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Describing a Skin Condition

How to describe a skin condition

A healthcare provider may ask you to describe your skin condition and its location. Here are some of the more common terms that may help you give a more accurate description:

Condition

What it looks like

Abscess

A closed, painful pocket containing pus that “comes to a head” and makes the pus visible. Sometimes the pocket is deep, the pus is not visible, and clinically it may resemble a tumor. These require a biopsy to rule out neoplasms (masses that can be noncancer or cancer).

Atrophic

Thin, dry, wrinkled skin

Blister or vesicle

Fluid-filled bump under or in the epidermis (the surface of the skin) that is less than 1 cm in size

Crust or scab

Formation of dried blood, plasma, or pus over a break in the skin

Cyst

Enclosed sac in skin containing fluid or solid material

Excoriation

An erosion with loss of the epidermis, caused by scratching 

Hives or wheals

Pink or white localized swelling of the skin that is often itchy

Lichenification

Skin that has become thickened, hardened, or leathery with skin markings from chronic scratching

Macule

Small, flat, discolored spot, less than 1 cm

Nodule or papule

Solid, raised bumps. A nodule is greater than 1 cm and a papule is less than or equal to 1 cm. 

Patch

Flat, large (greater than 1 cm) discolored spot with smooth surface

Plaque

A raised or depressed area of skin that is rounded or flat-topped and is greater than 1 cm in diameter

Pustule (pimple)

Inflamed, raised lesions that seem to contain pus

Scales

A buildup of dead skin cells that form flakes

Scar

Fibrous tissue that forms after a skin injury

Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Michael Lehrer MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 3/1/2021
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