rare form of cancer known as liposarcoma that occurs within fatty tissue and may look like a deep lipoma, Dr. Garden explains. So if you notice something like a lipoma that’s painful or growing quickly, it should be checked out by a dermatologist, and may need to be biopsied.
Though there’s no known cause of lipomas, some people have genetic conditions that predispose them to forming dozens of lipomas, according to Dr. Garden. In most cases, lipomas do not need to be treated, however, a patient may opt to have the lipoma surgically removed if it’s causing any pain or discomfort.
Many types of face bumps aren’t concerning or can be easily managed at home. But, ultimately, if you have any questions about a bump on your face, you should check in with a dermatologist to make sure you know what it is and, if you so choose, to help you remove it properly and safely.