Understanding Skin Growths: Skin Tags

. 6 min read

A skin tag, a common skin growth, is a tiny tissue that hangs off the skin - it is by no means dangerous. Mostly a cosmetic issue, it can be a symptom of an underlying health issue that could need treatment. Hence, it is important to understand why you might be getting skin tags and how to proceed further with its treatment. In this blog post, we dig deep to help you understand skin tags are a mild skin condition by explaining all there is to know about it - from its prevalence and causes to its prevention and treatment.

How common are skin tags?
They are common skin growth, though harmless, can occur in bulks of one to hundreds. Skin tags can affect males and females equally although certain health issues such as obesity can increase vulnerability.

How do skin tags look like?
They are small raised bits of tissue that develop when the skin rubs against each other creating irritating friction. Attached to the skin by a stalk, they are most commonly found on the neck, back, eyelids, armpits, chest, under breasts, groin area and in older individuals.

While experts say that skin tags do not cause pain naturally, clothing, jewelry and friction can cause it to get irritated causing discomfort and mild pain. They are benign (non-cancerous) and commonly asymptomatic if not irritated. If irritation occurs, a dermatologist should be consulted to prevent further irritation of the skin. It is primarily a nuisance and a cosmetic concern and most choose to seek treatment to ease discomfort.

Pro Tip: Girls, try to shave (if you do so) around skin tags to avoid irritation, pain and prolonged bleeding.

It is quite easy to identify a skin tag from other skin growths like moles as they hang off the skin by a tiny stalk. Most skin tags are known to be around 2 mm - although some may grow well into the cm’s. They are smooth growths, that can appear round, in a ‘weird shape’ or even be a tad bit wrinkly. Some individuals have claimed to skin tags that appear like rice grains!

Medically speaking, a skin tag is called a acrochordon, they can fall off in time but can be stubborn once they are formed. They are ‘flesh-colored’ but in some cases can be vulnerable to hyperpigmentation causing them to be darker than the individuals normal skin colour. If irritation occurs, skin tags can sometimes become ‘twisted’ resulting in them turning black in color as blood flow to it is cut off.

It is important to understand that skin tags are benign tumors - they are not cancerous or malignant; nor do they become cancerous if left untreated. As mentioned above, most individuals opt for skin tag removal due to cosmetic concerns. Skin tags are not contagious at all but there are VERY rare instances where a skin tag is considered to be precancerous and cancerous. Skin tags that have the tendency to bleed, grow erratically, or appear to be different colours such as brown, red and black should be seen by a dermatologist. The reason we say this is because although very rare, a skin tag turning into a medical concern is a possibility - do not self diagnose, always see a professional. A biopsy will reveal its state of malignancy or benignity excluding medical conditions such as skin cancer.

What are the causes of skin tags?
Since a skin tag is a common skin growth, most individuals will develop at least one in their lifetime. Experts have not found solid causes to skin tags, so it’s unclear why they occur. Friction is known to be one of the indirect causes as they are most common in skin folds such as the armpits and groin area.

In the year 2008, a study titled ‘Human papillomavirus and skin tags: Is there any association?’ was conducted to understand a possible link between the human papillomavirus (HPV) and skin tags. Using a base of 37 studied skin tags from different areas of the body, results claimed that in 50 percent of the tags, the DNA of HPV was present.

Other health conditions just as insulin resistance that can lead to type 2 diabetes or prediabetes, are said to result in the development of skin tags. A study done in 2010 multiple skin tags was associated with insulin resistance, a high BMI and high triglycerides.

Although most of the time, skin tags are NOT associated with medical illnesses, they do develop in obese individuals along with another medical skin condition called acanthosis nigricans. These individuals are vulnerable to high levels of fats and sugar in their blood.

Skin tags are also considered to be a common side effect of pregnancy owning to weight gain and hormones. Although, in rare cases multiple skin tags can be considered a sign of a hormonal imbalance or an endocrine problem. As it is not unusual for more than one family member to develop skin tags, a genetic connection could be a reason.

Who are vulnerable to skin tags?
Skin tags develop in anyone and are not present at birth, they often show up in adulthood. Middle aged individuals are more prone to it and it’s said that after the age of 60, its prevalence increases. Children and toddlers most commonly develop skin tags under their arms, on their neck or on their eyelids. This could be owed to chubbiness and rubbing of their eyes while older children can develop skin tags due to friction and constant irritation through rough play or sports. Among the causes above obesity and hormonal elevation during pregnancy are the most common.

Risk factors include:
Obesity
Pregnancy
Genetic association
HPV infection

How do doctors diagnose skin tags?
There are other skin conditions such as moles or warts that can resemble skin tags. Those type of skin growths can be cause for concern, hence it is important to see a doctor to correctly diagnose a skin tag. A visual exam is most commonly done to diagnose a skin tag, but if your doctor has any professional doubt, a biopsy will be performed. While most skin tags have rare encounters of being pre-cancerous, they do not need a microscopy examination or biopsy.

Can you prevent skin tags?
It is not possible to directly avoid skin tags, although lifestyle improvements such as weight loss can be implemented to reduce its occurence.

Pro Tip: If you have a high BMI or are overweight, losing weight won’t magically melt away old skin tags but it does reduce your risk of developing future ones.

How can skin tags be treated?
Since they are mostly a cosmetic concern, treatment is not compulsory. Although, if there is any pain or other symptoms such as prolonged bleeding, a dermatologist should be consulted. A qualified dermatologist can treat a skin tag by cutting it off using a scalpel, freezing it through cryosurgery or burning it using electrosurgery.

There is no proven theory that states that removing skin will result in it growing again at a larger size or a faster pace. In a more general way of looking at it - some individuals can be more prone to skin tags and may continue to develop them in other sites even after removal.

There are no topical medications that have been proven to remove skin tags - only the medical procedures mentioned above are possible treatment options. Popular belief of using products just as tea tree oil, toothpaste or Dermasil is completely false. Do not self-medicate as you might irritate the skin tag or cause other skin related issues as those products ARE NOT meant for skin tag removal.

They may also fall off themselves causing NO pain or discomfort! Skin tags are primarily harmless and removal is not mandatory, if bothersome though, they can be easily removed through the guidance of a dermatologist.

When should you opt for skin tag removal?
Keep these points in mind if you develop skin tags - these are the reasons why a skin tag SHOULD be removed to avoid further medical concerns.

  • Irritation causing bleeding or a black discolouration
  • Necrosis: death of the skin tissue

It is reassuring to know that the prognosis for skin tags are quite great, but it is to be noted that removal does not prevent future development of other skin tags - in the previously treated area or otherwise.

If you develop a skin tag, it does not have to be a cause for immediate concern as they are most commonly a nuisance. If you feel no discomfort or insecurity, AND it has been DIAGNOSED as a skin tag by a dermatologist, you can have it chill there, no problem. They can be stubborn, and if one shows up, more are on their way. If you decide to opt for treatment out of necessity or to evade cosmetic discomfort, you may need to attend more than one treatment visit.

It is important that you see a dermatologist to properly and accurately diagnose a skin tag ruling out underlying health conditions or other skin ailments. Based on the advice of your dermatologist, you can decide to go ahead with treatment or not. If you have ANY other skin growth that bleeds, itches, or changes in size or colour, please consult a dermatologist immediately.

With Remedico, you can consult with our dermatologists through our online skin growth consultation. Some skin growths can be treated through medications while some require procedures. You can google the type of procedures you may need, of course, but our dermatologists can give you accurate advice on the RIGHT procedure that you would need to help treat your skin growths.

If you’d like a summary of the characteristics of common skin growths, you can visit our blog