Skin tags are harmless growths on the skin that can vary in number. They are usually the same color as your skin or slightly darker. These tiny pieces of tissue are composed of blood vessels and a type of protein fiber called collagen. They project from the surrounding skin on a thin or thick stalk. While most skin tags are small, pinhead-sized bumps, they may become as large as a grape.
Skin tags can develop on any part of the body, but they most commonly grow on areas of high friction or areas that are commonly rubbed, such as:
Males and females are equally prone to getting skin tags. However, people may be more likely to develop skin tags if they are obese, are pregnant, or have diabetes.
Why Skin Tags Grow
Researchers don’t know exactly what causes skin tags to grow. It is believed that friction may lead to the development of skin tags. The growths commonly occur in areas where skin constantly rubs against clothing or other skin, such as near your bra strap or in a fold of skin.
Other factors that may contribute to the formation of skin tags include:
- the presence of certain forms of the human papilloma virus (HPV)
- changes in hormones during pregnancy
- insulin resistance, which is often seen in people with diabetes
Skin tags also appear to run in families, and researchers suspect that genetics might play a role in the development of the condition.
How to Tell the Difference Between a Skin Tag and Other Skin Growths
Your doctor or dermatologist can confirm the presence of skin tags or other skin growths. If the growths are very close to your eye, you could also consult an ophthalmologist, or eye doctor. They can usually diagnose your condition simply by looking at your skin.
Sometimes, what looks like a skin tag is actually a mole, wart, or other type of harmless growth. Sometimes, depending on the appearance of the skin tag, your doctor might want to perform a biopsy to make sure the growth isn’t malignant, or cancerous. During a biopsy, your doctor will remove the skin tag or abnormal growth and send it to a laboratory for analysis. Your doctor will follow up with you to discuss the results.
Getting Rid of Skin Tags
Skin tags usually don’t require treatment and don’t cause any discomfort, unless their location causes them to rub against your clothes or skin folds frequently. In these cases, the growths could become pink and irritated In addition, very rarely a skin tag can rotate at the base and cut off its own blood supply, causing it to appear discolored, usually black or red. In these cases, you could ask your doctor about removing them.
Your doctor will probably use one of the following techniques to remove your skin tags:
- cutting them off with scissors or another sharp tool
- freezing them with liquid nitrogen
- burning them using an electric current
Skin tag removal usually doesn’t require the use of an anesthetic. However, your doctor might apply an anesthetic cream or lidocaine injections to ease the pain if your skin tags are large, or if you are getting multiple skin tags removed at once.
If your doctor burns or freezes your skin tags, it might take a few days for them to fall off. Even after skin tag removal, the growths may come back and new ones might develop in other places.
People with multiple skin tags might want them removed for cosmetic reasons. However, new skin tags frequently pop up again in those areas.
It’s important to keep in mind that removing skin tags isn’t medically necessary, and many insurance companies don’t cover the cost of skin tag removal. Deciding not to have treatment is a reasonable option if the growths aren’t bothersome.
Risks Associated With Skin Tag Removal
Skin tag removal is a low-risk procedure. However, they often bleed freely when removed, requiring pressure and monitoring during the procedure. Sometimes coagulation with silver nitrate or electrocautery is necessary. In rare cases, you may experience heavy bleeding or develop an infection after the surgery. You can lower your risk for complications by telling your doctor about any prescription or over-the-counter medications you’re taking, since some drugs and herbal supplements can make you bleed more after skin tag removal. It’s also important to follow your doctor’s instructions on how to care for the area where your skin tags were removed. This will reduce your risk of getting an infection after the procedure.
You should never try to remove skin tags at home. Without a doctor and a sterile environment, the risk for excessive bleeding and infection increases.