Medically known as acrochorda, skin tags are small, soft skin outgrowths that hang off the skin by a connecting stalk known as a peduncle. These bits of excessive skin may sprout on various parts of the body and are usually benign, harmless, and painless.
For all intents and purposes, skin tags have primarily emerged as a cosmetic problem. Despite not having any hazardous ramifications for your health in general, these unsightly papules can be a cause of concern just the same.
Skin tags are typically flesh colored and may be smooth or wrinkled. They are composed of blood vessels and loose collagen fibers surrounded by skin. Although these wart-like polyps can show up anywhere on the body, they are mostly found in areas where the skin repeatedly rubs against itself.
As overweight or obese people tend to have excessive skin folds, they are particularly vulnerable to this condition. The typical problem areas include the armpits, eyelids, neck, thighs, under the breasts, chest, and groin.
There is no standard size of a skin tag, it can be anywhere between a few millimeters to about 2 inches wide and can grow to about a half an inch in length. Moreover, they can present in a variety of ways. Some people may develop one or two skin tags while others may be afflicted with several projections, occurring in isolated spots or as a bunch.
Skin tags are fairly common among both men and women, especially if they happen to be on the heavier side or are diabetic. As far as the general population is concerned, the reported incidence of skin tags stands at 46%, which points to its widespread prevalence.
Furthermore, people who belong in the middle-aged or elderly category are at an increased risk, as 25% of the people who develop this condition do so once they cross their 50th birthday.
Skin tags usually don’t cause any pain. However, they can become irritated if anything such as clothing or jewelry rubs on them.
The cause of skin tags is not known, but it is believed that it has something to do with excessive skin friction.
Other factors that might play a role in the development of skin tags include:
- The presence of certain forms of human papillomavirus (HPV): A 2008 study published in the Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology and Leprology found that HPV may be a contributing factor in the development of skin tags.
- Hormonal changes triggered by pregnancy and diabetes can pave the way for this condition.
- Heredity may also make a person more prone to skin tags.
- Insulin resistance (syndrome X): A study published in the Anais Brasileiros de Dermatologia reported that multiple skin tags are associated with insulin resistance, a high body mass index (BMI), and high triglycerides.
You can consider procedures such as cauterization, cryosurgery, ligation, and excision to remove skin tags. These procedures are done by a trained medical professional or a dermatologist.
Skin tags are harmless and don’t usually cause pain or discomfort.
However, you may want to consider getting them removed if they are unsightly and affect your self-esteem or if they snag on clothing or jewelry and bleed. You’ll usually need to pay for this procedure privately because removal of skin tags is regarded as a cosmetic surgery, which is rarely covered by insurance.
If you are lucky enough, the skin tags might just fall off on their own. This usually happens when the overgrown skin tissue gets twisted and gradually dies from a lack of blood supply.
Is it a Skin Tag or a Wart?
Warts and skin tags are different from each other.
- Warts are typically flat or slightly elevated, while skin tags have a lumpy or knobbly appearance and hang off the body by a frail stalk of skin.
- Warts have a rough and uneven surface, while skin tags tend to have a smooth and soft exterior.
- Unlike warts that spread very easily, skin tags are not contagious. By this logic, a sudden outbreak or cluster of growths is more likely to be a case of warts than skin tags, especially if they occur near the genitalia.
Depending on where your skin tags are located, you might not choose any skin tag treatment–out of sight can lead to out of mind.
However, you might want to seek skin tag treatment for cosmetic reasons if, for instance, they are on your eyelids and detract from your appearance. Another reason to have a skin tag removed is if it is on an area that gets a lot of friction, even just from wearing clothes, causing irritation and bleeding.
Given that skin tags can be either a cosmetic woe or a cause of physical discomfort or both, a lot of people understandably choose to get them removed. Your doctor may do any of the following:
- Your doctor may remove your skin tag surgically, which involves cutting it off with the help of surgical scissors or a scalpel. The treated skin may need to be tied together with stitches and then allowed to heal. Surgical removal guarantees the complete removal of the skin tag, especially if it hangs from the skin. Minor bleeding is expected.
- Your doctor may choose to remove the skin tag using cryotherapy, which entails spraying or swabbing liquid nitrogen on to your skin tag to freeze the tissue. This treatment is associated with little to no discomfort, and the skin usually heals on its own.
- Your doctor may prefer to burn off or destroy the skin tag by superheating the tissue, usually with the use of high-frequency electrical energy conducted through a wire. This is known as electrosurgery or cautery, wherein the heat burns the stem of the growth and facilitates a cleaner healing process.
Once the tissue is removed from the body, it is usually not subjected to the standard analysis that a typical tumor would be.
However, if the skin tag was removed from a child, it usually warrants post-surgical examination as it could be the beginning of a condition called nevoid basal cell carcinoma syndrome, a rare genetic condition involving skin cancer.
Bothersome as these skin tags may be, you must fight off the urge to pick at them in the hopes of removing them altogether. Going at it with nonsterile equipment can cause bleeding or infection.
Another ill-advised strategy is to douse the tags in fingernail polish or a standard wart remover, which are specifically designed for tougher skin, like nails or warts.
Only your dermatologist has the discretionary knowledge and the authority to determine if it’s safe for you to remove your skin tag at home. Before you take matters in your own hand, consult with your doctor first.
He or she will take into account all the necessary risk factors and show you the right way of going about it. If your doctor deems the targeted skin tag to be small enough, preferably with a narrow base, he may suggest the following ways to remove it yourself:
- Ligation, which entails tying off the base of the skin tag with dental floss or cotton to cut off its blood supply and make it drop off.
- Severing the outgrowth with a pair of fine sterile scissors.
Given that the silent threat of cancer is omnipresent, even the most non-threatening skin anomaly can set your alarm bells ringing. The fact that skin tags look an awful lot like the skin anomalies associated with rare forms of skin cancers only goes to show that your fears are not completely unfounded.
However, despite their uncanny resemblance to certain forms of cancers such as basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and even melanoma, skin tags are inherently noncancerous and are almost always benign.
But to adequately lay your doubts and anxieties to rest, it’s best to get your lesions examined by a board-certified dermatologist who can rule out the possibility of any serious underlying condition masquerading as a skin tag.
Once you have been reassured by a trained professional, you can decide if you wish to get the skin tags removed or not, as there is virtually no harm in leaving them be.
When Do You Need to See a Doctor?
Possible red flags that necessitate the need for a doctor’s visit include:
- If any tag is growing
- If any tag is changing color
- If any tag shows signs of bleeding
- If any tag tends to be itchy
Getting your skin tags examined by a trained eye will help eliminate the risk of a more serious or potentially cancerous condition at the base. If a visual exam is inconclusive, your doctor may perform a biopsy.
Alternatively, you can use home remedies to get rid of skin tags. Home remedies are less invasive and can give you the same positive results.
Make sure to wash your skin with soap and warm water and pat it dry before applying any of these remedies. Home remedies are not recommended for large skin tags or the ones that are causing pain, bleeding, or itching. Plus, it is suggested to consult your doctor before proceeding to remove any skin growth or development.
As a general rule of thumb, all skin tags located near your eyes or around your genitals are considered beyond the purview of natural home cure. Their removal requires the precision and expertise of a trained physician as the use of chemicals, essential oils, or mechanical methods may permanently damage the tender tissue found in such sensitive sites.
Natural treatments for skin tag removal may take several days to weeks or sometimes even longer to help. Be consistent and patient with your treatment.
Here are some simple home remedies to get rid of skin tags naturally.
Although these home remedies have no scientific basis, they have acquired a great deal of anecdotal merit due to the overwhelming success rate of these remedies among users who have given them a try.
1. Use Dental Floss
Dental floss can be used to remove small skin tags with a very narrow base. In fact, it is the easiest method that you can try at home, and it can even help you remove any skin tags on your neck.
The theory is that when you tie off the skin tag at the stalk, you cut off the blood flow. Without blood flow, the skin tag will dry out and soon fall off.
- Wash your skin with mild soap and then pat it dry.
- Wipe some rubbing alcohol on your skin.
- Tie a piece of dental floss as tightly as you can around the bottom of the stalk of the skin tag.
- Cover the skin tag with a bandage.
- Each day, sterilize the area with rubbing alcohol and change the bandage.
- Within 1 to 2 weeks, the tag will wither and fall off.
2. Apply Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is the best home remedy for skin tags. The acid in apple cider vinegar breaks down the excess cells in the skin tag and naturally removes them.
- Dip a cotton swab in apple cider vinegar and apply it directly on the skin tag. There will be a stinging sensation for a few minutes that will soon stop.
- Leave it on for 3 or 4 hours, and then wash it off with warm water.
- Follow this remedy at least three times daily for 2 to 4 weeks to eliminate the tags.
3. Tea Tree Oil can be Beneficial
Being very acidic in nature, tea tree oil is also a good remedy for skin tags. This oil will dry out the skin tag, and gradually it will fall off on its own without any pain. Plus, the antiseptic property of tea tree oil will protect the skin after the tag has been removed.
- Dip a cotton ball in water and squeeze out the excess water.
- Put three or four drops of tea tree oil on the wet cotton ball.
- Rub the cotton ball over the skin tag, massaging it gently in circular motions.
- Leave it on for a few hours before washing it off.
- Repeat this three times daily for a few weeks or until the skin tag vanishes.
4. Apply Castor Oil and Baking Soda Paste
Castor oil is another effective home remedy to remove skin tags. This oil helps dissolve and eliminate unusual skin growths without leaving a scar. Plus, it is loaded with many nutrients that help keep your skin healthy.
- Prepare a paste by mixing two parts castor oil with one part baking soda.
- Optionally, you can add a few drops of lemon oil or peppermint oil to the paste.
- Apply this paste on the skin tag.
- Cover it with a bandage and leave it on overnight.
- The next morning, wash it off with warm water.
- Repeat this daily for about 2 weeks or until the tag is gone.
You can even rub some castor oil on your skin tags several times a day to get rid of them quickly.
5. Smear Garlic Paste on Your Tag
Fresh garlic can help treat a number of skin conditions including skin tags. It is believed that the enzymes present in garlic help shrink skin tags naturally.
- Crush a few garlic cloves to make a paste.
- Apply this paste on the skin tags.
- Cover it with a bandage and leave it on overnight.
- The next morning, wash the area with warm water.
- Repeat this daily for a few days until the skin tag comes off.
6. Vitamin E Oil can Help
Vitamin E oil is known for its antioxidant properties and skin-regeneration potential. This is why vitamin E oil is considered one of the best treatments for removing skin tags.
- Break open a vitamin E capsule to extract pure oil.
- Apply a thin layer of the oil on the skin tag.
- Cover the area with a bandage and leave it on overnight.
- The next morning, reapply vitamin E oil and apply a new bandage.
- Before going to bed, reapply.
- For best results, do this repeatedly for 10 days.
7. Treat the Tag with Iodine
Iodine is a chemical element that helps deal with growths of skin, such as skin tags. When applied to a skin tag, it helps break down the built-up skin cells, which ultimately causes it to safely fall off.
For skin tags, use liquid iodine, which you can easily get in your grocery store or drugstore.
- Clean your skin with mild soap.
- First, protect the surrounding skin by applying petroleum jelly or coconut oil to the area.
- Dip a cotton swab in liquid iodine.
- Apply it directly to your skin tag, avoiding the healthy skin around it.
- Cover it with a bandage.
- Do it once daily until the skin tag falls off.
8. Oregano Oil is Worth a Try
Oregano oil has antiseptic properties and can help dry out skin tags. Also, when applied topically, it serves as a cleansing and numbing agent.
- Mix together two drops of oregano oil and four drops of coconut oil.
- Apply the oil mixture on the skin tag.
- Allow it to air-dry, and then wash it off with warm water.
- Repeat this three times daily until the skin tag drops off.
Follow these remedies patiently and persistently until you get the desired results.
9. Use Banana Peel
Banana peel is another effective remedy for skin tags due to its strong antioxidant properties. Also, the enzymes present in the banana peel help dissolve the tags naturally.
- Cut a small piece of banana peel and place the inside part of it over the tag.
- Wrap a bandage over the peel and leave it on overnight.
- The next morning, remove the peel and wash the area with water.
- Repeat this every night for a few days until your skin tag drops off.
- You can also use papaya peels instead of banana peels.
- Many over-the-counter creams available on the market can also help get rid of skin tags.
- Avoid picking at the tags or attempting to cut them off. If you do this, you’re increasing your risk of scarring and infection.
- Follow a healthy blood sugar diet to prevent future skin tags.
- Shave with caution around skin tags, as nicking the tags with a razor may cause pain and prolonged bleeding.
- If you have a skin growth that bleeds, see your doctor immediately.
- Safoury OSE, Ezzat M, Abdelhamid MF. The Evaluation of the Impact of Age, Skin Tags, Metabolic Syndrome, Body Mass Index, and Smoking on Homocysteine, Endothelin-1, High-sensitive C-reactive Protein, and on the Heart. Indian Journal of Dermatology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3726896/. Published 2013.
- Gupta S, Aggarwal R, Gupta S, Arora SK. Human papillomavirus and skin tags: is there any association? Indian journal of dermatology, venereology, and leprology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18583787. Published 2008.
- Baidya A, Halder AK, Datta PK. The spectrum of Cutaneous Manifestations of Diabetes Mellitus: An Observational Study from a Tertiary Care Hospital. Journal of Diabetes & Metabolism. https://www.omicsonline.org/open-access/spectrum-of-cutaneous-manifestations-of-diabetes-mellitus-an-observational-study-from-a-tertiary-care-hospital-2155-6156-1000791-99998.html. Published March 26, 2018.
- Almeida Ade, Pinheiro Aranha AM, Guiotoku MM. Association between skin tags and insulin resistance. Anais Brasileiros de Dermatologia. http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0365-05962010000100003&lng=en&nrm=iso&tlng=en. Published 2010.