A skin tag is a very common skin condition (read here about other 10+ most common skin conditions). It’s a flesh-colored growth that hangs off your skin and commonly mushrooms in areas of friction where skin rubs against skin or clothing. It is made up of loose collagen fibers and blood vessels surrounded by skin. .
How to Identify a Skin Tag
Skin tags have a thin, stalk-like, or round appearance. They vary in size and can range from a few millimeters up to 5 centimeters wide.
Since these skin tags are more prevalent in areas of friction, they are commonly found in the following areas of the body:
- Groin area
- Under the breasts
Who is more likely to get Skin Tags?
More than half of the general population has had skin tags at some point in their life. Skin tags are normally not present at birth but they develop within the course of life especially in adulthood. The prevalence of their occurrence increases from around middle age to 60 years and occurs equally in both men and women.
The following groups of people have been observed to have skin tags more than the average person:
- Obese or overweight people
- Pregnant women
- People with diabetes
- People with higher levels of estrogen and progesterone
- People with close blood-related relatives who have skin tags
What Causes Skin Tags?
The exact cause of skin tags is unknown but since they often occur in areas where skin rubs against itself, friction seems to be a major contributing factor. Since skin tags constitute collagen and blood vessels surrounded by a layer of skin, it’s also assumed that they appear when collagen and blood vessels become trapped between thick pieces of skin.
Genetics is presumed to be a causal factor as it has been observed that people with skin tags have family members that also have them. However, they are not contagious.
Women who are pregnant are at an increased risk of developing skin tags due to pregnancy hormones and increased body weight. They may also be a symptom of hormonal imbalance or a disorder with the endocrine system although this is rarely the case.
Skin tags are also associated with increased levels of insulin in the blood (hyperinsulinemia) due to insulin resistance. This is probably the reason why people suffering from diabetes may have skin tags.
It is not uncommon for people who are overweight or obese to have skin tags thus obesity may be a contributing factor. This is because they tend to have more folds on the skin so skin tags that develop due to friction are more likely.
The human papillomavirus (HPV) may also be a cause for skin tags since, on closer examination, the majority of skin tags have been found to contain HPV DNA.
How to Prevent Skin Tags?
Keeping in mind the causes, it’s easy to come up with ways to prevent skin tags. Although some factors may be beyond your control, the causes that are connected to your lifestyle can be arrested by adopting some lifestyle changes.
- Shed a few pounds to reduce the number of skin folds. This can be done by dietary changes coupled with physical exercises. Toning exercise will ensure that stretched and loose skin is done away with. Cutting down on weight will also mean less hormonal changes.
- Apply medicated powder on areas where the skin rubs against itself to reduce friction and irritation. Avoid perfumed powders as they may further irritate your skin.
- Avoid wearing tight clothes. They rub against your skin leaving no room for breathing of pores. Putting on jewelry such as necklaces may cause skin tags so avoid wearing them frequently if you’re highly susceptible to developing skin tags.
How to get rid of Skin Tags
Skin tags generally do not need to be removed, but if they are a source of discomfort to you, then you can have them removed. There are simple home remedies that you can try on your own but some methods require the skill of a doctor.
As much you can undertake these removal methods on your own, seek a doctor’s advice before trying them out.
Skin Tag Removal Device
The device is used to cut off the flow of blood at the base of the tag by tying it off with a band. Once the supply of blood is interrupted, the cells die and the skin tag will fall off within 10 days. Skin tag removal kits are readily available in stores and you can also buy them online.
Use Dental Floss or a String
This method works the same way as the tag removal device only that dental floss or a string is used instead of a band. Tie the string at the bottom of the skin tag and keep tightening it every day. Make sure you sterilize and use clean hands to avoid infections. This method is ineffective with small skin tags as they cannot be tied off properly.
Freezing Skin Tags
Freezing kits that you can purchase from most drugstores contain liquid nitrogen that is used to freeze skin tags. The frozen skin tag eventually falls off after several applications. Ensure that you keenly follow the instructions on their use. Avoid spraying the skin surrounding the skin tag which you can achieve by applying petroleum jelly on it.
Skin Tag Removal Oil
The advantage of this method is that it works after only a single application. However, you may experience a slight stinging sensation that goes away quickly. The tag drops off in approximately two to three weeks. Most of the brands of creams will direct you to swab a bit of alcohol wipe to facilitate the absorption of the cream quickly.
Applying Essential Oils for Skin Tags
Essential oils have numerous uses in skincare and removing skin tags is one of them. When applied, they slowly dry the skin tag out and it eventually dies and falls off. An added advantage is that they help the skin heal afterward.
The types of essential oils that can be used include tea tree oil, oregano, frankincense, oil of clove, and lemon oil. For these oils to work effectively, they must be used in the right way and consistently.
Be sure to dilute them with carrier oils as they tend to be too concentrated.
Therefore a good option is to use specially formulated natural oils for skin tags removal – one recommended oil is H-Skin tag Formula from Amoils.
Other home remedies that may be used include apple cider vinegar, iodine, and lemon juice. It is of utmost importance that you sterilize the tools that you use and also keep your hands clean. This can be done using an antiseptic cream to lower the chances of infections.
Home remedies are not suitable when skin tags are located around sensitive areas like the eyelids and genitals, are too large, change in appearance or they cause pain and bleeding. You should seek medical help for these cases.
This will save you the risk of bleeding excessively and infections. A doctor will also examine the growth to rule out the presence of a serious condition like skin cancer.
The treatment methods used by doctors are listed as follows:
The skin tag is burned off by high-frequency electrical energy. It falls off after one or two sessions. This method is also referred to as electrosurgery.
This is done by tying off the skin tag using a surgical thread to cut off the blood supply. Its cells die and it falls off.
This method involves cutting off skin tags using blades or clippers. The dermatologist applies a local anesthetic to numb off the area before the cutting. Additional chemicals may be used to stop the bleeding. Depending on the seriousness of the wound left behind, the doctor may prescribe antibiotics.
For larger skin tags that may prove to be a challenge for the simple excision, surgical excision is recommended. The numbing process is the same as above only that in this procedure, the doctor will use a scalpel.
The medical practitioner uses a probe with liquid nitrogen to freeze the tag which drops off after one or two treatments.
These procedures should only be performed by a dermatologist or a medical professional trained in a similar field. Sometimes, a skin tag may regrow where one had been removed so if this happens, you can go and get it removed once again.
Are Skin Tags dangerous? When to See a Doctor
Skin tags are mostly benign (not cancerous) growths and thus pose no threat to your health and neither will they become cancerous if left untreated. However, there are rare cases when they do become cancerous. When in doubt, look out for the following symptoms:
- If it bleeds
- If it’s itchy
- If it’s growing in size
- If it shows several colors, for example, red, pink, brown or black
In the case that you display such signs, a doctor will carry out a biopsy to ascertain whether it’s a tag or not. The tissue of the skin tag will be removed and given to a pathologist to examine it under a microscope.
Some growths that may appear to be skin tags may be moles, warts, neurofibromas, or seborrheic keratoses. Some types of skin cancer may at very rare times also be disguised as skin tag-like growths. A biopsy will determine exactly what kind of growth you have. If the biopsy comes out as positive, it means that it is cancerous and the area around it will need to be removed to prevent further spread. If it’s negative, then it’s a common skin tag and you need not worry.