Skin tags: What they are and how to treat them

Published October 8th, 2021 by Chris Riley
Fact Checked by
Jacqueline Hensler
Medically Reviewed:
Dr. Angel Rivera

Skin Tags 101 | Causes of Skin Tags | Removal of Skin Tags | Treatments

If skin tags have been bothering you for a while, then this article is for you. Skin tags are harmless growths that develop from the skin's sweat and oil glands. They can appear on any part of your body but they usually show up under your arms, in your armpits, around the neckline or near the groin area. In most cases skin tags are harmless and don't cause any pain or irritation to those who have them. However as skin tags grow bigger they may start to itch, bleed or become irritated by clothing rubbing against them. If it becomes unbearable for you to live with these skin growths growing on your body, then there are many options available for the removal of skin tags if you and your doctor think it necessary.

What are skin tags?

Skin tags, also called acrochordons, are benign skin growths that often appear on the eyelids, neck and armpits but can also form in other areas where skin rubs against skin such as around your breasts or backside. They are a form of benign tumor typically the size of a grain of rice that most frequently occur if you are over 40 years old with overweight conditions, particularly in women. However they may affect anyone at any age even with healthy skin, though they're most often seen in middle-aged and elderly individuals with skin conditions like acne or individuals with dry skin caused by eczema. 

Although skin tags do not pose a serious health threat, there is no doubt it can be an unsightly problem for many who have skin tags which can lead to feelings of embarrassment and loss of confidence. Skin tags are harmless, painless skin growths that can vary in number from one to hundreds. Although they aren't dangerous, skin tags can cause problems because of the irritation they may cause and their attractiveness as a visual blemish on some skin types. Skin tags are often dismissed as irrelevant skin blemishes. However, if not properly cared for they may become irritated or infected. Skin tags are usually small with a narrow stalk, called a peduncle, attached to them that may be smooth or hairy. Skin tags vary widely in color from pinkish flesh tones to brownish black skin bumps. There are various treatments available to remove skin tags including over-the-counter creams, some using salicylic acid, freezing with liquid nitrogen (-20°C) or burning them off with medical lasers, all of which we will discuss.

What causes skin tags?

Skin tags can form where skin rubs together and may be itchy but aren't dangerous. They can also form on other parts of the body where skin rubs against skin like between toes or fingers or when your skin rubs against something like a watch or necklace. However, they can become irritated or infected if you repeatedly rub them.

What skin tags do I need to remove?

If skin tags are caught quickly enough, you may not need to get rid of them. However, if the skin tag is causing problems such as itching or irritation or feels like an unsightly blemish, then it's time for a dermatologist. Skin tags that show up in skin creases or skin folds like the armpit, neckline, under the chin, eyelids and groin area are areas that can cause skin problems. Skin tag removal in these areas may be uncomfortable due to sensitive skin tissues.

Should I remove my own skin tags?

There are many home remedies and over-the-counter methods for skin tag removal. We recommend that you see your doctor or dermatologist first before trying any of these methods as they have the opportunity to exacerbate the problem. Even all natural remedies like banana peels, apple cider vinegar, tea tree oil, and garlic can have their own problems.  For instance, tea tree oil can cause an allergic skin reaction. Cutting them off yourself may lead to bleeding scabs and risk of infection, too. These methods are also unproven. For the best results, please see your healthcare provider first.

How do dermatologists remove skin tags?

When you see a dermatologist, there are several skin tag removal procedures they may use to take them off your skin. A dermatologist can easily and quickly cut skin tag growths off with a scalpel or surgical scissors or use medical lasers to burn or cauterize skin tags away on the spot. There also is a treatment called cryotherapy that freezes them away using liquid nitrogen. If your doctor uses a scalpel, a local anesthetic will usually be applied first. With new technology available today, there are less invasive ways of removing skin tags such as using over-the-counter products like skin tag removal cream or even a skin tag removal kit that can be ordered online. Please consult with your dermatologist first. Once the skin tag is removed, they usually do not return in the same place although they can appear at other places on your body.

Is skin tag removal painful?

Skin tag removal is painless if you go to your dermatologist or doctor for treatment, but it can be uncomfortable at home because of tender skin tissues surrounding skin tags.

How much does skin tag removal cost?

The cost of removing skin tags varies depending on the skin tag itself and your dermatologist. If you need to see a doctor, it may cost anywhere over $100 whereas at home treatment kits, though largely unproven, are much cheaper.

How do I prevent skin tags?

There is no surefire way to prevent skin tags, but you can reduce your likelihood of getting them by protecting yourself from the sun and not irritating any skin growths on your body which may cause more skin problems. By preventing skin irritation you may be able to prevent skin tags.

Summary

Skin tags are growths that develop where your skin rubs against other materials or itself. They are usually safe and benign growths, but they can cause irritation, become infected, and are an unsightly blemish for some people which would be cause for removal. There are many at-home kits for skin tag removal, however most are unproven and we recommend that you consult with your doctor or dermatologist first. If your doctor determines that you should have a skin tag removed, your doctor can do this by either cauterizing or burning it off, using cryotherapy to freeze it off, or by using local anesthetics and cutting it off with a scalpel or scissors. Skin tag removal is not painful and can cost over $100 for a dermatologist, although the unproven at-home or over-the-counter kits are cheaper. The best way to prevent the development of skin tags is to avoid skin irritation in general. If you have any further questions, please talk to your healthcare professional.

References, Research and Sources

ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

aad.org

my.clevelandclinic.org

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