What Is Dermatosis Papulosa Nigra?

Medically Reviewed by Debra Jaliman, MD on May 26, 2023
3 min read

‌Dermatosis Papulosa Nigra (DPN) is a skin condition that typically appears as small, dark, or skin-colored bumps on the face, neck, and upper torso. Some people only develop a few bumps, while others have many bumps covering large parts of their skin. DPN primarily affects peoples of African and Asian descent and tends to run in families.‌

DPN papules (bumps) are harmless and don't cause any ulcerations (breaks in the skin), scaling, or crusting. The bumps are about 1-5 millimeters in diameter and 1-3 millimeters high. They start in adolescence as smooth, freckle-like bumps and gradually become rougher with time. They may also grow in size and number with age. 

DPN lesions do not go away on their own.‌ DPN usually occurs on the face and neck, but you may also notice them on your upper back and chest. About one in four people with DPN papules on their face will also have them on their body.

‌DPN shares some similarities with a common noncancerous skin growth ( Seborrheic Keratoses), which may explain why DPN appears to be hereditary. However, the exact causes of DPN remain unclear.‌

Since the DPN lesions appear mainly on the head, neck, and upper trunk — areas more exposed to sunlight — there may be a possible link between UV exposure and DPN development. A study found that people with darker skin who used skin-lightening creams had a large amount of DPN bumps. This is possibly due to reduced UV protection from loss of protective skin pigment. ‌

A 2017 study found that DPN was more common in women. Other significant associations include a family history of DPN and a history of sun exposure. 

‌DPN can be diagnosed clinically and usually doesn't require any tests. However, if there are doubts, a dermoscopy may be used. A dermoscopy is a non-invasive and inexpensive tool used to differentiate DPN from similar skin lesions. 

DPN mostly appears as ridges in a cerebriform (brain-like) pattern.‌ If the growth is suspected to be cancerous, a skin biopsy (sample) can be taken and sent for closer examination.‌

DPN doesn't usually require treatment; however, you may want bumps removed if they become itchy or you don't like their appearance. ‌

Treatment typically falls under two broad categories — surgery and laser treatments — with varying degrees of success. The following are all possible treatment options for DPN: 

  • Cryotherapy. One of the most affordable and effective treatment options available. Liquid nitrogen is used to freeze off the bumps.
  • Electrodesiccation. Zapping the bumps with an electric current from a probe.
  • Curettage. This procedure involves scraping off the bumps with a small surgical instrument.
  • PDL Laser. The pulsed dye laser is another safe and effective treatment for DPN. However, you'll have to undergo multiple sessions for the best results.

Other treatment options include snipping the bumps off, a carbon-dioxide laser treatment, and Potassium Titanyl Phosphate (KTP) laser therapy. While effective, treatment methods for DPN may leave some scarring. There's also no guarantee the DPN bumps won't make a come-back.‌

Treatment for DPN is often out of cosmetic concern. Laser therapy has proven to be effective in reducing the appearance of DPN. It leaves little or no scarring. Talk to your dermatologist to determine what the best treatment option is for your skin.