When a tiny flap of loose skin forms on your body, it can become an annoyance, especially if it gets caught on clothes or jewelry or it grows in a place other people can see.
You could make an appointment to have it removed or visit a drugstore to buy one of a half-dozen products to freeze or dissolve it. But it would be so much simpler if you could use a product you already have on hand, like toothpaste, to get rid of that skin tag.
Before you glob a minty mound of toothpaste on the offending spot, take note: Health experts say using toothpaste (or any other home remedy) to remove skin tags at home isn’t a good plan. Here’s why.
Skin tags, or acrochordons, are noncancerous lesions that can grow in folds of skin, such as your underarms, groin area, or neck.
They’re usually made up of a combination of skin cells, collagen fibers, nerve cells, fat, and blood vessels. They’re often attached to your skin by a thin cylinder called a stalk.
Skin tags can be the color of your skin, or they can be red-toned. Sometimes they grow into a flap-like formation — hence the name.
Obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and the human papilloma virus (HPV) are all associated with a higher likelihood of skin tag formation.
Skin tags aren’t cancerous. They don’t pose a health risk, and there’s no medical need to remove them. Still, lots of people don’t like the way skin tags look and feel and consequently, want them to go away.
People use toothpaste for all sorts of health-related purposes, from shrinking pimples to treating bug bites. There’s no scientific evidence, however, that toothpaste effectively or safely removes skin tags.
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that you consult a physician to have a skin tag removed. The biggest benefit of seeing a doctor is to have the lesion checked, just to be sure it isn’t a form of skin cancer.
While it’s certainly possible to use home remedies or over-the-counter products and devices to take off skin tags, at-home removal carries some risks. Infection, scarring, and excessive bleeding can all happen if skin removal procedures don’t go as planned.
And if your skin tag is located in or near a joint, scarring could affect your mobility. Although the risk is small, you could also damage a nerve in the process, leading to longer-term pain.
When to see a doctor about a skin tag
If a skin tag hurts or itches, it’s a good idea to have it examined. If any mole or tag on your body changes its size, color, or shape, or if the skin breaks and doesn’t heal, see your healthcare provider right away.
Here are some of the most commonly used treatments done during in-office visits:
- Laser therapy. This therapy involves using a thin beam of light to cauterize the base of the skin tag. Your doctor will probably give you a topical anesthetic or an injection so you don’t feel the procedure.
- Cryotherapy. In this procedure, the doctor uses a narrow jet of liquid nitrogen or another coolant to freeze off your skin tag. Depending on the size of the skin tag, you may not need any anesthetic before cryotherapy.
- Snipping or shaving (curettage). This method can be used to quickly sever smaller skin tags. Again, anesthetics may or may not be necessary for smaller tags.
In most cases, any wounds left on the skin will heal on their own, though there’s a small chance that your skin near the site will change color.
If you feel comfortable taking off a skin tag at home, there’s some anecdotal evidence that these substances may work:
Applying these substances to the skin tag once or twice daily may cause the skin tag to drop off in a week or less.
Advocates say you should cover the area with a bandage during the process — and be forewarned, dissolving a skin tag may be painful.
It’s important to note that there isn’t any medical or scientific evidence to support these methods for removing skin tags.
There’s no evidence to suggest that toothpaste is a safe or effective way to get rid of a bothersome skin tag.
There’s some anecdotal evidence that tea tree oil, apple cider vinegar, or even garlic may work when applied directly to the lesion. However, most healthcare providers recommend that you have a skin tag removed in a healthcare facility to minimize the risk of infection, excessive bleeding, scarring, or nerve damage.
A healthcare provider can remove a skin tag quickly and safely, using laser therapy, cryotherapy, or a medical-grade blade. The area can be numbed beforehand so you don’t feel the procedure.
It usually isn’t necessary to remove skin tags, but if they’re bothering you, there are safer, faster ways to remove them than reaching for a tube of toothpaste.