Not all of us are born with flawless skin. Fortunately, these days, there are a lot of affordable and effective options to achieve beautiful and healthy skin. Skin tags, however, remain a cosmetic nuisance that about half of adults experience at least once in their life.
If you’re lucky, you’ll only get one or two tiny skin tags in a place where they can’t be seen. If you’re not lucky, you’ll get a bigger than normal skin tag or a cluster on your face or neck. As harmless as skin tags are, they can still be irritating in a number of ways. And they don’t go away on their own.
Medically known as acrochordons, skin tags are small flaps or sacs of skin that typically hang loosely by an even tinier stalk of flesh, called a peduncle. They’re flesh-colored, which would normally make them inconspicuous. But they also have an annoying tendency to appear in highly visible places, such as the eyelids and the neck. They occur as individual growths or in a cluster in areas of the body with skin folds – the eyelids, neck, armpits, and groin.
Whether they remain a cosmetic problem or become a skin irritation, there are a number of options to get rid of skin tags. It is true that prevention is better than cure; but in the case of skin tags, prevention can be a tricky affair.
Why do skin tags grow?
It is still not fully understood why skin tags grow, but there are a number of theories.
Genetic predisposition is a risk factor. If one or both of your parents have skin tags, the likelihood that you will also get them is high; although it’s also possible that you won’t.
Some studies have also established an association between acrochordons and certain strains of human papillomavirus, or HPV. But skin tags, even when they appear in the genital area, are not contagious and cannot be transmitted through sexual contact.
Because skin tags tend to appear in areas of the body with skin folds, another popular theory is that they are caused by skin rubbing against skin or clothing. This is also why people who are overweight or obese often get skin tags.
Acrochordons have been associated with other health conditions, including diabetes and hormonal imbalance. So their appearance could be indicative of these conditions. But on their own, skin tags remain harmless growths.
Who are at risk?
- Around 60% of older adults (45 years old and up) develop at least one skin tag.
- The elderly are more prone to skin tags due to the aging of the skin.
- Both sexes can get skin tags, but women are more prone than men owing to the link between hormonal changes/imbalance (such as during pregnancy and menopause) and skin tags.
- Individuals who are overweight, obese, and/or diabetic.
- Individuals with a family history of skin tags.
A closer look at risk factors
Being overweight or obese
Having excess weight means more skin folds and, therefore, more areas of the skin that become prone to sweating, rubbing, and chafing. Skin tags typically appear in these same areas. Hormonal changes are also common among overweight/obese people, which increases their risk of developing skin tags even more.
Exactly how hormonal changes/imbalance lead to skin tags is unknown, but a study has found a correlation between increased testosterone levels in women and increased estrogen levels in men and a higher incidence of skin tags in areas of the body where testosterone and estrogen receptors are normally found (such as the neck and groin).
One study has also shown an association between insulin resistance, which is a symptom of diabetes, and skin tags. The skin tags appear appear in body creases and folds such as the neck, armpits, and groin that have become darkly pigmented with a velvety texture. The appearance of these skin tags are almost always a sign that a person has diabetes; the skin tags themselves, however, are harmless.
As the skin ages, it loses its elasticity which results in loose skin and skin folds. These areas become more prone to friction and skin tags.
The weight gain and hormonal changes during pregnancy both contribute to an increased risk for skin tags among women. Some skin tags go away on their own after pregnancy and when hormone levels go back to normal.
Skin tag prevention and removal
If your skin tag is not irritated/infected, you can simply leave it alone. But if it is bothering you in any way, e.g. it gets snagged/caught on clothing or rubbed against skin, or it is unpleasant to look at, there are safe and effective home remedies you can try. The most popular one is treatment with tea tree oil.
You can also consult a doctor to discuss your treatment options. They normally will not recommend skin tag removal unless it is irritated or infected, but it can still be done for cosmetic purposes. Removal options include surgical excision, freezing, laser treatment, and cauterization. Your doctor may also recommend an over-the-counter skin tag cream.
In terms of prevention, the best you can do is minimize risk factors. Avoid weight gain and prevent diabetes by maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly. Have a proper skincare routine. Avoid wearing tight-fitting clothes all the time. Visit a dermatologist regularly, if possible. There is no guarantee that you won’t develop skin tags, especially if you are genetically predisposed to them, but you can opt to have them removed if and when they do appear.