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Dermatology FactsMolluscom Contagiosum

What causes molluscum?

Molluscum are smooth, pearly, skin-colored growths caused by a skin virus. They begin as small bumps and may grow as large as a pencil eraser. Many have a central pit or dent. They can occur anywhere on the body, even in the mouth or on the eye.

What can I expect To happen?

Molluscum can be itchy and the skin around the growths may become infected with bacteria from scratching. The bumps may last from just two weeks to one year or more, but usually go away by themselves within six months. The molluscum may be passed from child to child by direct contact. Long baths and swimming may facilitate spread from child to child and spread to other sites in an individual. For this reason swimming is discouraged until molluscum is resolved.


For some patients, especially preschool children who are not bothered by their molluscum, no treatment is necessary. Spontaneous resolution should be awaited. Taking baths may increase spreading of mollucsum lesions. Brief showers are recommended until the lesions are resolved.

Although molluscum will eventually resolve, lesions spread easily, may become infected, may be itchy or irritated, and are sometimes cosmetically objectionable. For these reasons, they are often removed. The treatment depends on the age of the patient and the size, location and number of growths.

Cantharone, a blistering agent derived from beetles, is applied with a wooden applicator to the skin growth. If blistering is seen the same day, then the medicine should be washed off with warm, soapy water. Otherwise it can be left on until the next day. A small blister usually forms in a few hours to one day. Occasionally no blistering occurs. When the scab falls off, the growth is gone. This treatment is useful because the application is not painful; it is used carefully and selectively on the face and in skin creases. Sometimes, the child is quite sensitive and extensive blistering is seen. Scarring almost never occurs from Cantharone treatment. Although the blisters are uncomfortable, they are very superficial and resolve within a few days. Compresses with lukewarm warm water and breaking the blisters with a sterile needle may help.

Freezing with liquid nitrogen is another form of treatment. Liquid nitrogen feels very hot and stinging for a moment, and then a blister may form.

Another way to remove molluscum is by scraping the bump or removing the center, a treatment that we usually perform after numbing the area with a special cream. All forms of treatment may cause some discomfort, which is usually eased by acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol) or ibuprofen (e.g. Advil, Motrin).

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