6 Skin Conditions That Are Commonly Misdiagnosed

If you suspect you have one of these, always get a second opinion!

If you've ever googled a mysterious spot or scratch, or found yourself going down the rabbit hole that is WebMD, you know that there's a long scroll of skin-related conditions, many with overlapping causes and symptoms.

"When it comes to your skin, the only way to treat a rash or a mark is if you have the correct diagnosis to begin with," says explains Joshua Zeichner, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. "Not knowing what you are treating means that the rash won't go away, which may be uncomfortable, or in some cases may even be harmful to your health if the spot is cancerous."

Dr. Zeichner helps us break down some of the most commonly misdiagnosed skin conditions, including what to look for and when to visit a board-certified derm for a professional opinion. (Gentle nudge: if your symptoms persist and you still don't know, it's best to just go.)

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Skin Cancer

"Skin cancer is an overgrowth of abnormal skin cells that don't respect their boundaries. They grow unchecked and can spread to neighboring skin or in some cases throughout the body, and can be misdiagnosed as scratches or pimples," says Dr. Zeichner. As a general rule, he suggests having any new or changing spots—whether brown, pink, or scabbed—assessed by a derm if not healed after two weeks. "When diagnosed early, skin cancers can be fully removed without causing significant disfigurement. In some cases, it can even be life saving."

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Rough, itchy crown have you down? Dr. Zeichner points out that many will mistreat a flaky scalp under the assumption that it's dry. "In more cases than not, the scalp is not dry at all, but rather oily. The natural oils in the scalp create an environment that allows yeast to grow to higher than normal levels, promoting inflammation and leading to flakes," he explains. "Applying a heavy conditioner or oil to the scalp may actually make matters worse. Instead, stick to a dandruff shampoo that contains zinc pyrithione—such as Dove DermaCare ($6; amazon.com)—to lower levels of yeast on the scalp, reducing itching and flaking."

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"Eczema is a condition where the skin barrier is not working as well as it should be, often presented as inflammation and microscopic cracks in the outer skin layer caused by loss of hydration, paired with scaling and itching," says Dr. Zeichner. In some cases, the eczema may appear as a small, red, round patch, which Dr. Zeichner notes is commonly misdiagnosed as ringworm and treated with an antifungal cream, especially in darker skin tones where the condition isn't as visible. "The rash often does not improve, and it may need a prescription anti-inflammatory cream. If you get a new rash that is not improving with moisturizers or any other over-the-counter treatment after a week or two, visit a dermatologist who can recommend a lanolin-based moisturizer—like Lano Everywhere Multi-Cream ($17; ulta.com)—to help soothe and protect the skin," he advises.

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According to Dr. Zeichner, rosacea typically occurs when skin is extra sensitive and overactive to the environment, and is most common in people with fair skin. However, people of color can also develop rosacea, and the early signs can often be missed or mistaken for another condition. "Patients develop redness, burning, and stinging in the skin, especially in the central part of the face," says Dr. Zeichner. Because patients often develop pus pimples, Dr. Zeichner says rosacea can be confused with acne. "Acne treatments like benzoyl peroxide, which are effective at treating pimples, do not help the rosacea bumps. If you have pimples and they are not going away despite treatment, visit a derm for professional medications," he cautions.

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If you're experiencing painful cysts, nodules, and scars in the armpits, groin, and under the breasts, it could be linked to a condition known as hidradenitis. "In mild cases, it may appear as a tender pimple every once in a while. In more severe cases, there may be draining nodules with a foul odor. Unfortunately, this is another condition that is commonly misdiagnosed as razor bumps or acne, leaving patients to suffer for years before seeking a professional assessment and treatment," says Dr. Zeichner. He notes that hidradenitis is caused by your genetics and requires prescription treatment to keep from progressing, which could "lead to permanent and disfiguring scarring."

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Seborrheic Keratosis

"Seborrheic keratosis are warty, brown spots that tend to pop up with age. They can develop anywhere, but are most common on the neck and trunk. These are perhaps the number one reason that patients come into the office, and they are completely harmless," explains Dr. Zeichner. That said, he'd still rather see someone come in about a new spot than not. "I wouldn't want anyone to miss a developing melanoma, which is a skin cancer that can be fatal if not caught early."

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