They can be irritating and they are definitely not nice to look at; either one of these reasons can be good enough to want to cauterize a skin tag. But cauterizing a skin tag yourself, at home, doable and safe?
Cauterization is one of the popular skin tag removal options offered by dermatologists, whether the removal is medically necessary or simply for cosmetic purposes. The treatment is quick and effective, with the skin tag falling off immediately or within days.
Having a doctor perform the procedure is always the safest way to go. But nowadays, it can be done at home using a cautery pen – a small tool that burns off the skin tag tissue. There are risks to doing this yourself, of course, and we will discuss everything you need to know about skin tag removal, cauterization, and other removal options so you’ll be armed with all the information you need before deciding on the right treatment.
How does cauterization work?
Cauterization is a medical procedure that involves burning a part of a body to remove it or close it off. The technique is a means to stop bleeding, minimize harm/damage (such as an infection), or remove an undesired growth.
When a skin tag is cauterized, the skin tag is not only burned off. The blood vessels that connect the skin tag to the skin are also automatically closed off. Cauterization is a safe method to use for skin tags that develop on the neck and armpits. It is not a recommended treatment option for skin tags found in sensitive areas, such as the eyelids and genitals.
Cauterizing a skin tag at home
If you are confident enough to self-cauterize or have somebody you trust do it for you at home, you can do so using a cautery pen – a handheld medical device that delivers heat to the target body area. This device is about the same size as a writing pen and is effective in treating small skin tags. There are disposable, battery-operated, and rechargeable models available for purchase online.
Because heat is involved, there will also be some degree of pain. Each person has a different pain threshold, but minor cauterization usually only causes a slight sting. A topical numbing agent can be applied to the area prior to the procedure to make it pain-free. One thing you must remember is NOT to use alcohol to sterilize the area to be treated. Alcohol is a flammable substance, and using it immediately before cauterization will most likely result in a more severe burn.
Healing and recovery
The cauterized area will feel tender after treatment. Healing time usually takes one to two weeks, depending on the size of the skin tag that was removed and how precisely you were able to perform the procedure. If, for example, you accidentally applied the cautery pen to the skin surrounding the skin tag, healing might take longer as healthy skin was also burned. Extreme care and taking all necessary precautions are important when performing cauterization at home.
The treated area will scab over. You must let the scab heal and fall off on its own. Do not disturb it or pick at it or you might end up with a scar.
Below are some aftercare tips to help speed up proper healing and recovery:
- Apply antibiotic cream to prevent infection, and minimize redness and inflammation. You will have to do this immediately after cauterization, and once or twice a day for at least a week, or until the scab falls off.
- You can also use tea tree oil to encourage healthy growth of new cells and promote proper healing. Tea tree oil also offers antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral benefits.
- Use vaseline to keep the treated area moisturized. A well-hydrated skin will heal faster.
Should you cauterize a skin tag?
Before you attempt cauterizing a skin tag at home, learn about the pros and cons. Read on.
What are the advantages of cauterization?
- It is a quick procedure; it usually only takes just a few minutes if you know what you’re doing.
- It is an effective removal option; a small skin tag typically only requires one treatment.
- It is more affordable than going to a dermatologist.
- If you’re not confident about cauterizing a skin tag at home, you can still go to a doctor to get the treatment for a safe and quick skin tag removal.
What are the disadvantages?
- A cautery pen is relatively safe to use, but it is still a burning tool and cauterization is still a minor surgical procedure. The idea of burning yourself can be a daunting, if not scary, one.
- Cauterization at home is not a good option for the removal of big skin tags as there will be a lot of bleeding involved. Big skin tags also often require biopsy prior to removal.
- Only skin tags that occur on the neck and armpits are candidates for cauterization. Skin tags found in sensitive areas of the bodies should NOT be cauterized.
- You cannot self-cauterize if you cannot comfortable see and reach the area where the skin tag is; you will need the help of another person that you trust enough to burn you.
- Cauterizing a skin tag at home has a higher likelihood of resulting in a scar.
Cauterization by a doctor
Having your skin tag cauterized by a doctor is, of course, the safer option. If you can afford it, you should opt for this instead of performing the procedure at home. Take note that if removal of a skin tag is not medically necessary, i.e. it’s not infected, then it is considered a cosmetic procedure and will not be covered by your health insurance.
Cauterization is a minor, outpatient procedure. Each skin tag treatment only takes a few minutes. If you have multiple, small skin tags, then treatment will take longer.
Your doctor will first clean the area to be treated, and then numb it using a local anaesthetic. The anaesthetic can be applied topically or it can be injected. You should discuss with your doctor which one you prefer prior to getting the treatment. You may also opt not receive any anaesthetic if you have a high threshold for pain.
Unlike a cautery pen, the cauterizing device used by a doctor can be adjusted to deliver the right amount of heat, depending on the size of the skin tag. Your doctor will cauterize the stalk of the skin tag, not the skin tag itself. It is the stalk that connects the skin tag to the body. A pair of tweezers will likely be used to pull the skin tag and isolate the stalk. Because the stalk is much tinier than the skin tag, targeting it minimizes the area that needs to be cauterized. Additionally, the skin tag is instantly cut off from the skin once the stalk is burned off.
Other skin tag removal options
If or when you do visit a doctor to have your skin tag/s checked, he will discuss with you other removal options. These include:
- Cryotherapy, or flash-freezing using liquid nitrogen
- Laser removal
- Ligation or tying-off method
- Surgical excision, or cutting off the skin tag with a scalpel
- Skin tag cream
Is cauterization a good skin tag removal option?
Cauterization is one of the most recommended skin tag removal options offered by dermatologists. It is safe, quick, and effective, with minimal to zero risk of infection and scarring. Cauterizing at home can be just as quick and effective with the help of a cautery pen, but how safe it is will depend on how skilled and confident the person doing the procedure is.
It is always best to speak to a doctor first about your skin tag removal options and the risks involved.