Everything You Need To Know About Cherry Angiomas
What exactly are those little red dots anyway?
Question for you: When was the last time you took a good long look at your skin? Not just your face, but everywhere. While it’s important to visit a dermatologist or your primary care doctor for a scan at least once a year to check for anything out-of-the-ordinary, it’s also a wise idea to take stock of your epidermis on your own. A quick peek can usually clue you in to anything that looks too large, too asymmetrical, or too, well, not great looking. If you’ve recently taken notice of a little red bump (or three) that have cropped up on your chest, limbs, or elsewhere, you may be wondering “WTF is that?” And if that question has sent you down an internet rabbit hole of self-diagnosing, you’ve probably come across the term “cherry angiomas,” and once again asked yourself, “What on earth are those?” If that’s the case, you’ve come to the right place.
Although the skin condition is incredibly common — up to 50% of adults present with cherry angiomas, according to a study in American Family Physician — they are rarely discussed outside of a dermatologist’s office. That’s why TZR chatted with a handful of top dermatologists to break down exactly what these little red specks on our skin are, how they develop, and how to treat them. But before you panic, remember: It’s important to see a doctor to confirm any suspected diagnosis. Keep reading for everything you need to know about cherry angiomas.
What Are Cherry Angiomas?
You’ll know you have a cherry angioma when you see it, as they don’t really look like any other kind of mole, bump, or skin condition. “Cherry angiomas are small skin growths made up of blood vessels,” says Dr. Corey L. Hartman, founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology. “They look like what many people describe as raised moles.” That said, some can be completely flat. These spots tend to be dark red in color (and can present darker on deeper skin tones) and are typically circular, ranging in size from a ballpoint pen head to a pencil eraser.
Cherry angiomas are most likely seen on the chest, abdomen, arms, and/or legs, and while they may be raised, they shouldn’t be irritating, according to Dr. Alexis Parcells, board-certified plastic surgeon and founder of SUNNIE Skincare. “But if scratched or picked at, they can easily bleed,” she adds.
The good news, however, is that aside from being annoying, cherry angiomas are pretty much harmless and are widely viewed as a cosmetic issue. “They are not cancerous, nor are they pre-cancerous,” says Dr. Jeanine Downie, a board-certified dermatologist in Montclair, NJ. “However, sometimes these lesions can be confused for a skin cancer and might be biopsied.”
What Causes Cherry Angiomas?
Unfortunately, there isn’t one hard-and-fast reason why cherry angiomas develop. Doctors do, however, have a few ideas of where they may come from. “There’s been some research suggesting their appearance may be genetic, and age and hormones may also play a role in their development,” says Dr. Parcells. Other research has shown that women are more prone to cherry angiomas than men. “Many women see these for the first time during or after pregnancy, which is likely due to estrogen production,” Dr. Parcells adds. “Estrogen can make our blood vessels dilate and may contribute to the overall production [of cherry angiomas].”
Dr. Hartman adds that certain research suggests that cherry angiomas are more common as you age. That may be due to the fact that collagen in your skin depletes in your skin as you get older, making your skin thinner, and the blood vessels close to your skin surface lose support, which makes these moles appear.
And according to Dr. Downie, sun damage may also play a role in the appearance of cherry angiomas (yet another reminder to prioritize daily sun protection for your whole body).
How To Treat & Prevent Cherry Angiomas
Unfortunately, as of right now, there is no tried-and-true way to prevent cherry angiomas. Dr. Downie suggests using sunscreen, since sun damage is a potential factor in developing them, but aside from that, you can only treat these marks, not avoid them.
Luckily, since these moles are benign, you can probably just leave them alone. “Most cherry angiomas do not need to be treated unless they are in an area of the body where you commonly bump them, which can lead to bleeding,” Dr. Hartman says. “You may also want to remove them for cosmetic reasons.”
If removing them is of interest to you, there are actually multiple ways to get rid of cherry angiomas, including options that either heat or freeze the mole. If removed, they don’t usually come back in the same spot, but that doesn’t mean other areas of your skin won’t develop additional angiomas at a later time.
“I often use electrocauterization, which uses heat from an electric current to cauterize the cherry angioma,” Dr. Hartman says. This procedure is often used on skin lesions from angiomas to tumors, and feels like a quick snap of a rubber band. There might be a red or dark mark left behind but that usually fades in a day or two, and you can be in and out of your dermatologist’s office in less than 30 minutes.
You could also go in the opposite direction and freeze the angioma. “Cryotherapy, or freezing the vessels with liquid nitrogen, is another option,” adds Dr. Parcells. “This will cause the vessels to shrink and fall off.”
Another option still is pulse-dye lasers, or PDL, which Dr. Parcells says is not only effective, but mostly painless. “The laser light will break down the blood vessel at its root,” she says. “However, several treatments may be required, and post-treatment color changes [to the skin] can last a few days.”
You can also remove the angioma with a scalpel, but that takes a while to heal — more so than the other options.
It’s important to note that you shouldn’t, under any circumstances, try to remove the angioma on your own. “We do not recommend that you hit them or pick them,” Dr. Downie says. “They can get badly infected and leave scars.”
While cherry angiomas may be scary, on the whole, the only issue they really cause is unsightliness — which is entirely in the eyes of the beholder. Talk to your dermatologist about your options, and remember to wear your sunscreen!