Skin Tags are common growths that look like tiny, soft balloons of hanging flesh. While unsightly, they are completely benign, and a single person can have anywhere from one to hundreds of individual skin tags. Men and women are equally likely to develop them. Skin tags are typically about 2 mm-5 mm in diameter, but may grow as large as a grape (1 cm in diameter) or even a fig (5 cm in diameter). They are most commonly found on the base of the neck, armpits, eyelids, groin folds, buttock folds, and under the breasts. Of these, the neck and the armpits are the most common. Skin tags are believed to develop as a result of friction, either friction between skin and skin or between skin and clothing. Friction will also make existing skin tags worse. Try to avoid letting your skin tags rub against jewelry or clothing.
While they are sometimes confused for warts, skin tags are not related to warts, which are caused by the Human Papillomavirus, or HPV. Skin tags are not contagious, generally not cancerous, and do not generally cause pain or discomfort. However, they may occasionally require removal when they become irritated and red from bleeding or black from twisting to the point where blood flow to the tag is interrupted and the skin dies. If you are concerned about your skin tags, or just want to get rid of them for cosmetic reasons, read on to learn about the most common methods of skin tag removal.
Small skin tags can easily be removed at home through a variety of methods. These include:
- Tying off the tag at its narrow base with a piece of dental floss or string; this method is called “ligation” and will typically take a few days for the skin tag to fall off
- Twisting the tag and allowing it to fall off naturally
- Cutting the tag off with a pair of scissors
The advantage of using scissors is that the removal is instantaneous. The potential disadvantage of using scissors is pain and minor bleeding.
If you would rather have a trained medical professional remove your skin tags, this can be handled by dermatologists, family physicians, and internal medicine physicians. In the event of a skin tag that is on or very close to the eyelid margin, you may need to see an ophthalmologist.
Small skin tags usually don’t require anesthesia, but larger ones may necessitate the use of a local anesthesia, such as Lidocaine, or a topical anesthesia, like Betacaine cream or LMX 5% cream, prior to the removal procedure.
Two common medical methods employed by doctors for skin tag removal are:
- Freezing the tag with liquid nitrogen
- Burning the tag with electrocautery or electro-desiccation
Possible risks with freezing or burning include temporary discoloration of the skin where the tag was, the need for repeat treatments, and failure for the tag to fall off. Do-it-yourself kits for liquid nitrogen freezing are also available if you want to try this at home.
Keep in mind that many if not all health insurance carriers consider skin tag removal to be a cosmetic treatment and therefore will not pay for these procedures. Only in uncommon instances where there is a documented medical need to remove suspicious growths or highly symptomatic growths are insurance companies likely to pay for skin tag removal.
The use of products such as Dermasil, wart removers, tea tree oil, toothpaste, apple cider vinegar, nail polish, or hair-removal creams like Nair is not recommended for the removal of skin tags. Such products may cause irritation and secondary complications.