Skin tags are like the fruit flies of skin problems—they’re pesky, but save for rare instances, they’re benign. There’s not much we can do to avoid them, and they’re not even necessary to remove, but no one could blame you for wanting to either. Skin tags–or if you want to get really fancy, fibroepithelial polyps or acrochordons—are what New York City-based board-certified dermatologist Dr. Roy Seidenberg calls "cosmetic nuisances." Essentially, he explains, they are "just little extra pieces of skin that pouch out, often in clusters." To further understand this condition, what causes them, who gets them, and of course, how to get rid of them, we spoke to the professionals.
What Are Skin Tags?
As mentioned, skin tags are benign skin growths, most commonly found in areas where the skin folds, or where there is friction such as the neck, underarms, under the breasts, groin, and eyelids. "Most are pedunculated, meaning that they flip-flop around on a small base," Seidenberg says.
There are very rare occasions where the skin tag could be cancerous, and that is when it bleeds on its own, shows growth, or turns colors like pink, brown, and black. In these instances, you'll definitely want to see a dermatologist for a biopsy to be examined by a lab.
Who Gets Skin Tags?
Though skin tags can occur in just about anyone (men, women, or children), they most typically "occur in middle-aged individuals, can run in families, and can appear or increase in number during pregnancy and in diabetics," explains New York City-based board-certified dermatologist Dr. Nadia Kihiczak. Weight gain and obesity are also linked to an increase in skin tags, and they are also more common in lighter skin, Seidenberg notes.
Is There Anything You Can Do to Avoid Them?
Skin tags are genetically determined, so unfortunately, not really. “Minimizing friction can help for some, especially in avid runners or those who engage in repetitive friction-inducing behavior,” explains New York City-based board-certified dermatologist Dr. Dendy Engelman, who also notes that sometimes not wearing jewelry (like necklaces) can also help decrease friction.
Can You Get Rid of Skin Tags on Your Own?
As much as you might want to get rid of skin tags ASAP, dermatologists urge you not to do so on your own at home. “I do not recommend attempting to remove skin tags at home. Not only can this be painful, but it can lead to potential infections and can cause significant bleeding that may be difficult to stop at home by yourself,” says NYC-based dermatologist Dr. Joshua Zeichner.
How to Get Rid of Skin Tags
Make an appointment with a board-certified dermatologist to discuss getting skin tags removed. There are a number of ways dermatologists remove skin tags in their offices, and they use their expertise to determine which one is best suited for your case. "The size of the lesion and the skin type determine the treatment of choice," Kihiczak notes.
"Removal is best performed by cutting or snipping them off with a scalpel or fine scissor,” explains Seidenberg. Adds Kihiczak, "When snip removal is performed, the lesion is cut at the base with sterile scissors resulting in complete immediate removal at the time of treatment." If the skin tag is larger in size, the dermatologist will use topical or injected anesthesia. Smaller skin tags removed in this way usually don’t scar. Removal via burning with an electric needle, or freezing off is, he explains, more likely to leave a scar or a light or dark spot. "Removal is generally considered cosmetic, unless it ‘got twisted’ and became red or black,” says Seidenberg, noting that occasionally, "a dermatologist will send one to the laboratory for pathology" to ensure it isn't cancerous.
The Final Takeaway
While the appearance of skin tags my bother you, their existence isn't threatening to your health and does not require immediate attention, unless its pathology has deemed it pre-cancerous or cancerous. Just remember to not take matters into your own hands and leave the removal entirely to a physician, or else you could be left with an even more unsightly mark on your skin, or worse, an infection.