Have you ever noticed a small, soft growth on your skin that seems to dangle from the surface like a tiny, deflated balloon? Chances are, you have a skin tag.
Skin tags are soft, skin-colored growths that hang from your skin. Although they are harmless and don’t usually cause pain, skin tags can be bothersome and embarrassing. Sometimes, they can snag on clothing or jewelry and bleed.
If you’re curious about how to say bye-bye to these little tags for good, you’re in the right place. Rebecca Thiede, MD, a dermatologist with Banner – University Medicine, helps us understand what causes skin tags, how to remove them safely and why you should avoid at-home solutions.
What are skin tags?
Skin tags (also known as acrochordons and fibroepithelial polyps) are non-cancerous (benign) growths. They might be the same color as your skin or darker, but they are not harmful.
“Skin tags are made up of skin cells, collagen, tiny blood vessels and nerves,” Dr. Thiede said. “They can range in size from a few millimeters to a few centimeters, but tags this size are rare.”
They usually develop in areas where your skin naturally folds, such as the neck, armpits, groin area and eyelids.
Who gets skin tags?
Unlike moles or other skin growths, you aren’t born with skin tags but can develop at least one in your lifetime.
“Skin tags can appear in up to 60% of the adult general population, affecting both men and women equally,” Dr. Thiede said. “They can run in families, but we often see these during pregnancy and in people with type 2 diabetes, who are overweight and/or have a metabolic syndrome.”
Although it’s rare, these skin growths can also appear with genetic disorders like Birt-Hogg-Dubé syndrome.
Are skin tags generally harmless? Should I see my provider?
Skin tags are usually asymptomatic, meaning they don’t cause any problems. But depending on where the tags are on your body, they might get caught on clothing, seatbelts or jewelry or become irritated from repeated rubbing.
“Sometimes, what might look like a skin tag could be a different type of skin growth,” Dr. Thiede said. “If you have a family history of skin cancer, you should see your dermatologist to look at them to ensure they are truly skin tags.”
Is using at-home remedies or over-the-counter (OTC) products to remove skin tags safe?
Searches on Google and TikTok might send you down a rabbit hole of different at-home treatments – such as freezing kits, duct tape or applying baking soda and castor oil, tea tree oil or apple cider vinegar – but it’s a bad idea to DIY.
Dr. Thiede strongly discourages at-home removal. Leave the procedure to dermatologists and other health care providers.
“There is no scientific proof these OTC products work. Even worse, you risk skin irritation, bleeding and scarring,” said Dr. Thiede. “Also, if your supposed skin tag is growing quickly and/or changes in shape or color in a short time, it might be skin cancer. You don’t want to miss a melanoma.”
How can you safely remove skin tags?
“Dermatologists are equipped to identify and safely remove skin tags and other skin lesions,” Dr. Thiede said.
Some of these treatments might include:
- Snip removal (excision): Your provider might cut off the skin tag with a scalpel or scissors. This is usually a quick procedure and stitches may or may not be needed.
- Cryotherapy: You can have your skin tag frozen off using liquid nitrogen. The cold temperature causes the tag to fall off after some time.
- Laser treatments: Laser treatment involves using a laser to break down the cells in the skin tag, causing it to fall off.
- Electrocautery or cauterization: This method involves using a special tool or device to burn off the skin tag.
Can I do anything to prevent skin tags?
It’s not always possible to prevent skin tags entirely, but there are some things you can do that might help reduce the chances of them developing:
- Live a healthy lifestyle: Eat a balanced diet of fruits, veggies and whole grains for good skin health. Get regular exercise. Stay at a healthy weight for your body.
- Check your skin: Keep an eye on your skin. If you notice anything new or changing, have it checked out by your provider.
- Use moisturizer: Keep your skin well moisturized to prevent irritation. Use a gentle, hypoallergenic lotion to keep skin hydrated.
- Be kind to your skin: Be cautious with harsh chemical skincare products. These can irritate your skin.
- Wear comfy clothes: Choose loose-fitting clothes to prevent skin from rubbing together, especially in places where skin tags might pop up.
Skin tags are harmless, but they can be bothersome for some people.
While trying home remedies and OTC products may be tempting, leave these growths to a health care provider. They have several procedures they can use to remove a skin tag safely.
Contact your health care provider or a Banner Health specialist if you are worried about a possible skin tag or growth on your skin.