Skin tags are small growths on the skin that can grow up to a half inch long. They are usually the same color as your skin, or slightly darker. Skin tags are composed of blood vessels and collagen fibers (a kind of protein) surrounded by skin. They’re attached to the rest of your skin by a thin or thick stalk.
The neck, breasts, groin, stomach, eyelids, and underarms are all common places to grow skin tags. They will not hurt you, but many people are unhappy with the way they look. People who are obese, elderly, pregnant, and/or have diabetes are especially likely to develop skin tags.
Why Skin Tags Grow
Researchers haven’t figured out what causes skin tags to grow. One leading theory is that friction has something to do with it. Many common skin tag locations are where skin constantly rubs against clothing or other skin, such as near your bra strap or in a fold of fat.
Other factors that might play a role include the presence of certain forms of HPV (the virus that gives people genital warts), changes in hormones during pregnancy, and insulin resistance, as experienced by diabetics.
Telling the Difference Between a Skin Tag and Other Skin Growths
Your regular doctor or a dermatologist (a doctor who specializes in skin problems) can confirm a skin tag diagnosis. If the growth is very close to your eye, you could consult an eye doctor. Your doctor can probably diagnose your skin tags by looking at your skin.
Sometimes what looks like a skin tag is a mole, wart, or other type of harmless growth. However, your doctor might want to do a biopsy by cutting off a skin tag and sending it to the lab for tests. It’s also possible for a dangerous skin cancer to look like a skin tag. In rare cases, multiple skin tags could mean you have a hormonal problem.
Getting Rid of Skin Tags
Skin tags don’t usually require any treatment and don’t usually hurt, unless their location causes them to rub against your clothes or other skin. In those cases, they could become pink and irritated. If your skin tags are irritated, you could ask your doctor about removing them.
People with multiple skin tags might want them removed for cosmetic reasons. Be aware that if skin tag removal is not medically necessary — and it seldom is — your insurance might not cover it.
Your doctor will probably use one of these techniques to remove your skin tags:
- cutting with scissors or other sharp tools
- freezing with liquid nitrogen
- burning with electric current
If you’re getting many tags removed at once or if your skin tags are large, your doctor might apply anesthetic cream to ease the pain.
If your doctor burns or freezes your tags, it might take a few days for them to fall off. Removing a tag doesn’t guarantee it won’t grow back, or that new ones won’t develop in other places.
Risks Associated With Skin Tag Removal
These removal procedures are low-risk. You might bleed, and there’s a small chance of infection.
Home remedies are not a good idea. Without a doctor and a sterile environment, the risk of bleeding and infection increases.
If you’re on any medications, including herbal supplements, tell your doctor. Some drugs and herbs make you bleed more after removal.
Follow your doctor’s instructions about caring for the area where your tags were removed.