Those red freckles or red moles on your skin? Spoiler alert: they're likely cherry angiomas, which is a pretty big name for such small growths. Find out what causes these benign bumps and how to (safely!) remove them.

By Melanie Rud
April 03, 2020
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Call them cherry angiomas, red freckles, or red moles, these red spots are an annoying—and unsightly—condition to deal with. The good news? They're nothing to worry about from a medical perspective. That said, if you want them gone, cherry angioma removal will require a trip to the derm. Ahead, everything you need to know about these little red dots, from what causes them to how to get rid of them (if you want).

What are cherry angiomas?

"Cherry angiomas are benign growths made up of blood vessels, which give them their characteristic red color. They're typically very small, on average one to three millimeters, but can also be larger," explains Morgan Rabach, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and co-founder of LM Medical NYC. Usually circular or oval in shape, they look very similar to freckles or moles, aside from their red hue. Like freckles and moles, they can be either flat or slightly elevated.

Where do cherry angiomas occur on the body?

They can pop up anywhere on the body, including the face and scalp. But in general, they occur most often on the chest, abdomen, back, arms, and legs, though it's unknown why, says Charlotte Birnbaum, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist at Spring Street Dermatology in New York City.

The two areas where you won't see them? The palms of your hands and the soles of your feet. "When angiomas grow, blood vessels cluster together, causing the overlying skin to become thinner," explains Dr. Rabach. However, the skin on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet is much thicker than anywhere else on the body and too thick for this to happen, she adds. (That's not to say these areas can't be home to other skin growths like warts.)

What causes cherry angiomas?

As with so many other skin conditions, the actual root cause is unknown. "Little is known about why these spots come up, but there is likely a genetic component," says Dr. Birnbaum.

Age is a contributing factor, however; they usually pop up in the twenties and thirties and increase in number over time, though it's unknown as to why this is, she adds. And—as if you needed another reason to wear sunscreen daily—sun exposure can also cause these red marks. "It's unknown the exact mechanism by which this occurs or what type of UV exposure may be at play, though I'd say anecdotally that people with more sun exposure tend to have more cherry angiomas," explains Dr. Rabach.

There's a correlation between cherry angiomas and pregnancy as well. Blame higher estrogen levels: "Increased estrogen causes vasodilation, meaning an increased size of blood vessels," explains Dr. Rabach. Still, while all pregnant women experience vasodilation, it's unclear why this may lead to cherry angiomas in some women but not others, she says. (And if you're pregnant, you might also get skin tags or other weird—but totally normal!—side effects.)

Cherry angiomas and liver dysfunction also be related, for a similar reason. In patients with liver disease, your liver can't metabolize estrogen, so the level is higher in the body. These patients can get cherry angiomas, but more commonly they get something called spider angiomas, points out Dr. Rabach. While cherry angiomas are like a single freckle or mole on an area of skin, spider angiomas have a red mole in the middle and then smaller, spidery-looking veins surrounding it.

Are cherry angiomas dangerous?

The short and sweet answer is no: "Cherry angiomas are benign lesions," says Dr. Birnbaum.

They can, however, start to become annoying, depending on their size and location, points out Dr. Rabach. (Remember: they can be slightly elevated.) For example, if you have one on your scalp that makes hair brushing a nuisance or one on your waist that your pants rub against. "Sometimes, depending on size and location, they can bleed if traumatized, namely if something rubs against them for too long and exposes the blood vessels," she adds. And, unfortunately, this could lead to more bleeding than usual, given the high concentration of blood vessels.

There's no need to stress about cherry angiomas and skin cancer, either; cherry angiomas can't become cancerous, says Dr. Rabach. Still, certain skin cancers, such as basal cell carcinoma or even melanoma, may look similar to one of these red moles, so your best bet is to always have your derm check out any weird or new skin marks or growths that pop up. Otherwise, the only reason you'd need to see a doctor specifically about a cherry angioma is if it's growing and in a spot where something is rubbing against it and causing bleeding. (Regardless, you should still see your derm on the reg for a skin exam.)

What's the best way to remove cherry angiomas?

This is not, repeat, not the time to take matters into your own hands. There is no cream that can remove cherry angiomas and attempting to cut them off yourself can lead to excess bleeding and scaring, explains Dr. Rabach. And if you don’t get the entire cherry angioma, it’s possible it could grow back. The safe solution is to see your dermatologist since there are several in-office options for cherry angioma removal.

"The lesions can be destroyed via laser treatment or electrodesiccation," says Dr. Birnbaum. The former usually involves a pulsed dye laser that targets and destroys the blood vessels; the latter heats and removes the lesions via an electrical current. Cherry angiomas can also be surgically excised, like a bothersome or strange-looking mole (though, unlike moles, cherry angiomas likely won't be biopsied).

Either way, cherry angioma removal methods are quick, in-office procedures that rid you of the red spot(s) with little pain or downtime, she says. Added bonus: A cherry angioma shouldn't grow back in the exact same spot and if it does, it's a sign that it wasn't removed completely, notes Dr. Rabach. And reminder: If it's not bugging you, there's no need to get it removed.

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