Skin Tags

1 What are skin tags?

Skin tags are common, soft skin growths that are harmless, but can look and feel bothersome. They resemble soft, small balloons hanging onto the skin. These tags look like darkly-pigmented or flesh-colored tissue and can be as small as 2 mm in diameter or as big as 5 cm in diameter.

Although skin tags can occur anywhere on the skin, two of the most prominent areas where they occur are the armpits and neck. Other common areas include the eyelids, groin folds, armpits, buttocks folds, neck, and under the breasts. A normal person can have anywhere from a few to hundreds of skin tags all across the body. Most people at some point in their lives will likely develop a skin tag. Both women and men are equally susceptible to them, but obese and middle-aged adults are much more prone. The medical term used for the condition of skin tags is Acrochordon.

2 Symptoms of skin tags

Skin tags are fairly common and typically look like flesh-colored acquired skin. In light-skinned individuals, skin tags may also appear brown in color. In texture, they can be wrinkled or smooth, and generally range in size from that of a small mole to approximately the size of a grape. Tiny tags can be recognized by the raised bumps on the skin, but in case of larger ones, there is a stalk that attaches the underlying skin to the tag.

If a person’s skin tag is twisted and warped across the blood supply, it may turn black or red. Skin tags may bleed sometimes if they get caught or stuck on something such as jewelry or clothing. They may also be torn after getting caught.

Skin tags are not usually painful and most of the time are not related to any specific skin conditions or symptoms, but people who have the skin condition Acanthosis Nigricans and those who are prone to diabetes are more often connected to skin tags; Acanthosis Nigricans, diabetes, and Acromegaly are the most common conditions associated with skin tags.

3 Causes of skin tags

Skin tags are assumed to develop and grow due to sudden friction caused between adjacent areas of skin or between the skin and clothing. Common areas of the body that experience the greatest number of skin tags include:

  • Under the arms
  • On the upper chest and particularly below the breasts in women
  • All around the neck, especially at the back
  • On the eyelids or near the margins of the eyelids
  • On the groin or buttocks folds

More often than not, skin tags occur in obese and overweight people, mostly as a result of the increased adjacent skin friction and contact. Skin tags can also be seen in children and new-born infants, but they tend to occur mostly in middle-aged adults and increase with age, making it all the more prominent in older individuals.

Recent medical studies have suggested that the development of skin tags can also be attributed to inherited susceptibility, as skin tags can occur around the anal opening (known as perianal skin tags), which is a common occurrence in people with Crohn’s disease. Other causes include hormonal changes during pregnancy; a pregnant woman can experience a sudden growth of skin tags especially during the second trimester of their pregnancy, which eventually sheds off after some time. However, it should be noted that skin tags are not a type of cancer, nor have there been any proven reports of skin cancers arising from skin tags.

4 Diagnosing skin tags

Clinical diagnosis of skin tags does not require any sort of lab or imaging tests, which is otherwise commonly used to diagnosis disease. But in the case of skin tags, diagnosis is based on observation, as skin tags possess a very characteristic appearance and a visual check-up is enough to correctly diagnose them.

Lab tests and diagnostic studies are not needed to diagnosis skin tags, but doctors may still suggest excising and sending the skin tag to a pathologist for a detailed microscopic diagnosis. This is especially done in order to rule out the presence of other fatal skin conditions that can appear similar to skin tags. Certain types of warts, moles, and gentle skin growths such as seborrheic keratosis also look similar to skin tags, and in such cases, a microscopic diagnosis becomes necessary. However, there is only a negligible chance for skin cancer to resemble something harmless like a skin tag, so there is no reason to worry unnecessarily.

5 Skin tag treatment

Although skin tags are usually harmless, people tend to have them removed for both cosmetic and aesthetic reasons. However, it is recommended by doctors to have larger skin tags removed, especially ones in an area that is frequently irritated due to being rubbed against something, such as skin, jewelry, or clothing.

Some of the procedures employed by doctors to remove skin tags are:

  • Cauterization: In this process, the skin tag is burned off using the method of electrolysis.
  • Cryosurgery: In this process, the skin tag is first frozen with the help of a probe containing liquid nitrogen, and then is detached quickly.
  • Litigation: In this process, the supply of blood to a specific skin tag is interrupted, and then it is painlessly removed.
  • Excision: In this process, the skin tag is cut out and removed using a scalpel.

It is important that all the above-mentioned procedures are performed only by a dermatologist who is a skin specialist or by a medical professional trained in these processes. Also, skin tags on the eyelids or close to the eyelid margins have to be treated by an ophthalmologist, which is an eye specialist.

It is strictly warned by medical professionals across the globe that no individual try to remove large skin tags on their own because it carries the risk of excessive bleeding and consequent infections that can worsen the condition. However, excessively small skin tags with a narrow base can be removed by a person at home. This can be conveniently done by placing thin cotton around the base of the skin tag to cut off the blood circulation and then using sterile scissors to cut the tag. It can also be done by tying dental floss around the skin tag and then quickly pulling it out.

Some over-the-counter (OTC) solutions require no medical prescription. They quickly freeze the skin tag, which helps it eventually fall out on its own after a period of seven to 10 days. These OTC solutions are very similar to medications used by people for wart removal. Extremely small skin tags can simply come off by scratching them, but it is still recommended to have them removed by a trained healthcare professional to avoid any undesirable mess or complications.
There is no evidence to suggest that if you remove skin tags, it will encourage the development of more, so there’s no need to worry in that regard.

6 Alternative treatments for skin tags

Alternative hacks for removing skin tags include removal devices available in the market, tea tree oil, and wart/mole vanish kits.

You can also use dental floss to tie around the skin tag and quickly pull to get rid of it. But any home remedy should be employed only in the case of extremely small skin tags that won’t create a mess. Other home remedies available to remove the tags include apple cider vinegar, onion juice, castor oil, pineapple juice, aloe vera, garlic, etc.

There are also medications available in the market that can be used to freeze the skin tag and let it slowly fall out in a couple of days. Medicated powders can help reduce the irritation and friction between the adjoining skins in areas such as armpits, legs, groin, and under breasts. It helps to keep such areas dry and, therefore, reduces the chance of developing skin tags caused by skin-to-skin friction.

7 Coping with skin tags

Skin tags are commonly regarded as the barometer of one’s health, and it is said that if you live a poor lifestyle that includes the intake of a lot of saturated fats and sugar, you will eventually become obese and can even acquire diabetes. Both these situations are the most commonly associated symptoms of skin tags in all areas across the body. Therefore, it is advised by medical professionals to become healthier and lose weight through a healthy routine. So, to avoid getting skin tags, you need to bring about a drastic change in your diet and maintain a consistent physical routine. Dietary adjustments along with toning exercises go a long way toward getting rid of loosely-hanging skin and diabetic conditions.

8 Complications of skin tags

Skin tags are most prominent in people who are obese, because overweight people have more skin creases and folds. They are also common during pregnancy due to hormonal changes. People with sex steroid imbalance, HPV, and diabetes are also at a major risk of acquiring skin tags.

According to recent studies, people with numerous skin tags can develop insulin resistance. It is also associated with high cholesterol levels, obesity, an increase in highly sensitive C-reactive protein, and high blood pressure due to hypertension, indicating that skin tags increase one’s risk of cardiovascular disease and atherosclerosis.

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