As harmless and insignificant as they are, skin tags are frustratingly permanent. In rare cases, some skin tags do go away on their own after pregnancy. That’s the only exception. Otherwise, you will have to get some form of treatment if you want to get rid of a skin tag.
Skin tags, also known medically as acrochordons or cutaneous papillomas, are tiny skin protrusions that often hang loosely by an even tinier stalk of flesh, called a peduncle. Because they’re basically extensions of the skin, they also have blood vessels and collagen fibers inside. They are benign growth – they pose no health risks and also have no purpose, other than to become a bother sometimes.
Some people wish to have them removed because they are unpleasant to look at; having a skin tag can actually affect a person’s self-esteem. Skin tags can also get irritated when they are constantly rubbed against another skin surface or against clothing. Fortunately, there are safe and effective ways to remove these skin growths.
Are skin tags permanent?
Once a skin tag appears, it will hang around for the rest of your life – pun intended. If you’re lucky, you’ll only get one or two in an area where they’re not always visible; even then, they can be irritating when they get irritated because of skin friction. Or you can get one or two, or even a cluster of skin tags, on your neck; or a big one on your eyelid. Being conspicuous, they can make you extremely self-conscious.
You have the option to get rid of skin tags for cosmetic reasons if you don’t want to live with them for the rest of your life. They do not have to become irritated first before you can ask a doctor to remove them. Or you can remove them on your own at home.
What causes skin tags?
Why do some people only get one or two, while others have dozens of them? Why are some people more prone than others? How come other people don’t get them at all?
Scientists still do not fully understand what causes skin tags. But based on where on the body they typically grow, they have a theory. Skin tags tend to develop on the eyelids, neck, underarms, groin area, and under the buttocks. These areas all have creases and folds, which suggest that skin tags form as a result of skin rubbing against skin or even clothing.
Genetics are also a factor; if skin tags run in your family, then you’re more likely to get them, too. Hormonal changes have also been associated with the incidence of skin tags, particularly among pregnant and menopausal women. People who are overweight or obese, as well as diabetics with excess weight, often develop skin tags in areas where they have extra skin folds. Old people become prone to skin tags as their skin loses elasticity and also creates more folds.
Are skin tags harmful?
Skin tags do not indicate any skin problems or other health conditions. They are not contagious nor are they cancerous. Even if you develop a dozen or more, the only problem they usually cause is that they’re more likely to get snagged, scratched, or rubbed, which can lead to irritation. And, of course, they are unsightly.
If a skin tag grows too big, a doctor may recommend a biopsy just to make sure that it is not some other skin growth or to rule out any underlying problem. Even such instances are rare. Because skin tags have been associated with diabetes and hormonal imbalance, their appearance could indicate the existence of these conditions; but on their own, skin tags remain harmless.
If they do get irritated, and especially if they bleed, there is a risk of infection. A bleeding skin tag should be treated as you would a normal wound.
Who are most at risk?
Some people have a higher risk of getting skin tags than others.
- Overweight or obese individuals
- Pregnant women
- Menopausal women
- Steroid users
- The elderly
- People with a genetic predisposition
Can skin tags be prevented?
There’s no guaranteed way to prevent skin tags or to become immune to them, as their exact cause is still not fully understood. But you can avoid or minimize risk factors to lower your chances of getting them, especially if the condition already runs in the family.
Having a healthy lifestyle to maintain a healthy weight and prevent diabetes will benefit you in many other ways than just reducing your risk for skin tags. Visiting a dermatologist regularly and having a proper skincare routine will help keep your skin healthy and minimize the negative effects of friction and chafing, as well as the effects of aging.
Stay hydrated. Get adequate rest and sleep. Protect your skin from UV rays. Minimize stress. All of these are healthy habits that are not just good for your skin, but also for your overall health.
Getting rid of skin tags
Removing skin tags is pretty straightforward, although some methods take longer than others before they produce results. There is usually minimal to zero risk of pain, bleeding, infection, and/or scarring as long as you choose the right removal method, are careful with following instructions, and take proper care of the affected skin during and after treatment.
There are don’ts that you should remember.
- Don’t attempt to simply pull off a skin tag. It is part of your skin, so this will be extremely difficult to do. You will most likely end up experiencing pain and irritating the skin tag.
- Don’t attempt to cut a skin tag yourself. This should be done by a doctor.
- During treatment, don’t pick at or pull off a skin tag even if it looks like it’s completely dry and about to fall off. If it scabs over, avoid disturbing the area, as well.
Doctor intervention is usually only called for when a skin tag is irritated, infected, bigger than normal, or part of a cluster. Although professional treatment is always an option even for common skin tags.
Routine check-up and a visual assessment of the skin tag will be done initially. And then your doctor will recommend the most appropriate treatment options. The most uncomplicated solution they’ll recommend is to use an over-the-counter cream or ointment for at-home treatment.
Surgical options are more straightforward and give the quickest results. They’re all minimally invasive, outpatient procedures. Some skin tags will only require a single treatment, and some treatments will take a few days to work.
- Cauterization is a procedure that burns off a skin tag through electrolysis. This simply involves passing a small amount of electric current through the skin tag to destroy the tissue.
- Cryotherapy involves flash-freezing the skin using liquid nitrogen. This method destroys the skin tag’s cells.
- Surgical excision involves cutting off the skin tag at the base of the peduncle with a scalpel or pair of scissors.
Talk to your doctor about the possible risks, but these skin tag removal procedures are pretty simple and very safe. Your doctor will know best which procedure will be most appropriate to your condition, but you should also discuss with him/her your personal preference.
Alternative/DIY Treatment Options
There are also treatment options you can easily and safely do at home. It is always better to still get checked by a doctor, but you can also go ahead with self-treatment as long as the skin tag you want removed is not already irritated or infected, or has not exhibited any abnormal changes.
- Ligation using a medical band, such as the TagBand skin tag remover device, involves tying off the skin tag at the base of the peduncle to cut off circulation. The skin tag will slowly dry out and shrivel until it dies and falls off on its own. The ligation band will have to be kept tied around the skin tag until this happens, which is usually after a week or so.
- Essential oils work by drying out the skin tag from the outside. You will have to apply the oil directly onto the skin tag 2 to 3 times a day, every day, for about 3 to 6 weeks. The skin tag should also fall off on its own when it has completely dried out. Tea tree oil is your best option, as its effectiveness in treating a variety of skin conditions is backed by thousands of years worth of medicinal use. It has antiseptic properties that also minimizes the risk of infection and scarring.
- Other natural home remedies include castor oil and lemon juice. These natural ingredients only require direct application to the affected area. You will just have to take extra care when using them on sensitive areas, such as the groin and around the eyes. It would be best to consider other options when treating skin tags in these areas.
Skin tags do not go away on their own
The only way to make a skin tag go away is to “kill” it by cutting off its supply of blood and oxygen. This is how most skin tag removal methods work. Without treatment, unfortunately, skin tags become permanent, abnormal skin growths.
The only exception are skin tags that develop during pregnancy as a result of hormonal changes in the body. Although it does not happen all the time, some skin tags do go away on their own after pregnancy and when female hormone levels go back to normal.