No body is perfect. In life, lumps and bumps are par for the course. But if you’ve ever had a skin tag, you know how much of a nuisance it can be. Maybe it’s in a high-traffic zone that gets easily irritated when you exercise or wear your favorite sweater. Or maybe you just don’t like the way it looks.
No matter the reason for your skin tag disdain, know that they can happen to anyone. In fact, it’s estimated that half of all adults will have a skin tag at some point during their life, according to the Cleveland Clinic. These small, flesh-colored flaps or stems can cause irritation, but they’re usually harmless, says Vanessa Johnson, MD. She’s a dermatologist at Health First Medical Group in Cocoa Beach, Florida.
(Another thing that’s irritating? Paying too much for your medications. Here’s how we can help.)
Still, you may be wondering where skin tags come from — and what you can do to get rid of them. Here, Dr. Johnson answers your most pressing questions.
What causes skin tags?
Dr. Johnson: Skin tags form when something prompts the body to produce extra skin cells. One of the main culprits: rubbing. So skin tags usually occur in places where there’s frequent friction on the skin, such as your eyelids or underarms. Anything you can do to help minimize skin friction in an area, such as avoiding jewelry that rubs against your neckline, will help you avoid them.
Other factors that can make you more prone to skin tags are hormonal changes (such as during pregnancy) or health conditions such as diabetes. Why these conditions are linked with skin tags isn’t quite clear. Also, the older you are, the more likely you are to have skin tags.
What can you do about skin tags?
Dr. Johnson: If the skin tag isn’t bothering you, it doesn’t necessarily need any treatment at all. Because they’re made up of blood vessels, along with collagen fibers and fats, they can fall off on their own if the blood supply to the tag is inadequate.
But don’t think that gives you license to remove them on your own. Each skin tag does have a central vessel. So especially for larger skin tags, it’s highly recommended that you don’t remove them yourself. They can bleed significantly.
So how do you take care of them?
Dr. Johnson: First, if a skin tag is inflamed, bleeding, painful or catching on jewelry or clothing, see a dermatologist. They will have multiple ways to remove it comfortably.
Cryotherapy, for instance, is a surgery-free option in which the dermatologist uses liquid nitrogen to “freeze off” the skin tag. They can also be “burned off.” That procedure is called electrocautery. If the skin tag is larger, it might require a small surgical procedure to shave it flat or excise it.
Post-procedure, you may notice a scab over the area where the skin tag was. When the tag falls off, the skin underneath it may not be perfect. But those imperfections certainly won’t be that noticeable.
There are over-the-counter (OTC) freezing treatments and skin tag removal kits that can work. But most create more problems than the skin tag itself. They can lead to scarring, excessive bleeding or even infection. At the very least, they can irritate your skin. So always run any home treatments by your health care team before diving in. And if you do opt for an OTC method, it’s advisable to treat a small skin tag first and monitor your skin for irritation before treating larger areas.
In some cases, you can even tie dental floss around a larger skin tag to cut off its blood supply. In several days, it should fall off on its own, without causing any pain.
What else could it be besides a skin tag?
Dr. Johnson: Skin tags tend to be the same color as your skin. And most are between 1 and 5 millimeters. But it’s important to be aware that some conditions might look like skin tags but aren’t. These can include moles, warts and skin cancer. (This is what it’s like to have melanoma.)
If you have a growth on your skin that’s bleeding, itching or changing in color or size, it’s smart to get it evaluated by a dermatologist. While actual skin tags are usually more of an annoyance than anything else, it’s always better to be safe.
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Skin tag overview: Cleveland Clinic