Skin Tags - Causes, Symptoms, Removal and Treatment
What Are Skin Tags
Skin tags are small, benign growths that contain collagen (a type of protein found throughout the body and blood vessels) that protrude from the skin. They are typically flesh-colored or slightly darker and have a small stalk or peduncle, which attaches them to the skin. Skin tag size can vary from a few millimeters to several centimeters in diameter. They are usually found on skin folds or areas of the body where skin rubs against skin, such as the underarms, neck, groin, and eyelids. Skin tags are benign, meaning they are not cancerous and do not cause harm. They are most commonly found in people over the age of 50 and people who are overweight or obese.
In most cases, skin tags do not require treatment and can be left alone. However, if they are causing discomfort or are cosmetically undesirable, skin tag removal can occur via surgical procedures or non-invasive treatment.
Table of Contents:Skin Tags causes
Appearance of Skin Tags
Types of skin tags
Skin Tags vs Warts
Skin tags reatment
Skin Tags removal
Causes of Skin Tags
What causes skin tags? The exact cause of why a skin tag develops is not known. Most people with skin tags do not have any underlying medical conditions, and the reason for skin tags is not fully understood. But they are thought to be related to skin rubbing against skin or clothing articles.
Being overweight and obese may be potential risk factors for developing skin tags, as the excess skin and fat in these areas can lead to friction, causing the skin to form small benign growths.
Hormonal changes in the body during pregnancy can cause an increase in the formation of skin cells, which may lead to the development of skin tags. Pregnant women may notice an increase in skin tags during pregnancy and may even develop new skin tags in areas where they have never had them before.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
Women with PCOS may have an increased risk of skin tags, as the condition is associated with hormonal imbalances, which can lead to skin growth.
Evidence suggests that there may be a relationship between skin tags and insulin resistance, a condition in which the body's cells do not respond appropriately to insulin. Insulin resistance can lead to high blood sugar levels, which can increase the amount of IGF-1) (insulin-like growth factor-1) in the body. This increase in IGF-1 can lead to an increase in the formation of skin cells, which can result in the development of skin tags. It's worth noting that most people with skin tags do not have insulin resistance or metabolic conditions and that most people with these conditions do not have skin tags.
Do Steroids Cause Skin Tags?
Steroids, also known as corticosteroids, are a type of medication that can be used to reduce inflammation and suppress the immune system and are sometimes used by athletes and bodybuilders to enhance muscle mass and strength. Some evidence suggests that when used topically (applied to the skin), corticosteroids may increase the risk of developing skin tags. This is thought to be because corticosteroids can cause skin thinning, irritation, and friction. This friction can cause the skin to form small benign growths known as skin tags. However, it's worth noting that this is not a common side effect of corticosteroids, and more research is needed to fully understand the link between the two.
There is no reason to treat or remove skin tags unless the appearance bothers the person carrying them. Someone with a skin tag may notice that it is a darker pigment than that of the skin or flatter than other skin tags on the body.
The Appearance of Skin Tags
Skin tags can come in many different sizes, shapes, and colors. Visually, they appear smooth or rough and can be found alone or in clusters. Often skin tags are small and described as fleshy or pedunculated.
Skin Tag Peduncle
A skin tag peduncle is a thin stalk or stem that attaches the skin tag to the skin. It is often described as a small, thin, fleshy protrusion connecting the skin tag to the surrounding skin and is typically the same color as the skin tag. PeduncleIt can be a few millimeters to a few centimeters in length. Some people may have a skin tag or growth which raises itself off the skin, forming a peduncle. The peduncle can also be described as a narrow or broad base that supports the skin tag.
Large Skin Tag
Large skin tags can occur but are less common than smaller ones. They can be physically larger or have a wider peduncle or stalk. However, they are still benign and harmless and do not require treatment unless they are causing discomfort, which is often the case due to size.
How to Tell the Difference Between Skin Tags, Moles, & Warts
Skin tags can sometimes be mistaken for other skin conditions. Below is a list of other beginning skin conditions that resemble skin tags:
- Warts: Warts are small, rough growths caused by an agent. Warts tend to be mistaken for skin tags as they appear in similar areas but are usually dense and more irregular in shape.
- Moles: Moles are benign growths of pigmented cells that can appear on the skin. They can be mistaken for skin tags, but they are usually darker in color and can be flat or raised.
- Sebaceous cysts: Sebaceous cysts are small, benign cysts that can form under the skin. They can be mistaken for skin tags, but they are usually softer and more mobile than skin tags.
- Syringomas: Syringomas are benign tumors that develop from sweat glands. They can appear similar to skin tags but are usually smaller and uniform in shape.
- Fibroepithelial polyps: Fibroepithelial polyps are benign growths that can occur on the skin. They can be mistaken for skin tags but are usually larger and more pedunculated.
It's essential to have any new or changing growths on your skin evaluated by a medical professional such as a dermatologist, to determine the cause and to rule out any underlying conditions. They can diagnose the condition and provide appropriate treatment or removal as necessary.
Understanding the Different Types of Skin Tags
Most skin tags are commonly found on areas of the body where skin rubs against skin, such as the:
- Upper chest
- Backs of the arms
- Inner thigh
These list is not exhaustive; skin tags can appear anywhere on the body, but these are the most common areas. Here are some common issues reported with skin tags as it relates to areas of the body:
Skin tags on the eyelids can cause irritation or discomfort if located where the eyelid rubs against the eye or other parts of the face. Often they can be cosmetically undesirable, so some will choose to have skin tags removed for aesthetic reasons.
What causes skin tags on the neck? Skin tags on the neck are very common and can occur anywhere, but they are most commonly found on the back of the neck, along the hairline, and under the chin. They can cause discomfort by rubbing against clothing or jewelry or getting caught on things. Skin tags on the neck can be easily confused with other skin conditions, such as cysts or warts; it is crucial to have it evaluated by a medical professional to confirm the diagnosis and rule out any potential underlying conditions.
Anal skin tags do not result from anal intercourse or sexually transmitted diseases. They are often associated with anal fissures, hemorrhoids, and other rectal problems or surgeries.
Anal fissures, or tears, can occur from consistently hard stools. Skin tags may develop around these areas as the body attempts to heal. Rectal surgery recovery typically encourages skin tags as the healing skin is swollen. Skin cell rejuvenation may get out of hand, creating anal skin tags.
Hemorrhoids, or swollen anus veins, enlarge the anus area and may cause skin tags to erupt. They may feel swollen from the blood supply coursing through them. Although anal skin tags are not harmful, you should take their presence as a sign to see a doctor about any associated issues, including painful hemorrhoids.
Body skin tags on the chest can irritate people wearing jewelry as the tags may get snagged and bleed. Women may be self-conscious of their appearance, with skin tags present on their breasts.
The underarms, armpit region, and groin area, especially on the upper thighs, inner thighs, or in the bikini line, can cause discomfort or chaffing and is a nuisance for those wanting to shave in that area.
Genital skin tags are fleshy growths that protrude from the groin, anus, or vagina. They have several shapes and colors, including wrinkled or smooth textures and dark or light hues. They can even attach to the skin differently, from flat orientations to stalked types that dangle. You may also have one or a group of skin tags in one concentrated area. Genital skin tags, however, are benign and harmless to your health. Sexually transmitted diseases are not associated with these growths either.
Most genital skin tags are not considered medically necessary to remove under most insurance policies. Visit your doctor to see if any of your genital skin tags are part of a larger problem. For instance, the chafing movement down in the genital area can cause tags to swell and become irritated. They can even bleed if the friction is strong enough. Go over any comfort issues with your doctor and any digestive issues for any anal growth.
Treatment for skin tags often involves excision to cut the growths from the body physically. Doctors use local anesthesia for a small tag grouping, but extensive tags must be removed with general anesthesia. For the best appearance, many people opt for laser surgery which effectively cauterizes the tags from the body. Cryotherapy is a tried-and-true treatment option as well. Natural alternative treatments are available to remove less invasive skin tags.
Skin tags in the vaginal area are surprisingly common. These benign (non-cancerous) skin growths are more often an embarrassment than an actual medical problem, and most women will want to have these vaginal skin tags treated if possible. It is extremely rare for a skin tag to be cancerous, even in the genital and vaginal areas.
Groin Skin Tags
Groin skin tags mostly take on the appearance of unwanted skin and do not usually cause much embarrassment. It is the penile skin tags that may grow at the head of the penis, which causes more concern. Unfortunately, any abnormality in the penis is thought to be linked to sexually transmitted disease (even though this is untrue). Often skin tags on the penis occur at the circumcision line because of uneven removal of skin at the time of being circumcised.
Skin Tags vs. Molluscum Contagiosum
Molluscum contagiosum is a skin condition that affects children more than adults. Molluscum is best described as a zit with an indent in the center. It is extremely contagious, and eczema often accompanies it. Molluscum contagiosum is a virus that arises from the same strain as that of chickenpox, the pox virus.
Molluscum is spread through contact and affects many children as they tend to play together. If a person already has molluscum, it can be spread through itching. Although molluscum is non-itchy, it is usually seen with eczema and can affect the spread of molluscum as the two are so close together that when a child scratches eczema, he also scratches the molluscum.
Although molluscum and skin tags are very different, they may be confused by people who have never had them. Molluscum and skin tags are both pink. Molluscum, unlike skin tags, are indented zit-like forms that look like pimples and come in clusters. Skin tags are longer and form actual skin rather than the blisters of molluscum.
Molluscum will never hang off a stalk, unlike skin tags. Molluscum will be round and not have an odd shape like a skin tag. Unlike skin tags, molluscum can come in bunches at a time and is frequently seen in those who have eczema outbreaks.
Skin Tags vs. Warts
Skin tags and warts are two different skin conditions that can be easily mistaken for one another. Although they can look similar, it's important to understand the difference between skin tags and warts, as they have causes and treatment options are different. A medical professional, such as a dermatologist, can help to diagnose and provide appropriate treatment for these conditions accurately.
Skin tags are fleshy growths that protrude from the skin in either a flat, flushed shape or dangling from a peduncle. They are typically the same color as your skin or slightly darker. Referred to in the scientific community as acrochordon, tags appear within armpits, eyelids, and even in the genital area. Although they may appear alarming, they are simply excessive skin growth formed into a flap.
Unlike skin tags, warts are contagious. Exposure to a wart, such as through sexual contact, can cause new warts to form. They do not dangle like skin tags but have a cylindrical shape with pink or white hues. They can even appear in clumps, resembling cauliflowers, on the skin. Although unsightly, warts are not particularly painful unless they are irritated through chafing, including genital warts.
What Causes Each Condition?
Skin tags often appear on people entering middle age, but they can develop at any time if you have a genetic history of their presence. Along with aging factors, other causes of skin tags include pregnancy, obesity, and diabetes.
Warts, in contrast, are caused by a virus, namely HPV or Human Papillomavirus. This virus is spread through skin contact, especially during sexual intercourse. Because the virus is contagious, it is best to treat warts when they appear to avoid spreading the virus.
When should a skin tag be concerning?
Because of their benign nature, skin tags are usually harmless and do not require treatment. However, there are certain situations where a skin tag may be a concern, such as:
- If the skin tag is located in an area that is easily irritated or caught on clothing or jewelry.
- If the skin tag becomes painful or bleeding
- Change in size, shape, or color.
- If the skin tag is located in a sensitive area, such as the face or genitals.
- Very large or multiple.
- If the person has a weakened immune system or a family history of skin cancer,
It's important to note that if you have any concerns about any skin condition, it's best to consult a medical professional, such as a dermatologist, for accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
Treatment of Skin Tags
Treatment for skin tags isn't necessary as they are benign, harmless, and usually don't cause pain or discomfort. However, depending on the location, some people may choose to have them removed for cosmetic reasons or if they become irritated or painful.
The most common methods of removing skin tags include:
- Cutting the growth off with scissors or a scalpel
- Freezing the growth off with liquid nitrogen (cryotherapy)
- Laser removal
- Burning the growth off with electrocautery
- Ligation (tying off the base of the skin tag with a small suture or thread)
The method will depend on the location, size, number of skin tags, the patient's personal preference, and the practitioner's skill and preference.
Surgical removal of benign skin growths, such as skin tags, is executed with scissors or a scalpel. During the procedure, the area around the skin tag is cleaned, and then the skin tag is cut off using a pair of sterilized surgical scissors or a scalpel. The skin tag is removed, and the wound is closed with sutures or left open to heal. The procedure is usually done under local anesthesia to minimize any discomfort.
Alternatively, select cryotherapy. Cryotherapy quickly eliminates the growth, giving you freedom from painful chafing, especially in the groin area. Discuss your options with your doctor to find the best solution for you.
You may want to opt for laser surgery, especially if the growth is in a conspicuous area, including the face or neck. Lasers create a smooth surface that makes it hard to believe that growth was there in the first place.
Electrocautery removes skin tags by using an electric current to burn them off. A trained medical professional performs the procedure, usually a dermatologist, typically using a needle or a thin wire probe that delivers a high-frequency electrical current to the skin tag. The electrical current causes the skin tag to heat up and burn off.
Ligation is a method of tying off the skin tag at its base with a small thread or suture, cutting off the blood supply to the skin tag, causing it to dry up, and causing the skin tag to fall off within a few days to a week.
Does Insurance cover Skin Tag Removal?
Medical insurance does not cover skin tag removal unless it's medically necessary. This always depends on the insurance plan, but in general, removing skin tags is considered a cosmetic procedure, and therefore it may not be covered by insurance. However, in some cases, if the skin tags are causing pain and bleeding or the growth located in an area that causes discomfort or interferes with daily activities, the removal may be considered medically necessary and covered by insurance. Check with your insurance provider to determine if skin tag removal is covered under your specific plan and the requirements. Ask for information about coverage, deductibles, co-pays, and any other out-of-pocket expenses that may occur. Some dermatologists may offer financing options to help cover the cost of the procedure.
Non-Invasive Treatments for Skin Tags
Once you see skin tags or warts appear, you can treat them at home with a natural formula that will not cause pain, burning, or scarring and is safe for sensitive skin.
With consistent use, you should notice the growths slowly declining in size. You should feel no pain or burn with the oil, making it safe for sensitive skin. Doctors can prescribe medications targeting tags and warts for severe growths, but natural removal is often the best solution.
How To Get Rid Of Skin Tags
The old-fashioned way - In our great-grandmother's time, they would remove unwanted skin tags by tying a hair or some fine thread around the base of the skin tag. The blood supply would be cut off so that the skin tag would die and drop off after some time. This method can still be used today if you are prepared to have bits of thread hanging from your skin, getting dirty, looking unhygienic and the process taking days to complete. Depending on the location of the skin tag, you may need help tying the string tight enough to be effective. There is also the danger of infection.
The risky and painful “at home” way – You might try removing them by snipping them off with scissors. However, this is considered a very risky and dangerous procedure because of the chance of infection and excessive bleeding. Also, you might have mistaken it for other skin growth, such as moles, keratoses, hemangiomas, or pyogenic granulomas. You should not remove such skin conditions at home in such a way.
Cryotherapy – freezing the benign growth is a common treatment. When applied to a skin tag, liquid nitrogen will destroy the cell tissue quickly and efficiently. Removing the skin tag via cryotherapy may cause minor pain and scarring and should not be applied to the same skin area more than once a week. There is a risk of tissue damage beyond the intended target.
Electrocautery – is usually done in a health professional’s office or clinic. A local anesthetic is used for pain control, and the procedure removes larger skin tags by burning them with a low-voltage electrified probe. The procedure staunches bleeding afterward and accelerates healing. Medical scissors will be used to cut off the skin tag completely. The wound may either be cauterized or applied pressure to stop the bleeding. Adhesive bandages will be applied to the wounds, which must be kept clean and covered until they have healed. Healing usually takes 2 to 4 weeks, and scarring is possible.
Surgical excision - this is achieved by cutting out the skin tag under either local or general anesthesia in the doctor’s rooms or the operating theater. This can be painful when the anesthetic wears off, plus there can be scarring.
Lasers – are used to eliminate skin tags while simultaneously re-surfacing the skin, producing good cosmetic results.
- Electrosurgery or electrolysis is an effective way to get rid of skin tags. This procedure is usually performed by a professional who uses an electric needle to destroy the skin tag growth and any additional growth beneath the skin. Electrolysis is usually fast and permanent, with minor scarring.
Other guides on health conditions:
American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. Skin Tags. https://www.aocd.org/page/SkinTags
Maluki, A. H., & Abdullah, A. A. (2016, February). Metabolic associations with skin tags. International Journal of Dermatology and Clinical Research, 2(1), 003-011 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/296666477_Metabolic_Associations_with_Skin_Tags
Manchanda, Yashpal. "Removal of skin tags with Erbium:YAG Laser: A simple, safe, quick, and effective technique requiring no local anesthesia." Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 79.3: Suppl 1 Sept. 2018: AB244.