What causes skin lesion?

Skin lesions have a wide variety of causes. The most common causes of skin lesions are injury, aging, infectious diseases, allergies, and small infections of the skin or hair follicles. Chronic diseases such as diabetes or autoimmune disorders can cause skin lesions. Skin cancer or precancerous changes also appear as skin lesions.

Common causes of skin lesions

Changes in the appearance of the skin can result from common conditions such as:

  • Acne
  • Boils and carbuncles
  • Folliculitis
  • Freckles
  • Nevi (moles) and other benign skin growths
  • Skin tags

Injury-related causes of skin lesions

Skin lesions may be caused by physical injury including:

  • Bruises
  • Burns, including sunburn
  • Excessive exposure to sun or wind
  • Extreme cold
  • Cuts or scrapes
  • Insect bites or stings
  • Keloid (exuberant scar formation)

Age-related causes of skin lesions

Skin lesions may be caused by processes related to aging including:

  • Age spots (often called liver spots, harmless discolorations that appear with advancing age)
  • Easy bruising
  • Fragile skin
  • Xerosis (dry skin)

Illness-related causes of skin lesions

Skin lesions may be caused by another illness including:

  • Bacterial infection, such as scarlet fever, or meningococcal meningitis, a serious condition caused by group A Streptococcus, can cause a skin rash
  • Systemic illness, such as diabetes, can lead to changes in skin color or texture, as well as sores and other lesions due to poor wound healing and poor circulation
  • Viral infection, such as varicella-zoster, can cause skin lesions at many stages of life (chickenpox in children and shingles in adults)

Allergy-related causes of skin lesions

Skin lesions can also be caused by allergies including:

  • Allergies to medications
  • Contact dermatitis such as a reaction to nickel in jewelry
  • Food allergies

Serious or life-threatening causes of skin lesions

In some cases, skin lesions may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be evaluated immediately in an emergency setting.

  • Serious allergy can result in hives or a rash and may be associated with anaphylaxis and swelling of the mouth or throat
  • Skin cancers and precancerous changes are a cause of skin lesions
  • Infections that may spread throughout the body are often marked by swollen and reddened skin along the lines of veins in a leg or arm

Questions for diagnosing the cause of skin lesions

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your skin lesions including:

  • When did you first notice the lesions?
  • Did you start any new medications or try any new types of food immediately before the lesion formed?
  • Do you have any other skin lesions?
  • Do you have any other symptoms?
  • Does the lesion itch or burn?
  • Does the lesion have a discharge such as pus?
  • Has the lesion changed in size, shape or color?
  • Have you had similar lesions before?
  • Does anything relieve or worsen the symptoms?

What are the potential complications of skin lesion?

The complications of skin lesions depend on the cause. Direct complications of skin lesions often include permanent changes in the skin, such as a scar. Complications of certain lesions, such as melanoma or a rash accompanying a serious infection, can be serious, even life threatening.

Because some skin lesions can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

  • Adverse effects of treatment
  • Altered pigmentation
  • Cosmetic disfigurement
  • Meningitis (infection or inflammation of the sac around the brain and spinal cord)
  • Organ failure or dysfunction
  • Progression of symptoms
  • Scarring
  • Spread of cancer
  • Spread of infection


  1. Domino FJ (Ed.) Five Minute Clinical Consult. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2013.
  2. Skin rashes and other changes. FamilyDoctor.org. http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/tools/symptom/545.html.
  3. Rashes. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003220.htm.
  4. Ferri FF (Ed.) Ferri’s Fast Facts in Dermatology. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier, 2011.

What is a skin lesion?

A skin lesion is any change in the normal character of your skin. A skin lesion may occur on any part of your body and cover a tiny or large area. Skin lesions can be singular or multiple, confined to one specific area of your body or distributed widely. Skin lesions include rash, cysts, pus-filled sacs, blisters, swelling, discolorations, bumps, hardening, or any other change in or on your ski... Read more about skin lesionintroduction


What other symptoms might occur with skin lesion?

Skin lesions may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that frequently affect the skin may also involve other body systems.

Common symptoms that may occur along with skin lesions

Skin lesions often occur along with bacterial or viral infections or when your immune system reacts to an allergen resulting ... Read more about skin lesionsymptoms

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Sep 30, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Skin, Hair and Nails

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