What are skin tags?
As you get older, little growths called skin tags might start popping up on your body. You’ll recognize them because they’re thinner at the base and get wider at the top. They look like a little out-pouching of skin, says Dr. Jennifer Gordon, board-certified dermatologist, Westlake Dermatology. “They have a fibrovascular stalk surrounded by flattened skin cells and like to occur in areas that rub—the neck, under the arms, in the groin, and around the eyes,” says Dr. Gordon.
Why do you get skin tags?
Dr. Gordon says that skin tags have a genetic predisposition, but they can also come up in anyone. Friction—like from your shirt’s underarms or a necklace— can cause the growths over time. Other things that can trigger skin tags are weight gain, pregnancy, and diabetes. The majority of the time, though, no trigger can be pinpointed, say Dr. Gordon. If you’re prone to skin tags, you’ll most likely see them pop up later in life, though they can occur at all ages.
Are skin tags dangerous?
In general, skin tags are not dangerous or painful like cancerous moles. “They can be seen in diabetes, so that is something to consider having checked if you suddenly see a lot of tags arise,” says Dr. Gordon. “Skin tags can become strangulated and painful, as well as infected at times. If this happens, removal is recommended and a visit to your dermatologist to make sure antibiotics are not needed.”
How to get rid of skin tags
Skin tag removal isn’t something that should be done in your bathroom at home. Many people will look up how to get rid of skin tags on the Internet and try to do it themselves, but you should always go to a dermatologist to have them removed. People have used all kinds of crazy methods for skin tag removal on their own, says Anthony Rossi, MD, FAAD, dermatologic surgeon at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and assistant professor of dermatology at Weill Cornell Medical College. He’s heard of people tying strings around them, burning them, trying to pick them off with their fingers, and even slamming books against them. “It’s wild what people will do,” he says.
A dermatologist, on the other hand, can snip away skin tags quickly and cleanly. Sounds like you can learn how to get rid of skin tags yourself, right? Not so fast. “It’s like when people try to cut their own hair,” says Dr. Rossi. “It never goes the way they want it to.”
For one thing, dermatologists have sterile instruments, but using your own could lead to an infection. Plus, while derms can use local anesthesia and have supplies to stop the blood, you could bleed uncontrollably with at-home methods for skin tag removal.
Even OTC medications claiming to dissolve the skin tags could be bad news, says Dr. Rossi. “You could burn the skin or make marks,” he says. “There could be unintended consequences.” If you hate the idea of anyone snipping your skin, ask a doctor to freeze or melt it instead.
But there’s an even bigger reason you should visit an expert. After dermatologists remove a growth, they’ll look at it under a microscope. “There are things that look like skin tags but are cancerous,” says Dr. Rossi. That doesn’t mean you should freak out if you do find a skin tag. Most will just be benign, but you won’t know for sure until you’ve asked. Plus, checking a skin tag is a “good excuse” to get your doctor to check the rest of your body for skin cancer and atypical or malignant growths, says Dr. Rossi. Before you start thinking you know how to be your own dermatologist, read up on these things you should never do to your skin.