If you're wondering how to remove skin tags, you're not alone. According to board-certified dermatologist Laurel Naversen Geraghty, skin-tag removal is something patients ask her constantly. "People come to me every day asking, 'What can I do about these skin tags? How can I get rid of them?'"
The medical term for a skin tag is acrochordon or fibroepithelial polyp. Bichchau Michelle Nguyen, a board-certified dermatologist and the director of Mohs micrographic surgery at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, tells Allure that what we call skin tags are really just benign skin lesions composed of normal skin tissue.
What, Exactly, Is a Skin Tag?
"Skin tags are extremely common and completely benign fleshy overgrowths of the skin. While not dangerous at all, they are often cosmetically bothersome especially if located in an obvious location like the face or neck," says New York City-based board-certified dermatologist Shari Marchbein, who often electively removes skin tags from her patients for that very reason.
"Anyone can get skin tags but they are much more common in adults and occur more frequently in areas of friction including the armpits, groin folds, inner thighs, and around the neck, as well as on the face, around the eyes, and under the breasts," Marchbein says.
New York City board-certified dermatologist Joshua Zeichner adds that skin tags, comprised of extra skin and fat, have a genetic component to them, and people whose parents had them are more likely to get them themselves. Nguyen also notes that obesity and pregnancy might contribute to the development of skin tags, as well.
They don't need to be removed, Marchbein explains, but since they can grow, they can actually twist on themselves at the base of the stalk where they're attached to the skin, causing redness and pain.
"Skin tags can rub against clothing or get caught on jewelry, and then they can get really irritated and inflamed. Some people's skin tags even bleed," Geraghty adds, explaining that they often form in areas of friction like the neck, under the arms, thighs, and even around the eyelids.
What Increases the Risk of Getting Skin Tags?
Skin tags are more likely to happen to adults than children; men and women are affected by skin tags at equal rates. That being said, there are a few factors that can be linked to the development of skin tags.
Obesity and associated skin friction is a major player in developing skin tags. Skin is more likely to rub against itself, and that friction stimulates skin-tag growth.
The body is in a general state of growth during pregnancy, and all kinds of skin lesions grow during this time. That state of growth, coupled with a heavier-than-usual body weight, possible gestational diabetes (which may be correlated to skin tags), and increased friction in areas of rubbing can all lead to skin tags during pregnancy.
"The mother can grow all kinds of things on her skin during pregnancy. Moles on the abdomen can change, skin tags can form or become enlarged. It's just part of the normal, physiologic changes that women go through in pregnancy," says Geraghty.
Skin tags have also been linked to diabetes. "We know that diabetics are more prone to them. More research is needed to know exactly why that is scientifically, but there's some correlation that we observed with diabetes," says Geraghty. Though doctors don't fully understand why, the body's resistance to insulin might have something to do with it.
Reducing skin friction — like not wearing necklaces that can rub on the skin — can help keep new tags from developing, says Nguyen, who adds that removed skin tags don't typically grow back, though new ones may grow in the same general area where tags have previously popped up. A healthy diet and lifestyle can help keep blood sugar levels low, which may also help prevent skin tags from forming.
How to Remove Skin Tags
If you're ready to get rid of your skin tags, read on for expert advice on the right way to remove them. (Spoiler alert: You shouldn't do it at home.)
Small Skin-Tag Removal
If the skin tag is very small, the first thing Geraghty does is spray the bump with liquid nitrogen, a nontoxic substance. It's sprayed out of a can and is approximately -320 degrees Fahrenheit. "We direct this very cold spray of gas onto the spot for a few seconds; then we take a break, and then we do a few seconds more, and usually that's enough to make the skin tag fall off within a few days," says Geraghty.
"The treatment stings for a few seconds, and it turns the area red and inflamed," Geraghty says of the discomfort factor. Some people may form blisters or scab over in the next few days, as the extreme cold has destroyed the skin cells in order to make the skin tag go away.
Large Skin-Tag Removal
"If the skin tags are a little bigger or they have more of a thicker stalk at the bottom, then I like to just do a miniature injection of lidocaine to numb the skin and just snip them right off with some very sharp, sterile scissors. It only takes a second to do," says Geraghty. "Even with that method I usually do a little bit of cautery after to burn the base because these skin tags have their own blood vessel supply. Burning the base also puts a little scab on it."
Scabs during healing are advantageous because the skin tag is less likely to regrow and less likely to bleed, Geraghty says.
Does Insurance Pay for Skin-Tag Removal?
"A lot of times, [insurance] will not pay for skin tags to be treated unless they're really bothering people," Geraghty says. Tell your doctor if the skin tag is painful, itchy, bleeding, or constantly catching on clothes or jewelry. Any of this can help the case if you're fighting for your health insurance to foot the bill.
If insurance does pay for it, they will pay for up to 14 symptomatic skin tags at one time, explains Geraghty. "For people who come in with quite a few skin tags, it’s good to just get them all done on the same day, just from an insurance standpoint."
Skin-tag removal costs between $100 and $500, depending on your location, insurance, deductibles, the number of skin tags to be removed, and the physician you select.
Don't Try to Get Rid of Skin Tags at Home
Doctors do not recommend that you snip off your skin tag yourself. "Not all things that look like skin tags are, in fact, skin tags, so I definitely do not recommend trying to treat and remove these at home," Marchbein tells Allure. But even if you're sure you're dealing with a skin tag, it's still not wise to attempt to remove it on your own.
"I see patients come into my office, and you know they're in pain because they've tried to clip the skin tags off themselves," says Geraghty. "Maybe part of it was left behind, so it's just having a hard time healing, or they've tried to do that trick where they try to tie dental floss or thread around it to strangulate the skin tag and end up killing part of the tissue but not the other, which is still hanging on."
These patients often end up with a sore, red, inflamed, tender bump, she says. "Infection is a risk, traumatizing the skin is a risk, bleeding is a risk," says Geraghty. "When people come to me in situations like these, I will just numb the area up, snip it off and burn the base. It's a quick, easy way to just get them off so their skin can focus on healing."
If the lesion is sort of half-dead and half-alive after self-surgery gone awry, there's going to be a lot of pain and continued inflammation, she says.
A Note on "Natural" Skin-Tag Removal Methods
As far as other DIY methods for skin tag removal at home, such as applying apple cider vinegar, coconut oil, tea tree oil, etc., Geraghty notes that there's no compelling evidence to show that those therapies are effective. "You can't make tissue disappear by putting a little vinegar on it. It just doesn’t work," she says. "You really need that to physically be removed."
Skin Conditions That Look Like Skin Tags But Aren't
If you're worried that something on your skin isn't a skin tag but perhaps something else, you should have a dermatologist check it out. "Other fleshy-appearing growths including anything from warts to worrisome skin cancers such as basal cell carcinoma and even life-threatening melanoma can look like skin tags," says Marchbein. Common skin conditions that aren't skin tags but look like skin tags are seborrheic keratoses and neurofibromas.
Seborrheic keratoses are extremely common on the neck. Like skin tags, these often form in areas of high friction. "On women, the chest, neck, underarm area, and even under the bra line are common sites for these lesions to form, though they can form anywhere on the skin," explains Geraghty.
"Neurofibromas are just little skin-colored, fleshy papules. These little bumps are very common," says Geraghty. Some people hear "neurofibroma" and may think of the genetic syndrome called neurofibromatosis; neurofibromas, which are benign, can be seen in neurofibromatosis (a genetic condition), but most people have neurofibromas without having the genetic syndrome neurofibromatosis. "Neurofibroma lesions can happen even without that syndrome, and typically that's the case."
Get Any Growth Checked
Ultimately, it's best to go to a professional, not only to remove skin tags, but to be sure what you're looking at is, in fact, a skin tag. "It's very important to be examined, diagnosed, and treated by a board-certified dermatologist," Marchbein says, "so that any potentially concerning lesion can be biopsied quickly and treated in a timely manner without delay."
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Originally Appeared on Allure