What Are Skin Tags?
Q: I think I have a skin tag. What exactly is it and will it go away on its own?
A: If you’ve noticed a small, raised or hanging flap of skin on your body that won’t budge when you touch it, chances are it’s a skin tag—a benign growth that can be smooth or irregular and most often develops in areas where skin rubs against skin or where there are creases or folds, such as the eyelids, armpits, groin, neck, and under the breasts. While these small, flesh- or dark-colored growths are usually harmless, skin tags can become a problem if they’re rubbed or scratched repeatedly; they can continue to grow or even burst. This can happen if your skin tag continuously rubs against your clothes or jewelry, or if you can’t avoid nicking it while shaving.
These little flaps of skin can develop for a number of reasons:
- You’re overweight. Since skin tags are primarily correlated with skin rubbing against skin, excess weight is thought to increase the chances of developing them.
- You have diabetes. Skin lesions, including skin tags, are more common in people with insulin resistance.
- You’re pregnant. The hormonal changes of pregnancy, particularly during the third trimester, make skin tags more likely, though they often disappear on their own postpartum.
- Your genetics. If you have a close family member with skin tags, your odds of getting them may be higher. If it runs in the family, it’s common for skin tags to surface when you’re older (around age 60), though you may notice them appear earlier in life.
Most of the time, skin tags eventually turn into a scab and fall off on their own. However, if you’re interested in having one removed (they can grow back, in some cases) for cosmetic reasons, or if your skin tag is in a spot where it’s constantly rubbed, talk to your doctor or dermatologist. While there are over-the-counter skin tag removal creams and herbal ointments that are much like medications used to remove warts, it’s better to have a medical professional take a look to not only confirm that it is, indeed, a skin tag, but also to do a skin scan to check your entire body for any unusual growths or signs of skin cancer. If it is a skin tag, there are several in-office removal options:
- Cauterization, in which your doctor burns the skin tag off with heat
- Cryosurgery, in which the skin tag is frozen off with a spray of liquid nitrogen
- Ligation, where the blood supply to the skin tag is restricted by a thin thread tied around it, eventually causing it to fall off
- Excision, when the dermatologist uses a scalpel to cut off the skin tag
Keep in mind that if you have a skin tag on your eyelid, there’s a good chance you’ll have to see an ophthalmologist to talk about your options.