Skin tags are harmless, usually painless, small, soft, skin-coloured growths. They are mainly just a few millimetres in size, although they can grow bigger and tend to look like elongated growths that hang off the skin. Sometimes they can be mistaken for warts or small naevi (pigmented moles). They are made of loose collagen fibres, small blood vessels and skin. Although harmless and not contagious, people often dislike the appearance of skin tags. Medical terms for a skin tag include fibroepithelial polyp, acrochordon, cutaneous papilloma, and soft fibroma.
Here to tell us more about skin tags and how to get rid of them is plastic surgeon Mr Niall Kirkpatrick.
Why do people get skin tags?
Skin tags tend to grow in areas of friction where the skin rubs against itself or clothing, such as where collars chaff. Therefore, they are common in the skin folds of the armpits, eyelids, under the breasts, groin, buttocks and around the neck.
Although they can occur in children, they usually affect adults and occur equally in both men and women. They are more common in overweight people because excess folds of skin chaff and rub more. Most people will develop skin tags at some point and people also tend to accumulate skin tags as they get older. The hormonal changes of pregnancy may also cause them to develop and they are more common in patients with type 2 diabetes.
How do I know the difference between a skin tag and skin cancer?
Skin tags typically have a soft elongated skin complexion and consistency and are rarely confused with skin cancers, which tend to be firmer and either redder, more pigmented or ulcerated. However, if you have any concerns about a skin growth, it is wise to seek professional advice. Skin tag-like growths that bleed, grow or display multiple colours like pink, brown, red, or black may require a biopsy to exclude other causes.
Can skin tags be treated at home?
Sometimes skin tags fall off spontaneously at home. This can occur if the skin tag twists on itself and the blood vessels inside get blocked off so that the skin dies. People also occasionally scratch them off or cut them off when shaving.
Most skin tags, however, remain quite persistent. Sometimes tying a thread of cotton or dental floss around the base of a skin tag will cause it to strangulate and fall off. This may be possible with larger skin tags but the majority are too small to effectively do this. Also, there is often a small residual piece of skin tag left at the base afterwards.
Should I get professional treatment?
Yes. Generally, this is the best and safest thing to do. Skin tags can usually be carefully snipped off with fine scissors with or without local anaesthetic. Most of the time the skin will then heal itself without any evident scarring. Freezing (cryotherapy) or burning (cauterisation) off skin tags is also a possibility. Although these are simple treatments, they are slightly less precise and can sometimes lead to scarring and pigment changes in the skin afterwards.
If you have a skin tag and would like to talk to a professional about removing it, we advise you to contact a specialist for advice and tips.