skin-tags
Closeup of skin tags on neck (Photo Source: iStock Photos)

Who isn’t bothered by skin tags? You know, those annoying flesh-colored dangling pieces of skin? If you’ve got one or more, you know it. In fact, you probably can’t keep your hands off of them. Skin tags are probably the most common bump or growth found on adult skin. You may think they are ugly, and sometimes they are. But the good news is that they are harmless. Here’s what you need to know about skin tags and what you can do about them.

What are skin tags?

Skin tags are simply an outgrowth of normal skin. They are diagnosed based on clinical appearance. They may be as small as a pencil point or may grow to the size of a dime. Typically, they are only a few millimeters in diameter.

A single tag is pedunculated. That means it is attached by a peduncle which is a narrow stalk to which the growth attaches to the skin.

Pedunculated skin tag
Many skin tags are pedunculated meaning they are on a stalk. (Photo source: iStock)

In the dermatologic literature, skin tags are also known as acrochordons, fibroepithelial polyps or cutaneous papillomas. Whatever you call them, they are harmless, benign skin tumors that typically do not hurt, itch, or cause pain.

Almost 50% of the adult population has them. And, the chance of developing them increases with age

A person may have a single skin tag or may develop
hundreds of these fleshy growths.

What causes them?

Skin tags are commonly seen in individuals with obesity and diabetes. There are some observational studies that suggest that skin tags may be a sign of insulin resistance.  But the exact cause is uncertain.

Environmental factors may play a role, as they do seem to occur in areas where skin rubs against skin, such as areas of friction like in the armpits, around the base of the neck, underneath the breasts, and along the inguinal crease where the upper thigh meets the body. But not always. Skin tags may also be found on the eyelids.

multiple skin tags around the neck
Some people have only one or two skin tags, others have multiple skin tags particularly in areas of skin friction, such as the neck. (Photo source: iStock)

Hormones may also play a role in their development as these growths seem to increase in pregnant women. And as with many medical conditions, there may be a genetic predisposition as skin tags often run in families.

Related articles:
How Do I Know If I Have Skin Cancer?
What You Need to Know About Basal Cell Carcinoma
Link to all articles by Dr. Fayne Frey

Common myths about skin tags

  • Only older folks get skin tags.

Although skin tags are more common in older individuals, anyone including children can develop these benign growths.

  • Skin tags are contagious

Skin tags are not contagious.

  • Removing skin tags causes new ones to grow

No, removing skin tags does not cause new tags to grow, although new tags may develop with age.

  • Skin tags are the beginning of a cancer.

Skin tags are universally benign. Reports of skin cancer arising within them extremely rare.

  • Skin tags indicate that you have a cancer.

Skin tags are not a sign that you have cancer or any other medical condition for that matter. Although there is an exceedingly rare medical syndrome, called Birt-Hogg-Dube syndrome, that is associated with skin tag occurrence. However, merely having them is not an indication of an underlying malignancy or other health problem.

  • Only people who are overweight get skin tags.

This is not true. Although overweight individuals may be more likely to develop skin tags, these fibromas do not discriminate. Even the most underweight individual can develop them.

Should skin tags be removed?

Most dermatologists recommend the removal of skin tags only if they are the source of irritation or discomfort. Although skin tags often become inflamed in areas where skin rubs against skin, they can also become irritated from clothing or from getting caught in jewelry.

Skin tags can also be removed if an individual finds their appearance unfavorable, but many private insurers no longer cover the removal of these benign growths solely for cosmetic purposes. From a strictly medical perspective, there is no reason to remove an otherwise asymptomatic skin tag.

How are skin tags removed?

Skin tags can be easily removed in a dermatologist’s office with a small Gradle scissor. These scissors have a slight curve fine tips. They are used for delicate work.

Small tags can be removed without anesthesia. However, larger lesions often necessitate numbing the area by injecting a small amount of local anesthetic.

Other removal techniques include freezing the tag, similar to wart removal, or removing the tag with a cautery.

Can I remove them at home by myself?

Many people attempt to remove skin tags at home. This is not advisable due to the risk of infection, bleeding, and unnecessary pain. It is best to have them removed by a professional.

Further, you could mistake a more serious condition, such as a malignant mole, for a benign skin tag. Skin lesions should be examined by a skincare expert before attempting do-it-yourself removal. 

brown colored skin tag close up
Brown-colored skin tags may be confused with moles and vice versa.
(Photo source: iStock)

That being said, there are a variety of ways people have tried removing skin tags on their own, including the following:

  • Over-the-counter wart remover

These agents can discolor the skin and cause skin irritation and infection.

  • Nail clippers

People have attempted to cut off their skin tags using nail clippers. This can results in bleeding, infection, and scarring.  

  • At home shaving techniques

Although you may be tempted to do this, it can result in uncontrolled bleeding. It is also unnecessarily painful

  • Strangulation techniques

Some people try to remove the tag by cutting off its blood supply using dental floss or another type of string. This causes discomfort and, in some cases, prolonged pain.

The bottom line 

Don’t assume a new growth is a benign skin tag. Allow a skin expert to evaluate any change in your skin before attempting to treat it yourself. And while you are there, let the expert remove it for you.

Fayne Frey, MD

Fayne Frey, M.D., is a board-certified clinical and surgical dermatologist practicing in West Nyack, New York, where she specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer. She is a nationally recognized expert in the effectiveness and formulation of over-the-counter skincare products, and, as a speaker, has captivated audiences with her wry observations regarding the skincare industry. She has consulted for numerous media outlets, including NBC, USA Today, and, the Huffington Post, and has shared her expertise on both cable and major TV outlets.

Dr. Frey is the Founder of FryFace.com, an educational skincare information and product selection service website that clarifies and simplifies the overwhelming choice of effective, safe and affordable products encountered in the skincare aisles.

Dr. Frey is a graduate of the Weill Cornell Medical College and is a fellow of both the American Academy of Dermatology and the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery.

1 COMMENT

  1. Annoying things to say the least! I’ve always felt they were hormone related. A terrible experience with a doctors resolution to fibroid tumors left me with a bunch of these!

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