Skin tags — also known as acrochordons or cutaneous tags — are benign tumors of the skin. They are extremely common, with about one in every two people having at least one skin tag sometime in their life, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Skin tags are small protrusions from the skin. They are usually very small, ranging in size from 2 mm to 2 cm, or from roughly the size of a grain of rice to about a half-inch. You might not even notice a skin tag, or know what it is. Some look like a small bump on your skin. Others can protrude from your skin. A tag might look like it's held on to your skin by a stalk. Normally, tags are skin colored or a little darker. They can appear anywhere on your body; however, the areas they are most commonly found are:
What causes skin tags?
Skin tags usually develop where skin rubs against skin, such as the armpits, or against clothing, such as a bra strap. Scientists don’t know exactly why skin tags develop but certain groups of people are more susceptible:
- Women who are pregnant, possibly from hormonal changes during pregnancy
- People with human papillomavirus (HPV)
- Those who are obese (possibly because skin tends to rub against skin)
- Those with diabetes
One study completed in 2007 found that people with multiple skin tags were more likely to have insulin resistance.
Genetics is also thought to play a role, as skin tags tend to run in families. If your family members have skin tags, you are more likely to develop them, too.
When to see a doctor
Most skin tags do not require medical treatment. However, you should see a doctor if:
- Your skin tag is bothersome — for example, in a location where it becomes irritated because of rubbing
- You notice bleeding or infection in the area
- It changes color or shape. For example, some skin tags will rotate and cut off their own blood supply and will turn red or black
Your doctor can remove a skin tag by cutting it off, freezing it with liquid nitrogen, or burning it off with an electric current. If your doctor chooses to freeze or burn off the skin tag, it might take several days to a few weeks for it to completely fall off. This is normal. Removal of a skin tag has a very low risk, although you might have some bleeding in the area.
Keep in mind that removal of skin tags is not always considered medically necessary. Your insurance company may consider this a cosmetic procedure and not pay for it. Check with your insurance company first.
Finally, there are many DIY methods of removing skin tags available on the internet. However, you should always consult your doctor before using any at-home methods. Skin tags are made up of collagen and blood cells. Trying to remove one yourself can cause bleeding and scarring. In addition, although skin tags are almost always benign, it is better to check with your dermatologist before doing anything at home.
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of Idiot's Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot's Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love and Essential Guide to Asperger's Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.