Electrocautery: Who, what and how?

In dermatology, electrocautery is done with a device which uses electricity, delivering it to the skin via a needle-like top to burn closed or remove harmful or unwanted tissue from the skin. As the patient, you will not feel the electricity nor will it enter the body at all, the treatment will only affect the area that is touched by the device. This treatment is safe, effective, and fairly simple, although those who have pacemakers and similar devices in the body should always alert their doctor.

Who can benefit from electrocautery?

Electrocautery is used in the treatment of various medical conditions. While many of the diseases or conditioned can’t be cured, electrocautery can certainly keep the symptoms under control, which brings the patient great relief. Dermatologists who frequently fine-tune their best practices are not the only doctors using treatment. Ophthalmologists, orthopedics, cardiologists and urologists all find electrocautery to be incredibly useful.


Electrocautery in the context of dermatology and skin health

We can effectively treat a number of skin conditions using this technique. These include:


Milia is the collective noun for tiny, harmless white cysts which look like little white bumps on the skin. They’re little pockets just under the skin, containing keratin, which is the protein commonly found in hair and nails.

Seborrheic keratosis

These skin growths are non cancerous and can occur to anyone, at any time of their lives. The best method to remove these, is to use electrocautery.

Actinic keratosis

These patches of rough skin resemble scabs, in response to too much UV exposure. They are considered precancerous and can be treated using electrocautery in combination with other therapies


Syringomas are non-cancerous sweat-duct tumours. They usually look like small, hard, red bumps. Make sure to only have these done by experienced dermatologist as one can scar..


Comedones are small bumps on the skin which are commonly associated with acne. Open comedones are known as blackheads, closed comedones are known as white heads.


Angiomas are non-cancerous growths on the skin made up of small blood vessels. They can occur anywhere on the body and their cause is largely unknown. A great way to treat this is with electrocautery.


These are small growths which often form around the joints. They’re made up of fatty tissue under the skin, and vary in size.


Your elders may have told you to cut a potato in half and bury it in the garden under the full moon, but electrocautery will actually work. Warts are a common symptom of infection with the HPV virus.

Skin tags

These harmless little growths are generally completely harmless, unless they become irritated or inflamed from being rubbed. They are easily removed with electrocautery.

Dermatosis papulosa nigra

Typically seen more frequently on dark skin, this condition presents as a few, or many small dark spots on the skin which can be raised or flat. They are harmless, but they can become itchy, irritating or the individual may feel they are cosmetically displeasing.

What to expect if you’re having electrocautery

Depending on the treatment you are having, in dermatology it is generally under local topical anaesthetic. Your doctor will numb the specified or affected area, so you are comfortable. By using a small device which looks similar to a pen with a heated tip, this is the only point at which your body will receive any of the electricity. The unwanted tissue will be removed or closed during the treatment.

Electrocautery is very safe and there are no serious side effects. You may experience a little tingling, mild pain or discomfort after the procedure. Your doctor will give you the correct preventative measures, like prescribing appropriate topical therapy. You may notice some swelling and redness following surgery and in some cases (depending on the reason you had electrocautery) some scar tissue may remain.

How to prepare for electrocautery

There are no major preparations necessary. Your doctor may require you to stop taking medications that thin your blood in order to minimize bleeding. These medications include warfarin, aspirin, and ibuprofen. If you are having a minor procedure with only a local anaesthetic, the whole exercise is fairly quick and simple, taking 10-20 minutes if all goes smoothly.

The success of procedure is only as good as the operator. Always seek an experienced dermatologist when considering electrocautery. For a consultation to see whether this treatment is right for you, contact Dr. Khoza here.