Dermatologist’s Skin Care Tricks To Get Rid Of Thick and Crusty Age Spots On Your Skin.

Cynthia Bailey, MD|March 21, 2011

Last week I saw a lot of patients in my dermatology office with very crusty seborrheic keratosis.  They’re scaly, bumpy growths and most people who have them don’t like them.  They look funny, scale comes off of them and they can get caught on clothing, becoming irritated.  My patients and I call them barnacles, because they're stuck on the skin much like barnacles are stuck on things in the ocean. These barnacles are structurally similar to warts because they’re made up of excessive layers of skin cells from both the living and dead skin layers. 

The fact that they are made from your outer skin layers means that skin care products can help to get rid of the growths. There are some easy skin care tricks to help control these age spots and last week I spent a lot of time teaching patients how to do this.

The key is to physically buff your skin with an exfoliating product, and to use strong alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) products to help soften and sometimes entirely loosen these crusty growths. The AHA products need to be strong, and the best AHA for the job is glycolic acid because it’s the best at loosening dead skin cells so that they buff off more effectively. Done right, it really is possible for almost everyone to have velvety-smooth, hydrated, soft skin again- skin that doesn't look and feel like it’s covered with crusty barnacles.

Barnacles (seborrheic keratosis) start forming on most of us usually after we’re about 30.  If you have them, you’ll see that they have a ‘stuck-on’ feel and appearance.  They’re also typically darker in color than the rest of your skin.  They can form on any part of your body, but the most common sites are along your hair line, neck (where they can look like small skin tags), under your breast folds, all over your back and on the outside of your forearm, the backs of your hands, tops of your feet and behind your knees. Like a wart, a barnacle happens because your living skin cells grow excessively and form a little mound that’s raised up higher than the rest of your skin.  The little mound of living cells then makes excessive layers of dead skin cells (called the stratum corneum) and this is why they feel crusty and stuck on - like a barnacle. 

It’s the dead cells that we can buff and exfoliate away with powerful, regular, AHA-containing, exfoliating skin care.  Occasionally, this exfoliating skin care treatment will also get rid of the little mound of living cells too. I have a lot of patients with barnacles and I’m prone to them myself.  Over the years I’ve used a variety of AHA products to control them, but I developed my current, and extremely powerful, regimen just in time for my 50th birthday - when I grew my first barnacle on my right arm.  At the time, the concept of exfoliating skin care was less common.  I experimented (on myself as usual) until I came up with something that worked well.  It got rid of that barnacle-like age spot and has kept new ones off of me for the last 12 years.  I’ve since had thousands of patients use this regimen successfully too.  Because it’s strong it can be irritating to sensitive skin areas, but it’s easily modified to fit almost all skin types.   I've put it all together in a kit along with complete instructions, and I call it my Anti Aging Body Skin Care Kit. Here's how I tell my patients to use it:

Dermatologist’s Anti Aging, Exfoliating Skin Care To Control Crusty Age Spots On The Body

Starting twice a week

  • In the shower use an exfoliating sponge or cloth, like the Salux Cloth or a Body Buf Puf Sponge (they're more effective than a luffa).  Squeeze Glytone Body Wash on the sponge/cloth and gently massage the skin with it.  Go easy in the folds and the neck and chest, which can be particularly sensitive.  Pay particular attention to areas with barnacles, including the backs of your hands, tops of your feet, behind your knees, your back etc. Rinse well and towel off.
  • Within 3 minutes after toweling off, no more, apply Glytone Body Lotion to all of your skin.  At first the lotion may sting or tingle a little on your skin, but this usually lasts for just a few seconds.  If you want, you can cut the lotion strength in half by mixing it with another plain body lotion in your palm before applying it to your skin.  Gradually your skin gets healthier and can handle the Glytone Body Lotion without dilution.  Again, the folds and your neck/chest may be extra sensitive.
  • On the other 5 days of the week apply a nice and rich body cream or lotion within 3 minutes after the shower.  You can scrub with the exfoliating buf puf and the Glytone Body Wash in the shower, or your favorite bath soap (always use a non-drying soap though, such as Whole Foods 365 glycerin bar soap).

As your skin gets healthier you can use the Glytone Body Lotion more frequently to get even smoother, softer, barnacle-free results. The reason the regimen works so well is becuase of the effects of strong glycolic acid on the skin and the way the treatment combines glycolic acid's 'chemical exfolitaion' power with the buffing of physical exfoliation:  

  • Glycolic acid, like other alpha hydroxy acids (AHA’s), loosens the cement that holds your dead skin cells together.  The loose cells buff off easily.
  • Glycolic acid (like other AHA’s) causes a compacting of the healthy cells to give your skin a polished, smooth surface.  It’s sort of like using your own cells to give you a nice waxy sheen.
  • Glycolic acid (and other AHA’s) also binds the water molecules to your skin for super-powerful hydration that’s far more effective than plain moisturizers or oils.

The end result is polished, smooth, hydrated, healthy skin. My Anti Aging Body Kit has everything you need for this powerful skin care treatment.  Using it really helps control barnacles for me and my patients.  For patients with a lot of big barnacles I still need to freeze-off the larger ones.  In general though, I see that their skin grows fewer of these crusty age spots and the ones that do manage to grow are smaller, smoother and easier for me to treat.  Their normal skin also looks so much nicer as they age.  All we’ve done is replace their normal bath soap and skin lotion with products that work better at keeping their skin soft, hydrated and healthy.

Of course it's important to never use strong exfoliation or AHA's on broken skin or sores.  Any sore that won't heal or new growth that doesn't go away should be checked by a dermatologist.

If you found this information helpful you might also want to read

Photo attribution and gratitude goes to Loren Kerns, Copyright © 2016. Image modified in 2016 by Dr. Bailey Skin Care LLC.

I have so many on my back.  Do I need someone to help exfoliate them or can I do it in the shower.

By Mary Ann Harala on 2016 10 04

Hello Mary Ann, I have my patients use the AHA Kit with the Salux cloth to reach the back in the shower. I have them use the Back Applicator to apply the Glytone Lotion.  Links: to the Kit. For the Back Applicator link
I can usually see where a person’s shoulder limitations prevent them from robustly following the routine on their back because there are more barnacles in that area. This combo of products works really well in my observation. Hope that helps.

By Cynthia Bailey, MD on 2016 10 06

Will your glytone body wash be ok to use on skin that has vitiligo. I have numerous “barnacles” which are most uncomfortable and a great deal on my hairline and neck. Please reply as I have suffered with this condition for a long time.
Regards Kate

By Kate crossland on 2016 10 19

Hello Kate,
Vitillego is not associated with barrier issues so the body wash should not penetrate differently than normal skin. The micro-abrasion with the exfoliation cloth may be an issue because vitillego can start after injury, called the Keobner phenomenon.

By Cynthia Bailey, MD on 2016 10 25

I appear to have some of these on my genitals. Will this acid cause problems if applied there? Please let me know asap as these are quite embarrassing!

By John Swofford on 2016 11 03

how do i get rid of a wart under my fingernail?

By kenzie chapman on 2016 11 07

I have numerous seborrheic keratosis spots over a large part of my body.  I hope your product will actually remove this horrible skin condition, as I have bought numerous products, spending a large amount of money that I cannot afford, but with no success.

By Jo Ann on 2016 11 14

Does your product actually work?  I am so tired of spending a great deal of money on various products that DO NOT WORK.  How much is your kit, and is there any kind of guarantee?

By Jo Ann on 2016 11 14

Hello Jo Ann,
I too don’t like spending money on products that don’t meet my expectations. There is no perfect solution here. The good news is that we are alive and as part of that our skin gets crusty at a certain age. My kit helps my patients and it helps me. That is all I can tell you. I offer information and my experience in the hopes of helping others find ways to take good care of their skin. Perfection is not possible and I can promise that we will not achieve it with skin care or anything else. Also, expectations are all very personal.  We can only try and have a goal of good self care.  Warm Regards

By Cynthia Bailey, MD on 2016 11 22

Hello John and Kenzie,
These problems are best addressed by a personal physician. Warm Regards

By Cynthia Bailey, MD on 2016 11 22

what kind of keratosis do I have, mine start out looking red almost like a cigaret burn, then slowly turn dark and crusty- sometimes getting really irritated

By jo ann on 2016 12 19

Hello Jo Ann, I always recommend that readers consult a dermatologist for personal evaluation when it comes to a diagnosis. There are many type of keratosis-appearing lesions. For liability and ethical reasons I can not diagnose any person’s specific skin ailment with this web endeavor. I write for general educational purposes only.

By Cynthia Bailey, MD on 2016 12 19

Thank you for your helpful newsletter.

I have a question about seborrheic keratosis on the face. Once the cell buildup is removed , how does one get rid of the raspberry stain that remains?

By Sandra on 2016 12 20

I live in Australia and 67.Can you recommend a product or products I can purchase over here with the glycolic acids and AHA’s.
  Cheers,  Margaret

By Margaret on 2016 12 20

Can your product be used on the face? What precautions are there?

By Sue on 2017 01 02

Hello Sandra,
That “raspberry stain” may have different causes and the treatment depends on the cause. Have you asked the doctor or practitioner who removed the cell buildup? If it is post inflammatory erythema (aka redness that happens after a treatment like cryotherapy) it usually goes away over time. Laser or intense pulsed light treatments can help - we use IPL in my practice.

By Cynthia Bailey, MD on 2017 01 02

Hello Margaret,
I am actually in Australia right now! And, I don’t know what equivalent products you all have here. You could go to Terry White and ask.  Look for 10% or higher free acid content glycolic acid products to be equivalent to the products I am recommending. You can also contact my shipping folks here at the web site and see if we ship to Oz, I think we do.

By Cynthia Bailey, MD on 2017 01 02

Hello Sue,
I have products for the face. You can search products by condition with the ‘shop by’ button on the right end of the gray navigation bar at the top of the web site. Here are the products I like for barnacles

By Cynthia Bailey, MD on 2017 01 03

I am 77, and have a lot of barnacles on my back and legs, very annoying,  what is the price of your product? Thank you   Elnora pecoraro please pull it up online on the web site CBMD

By Elnora Pecoraro on 2017 01 08

I have sensitive skin and seborrhic keratosis spots on my forehead. These have been removed several times by curette and have regrown. Can I treat my face with the method you have outlined above. I live in New Zealand where can I get the lotion that you recomment?  we ship internationally. you can search my web site for how I treat facial lesions. CBMD

By Heather on 2017 01 09

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