Are Skin Tags Harmful?

If you’ve noticed fleshy little growths on your skin that are tempting to pick at, you likely have skin tags. These little protrusions of hanging skin tend to be soft, smooth, and the same color as the rest of our body. The tags typically show up wherever we have folds of skin, like under our arms or breasts, or on the neck, groin, or eyelids. Fortunately, they’re completely harmless–but they can be super annoying if you don’t like the way they look.

“They often occur in areas of friction like around the neck, underarms and at the groin and are thought to be caused by irritation from skin rubbing on skin or on clothing,” says Dr Low Chai Ling, SW1 Clinic.
You can probably blame them on your parents–skin tags are usually genetic. Obese people have a higher instance of them since there is more flesh likely to rub against itself to provoke more tags. You may have just one or a couple skin tags, or they can sprout up as a small, isolated group of bumps.
dermnet-skin-tags-neck
Skin Tags usually occur places of greatest friction.

And if you have skin tags, you’re definitely not alone. About one in four people will grow them at some point, and it’s especially common after the age of 50 to start seeing more of them. While harmless, skin tags can become irritated and inflamed and even bleed if you scratch at them or catch the skin on something like a zipper. That’s the number one reason why most people want to have them removed. Of course, skin tags can slowly grow with time, so early removal (while they are small) is associated with a lower risk of scarring.

While there are a plethora of DIY methods on the Internet that claim to remove skin tags at home—like tying the base of the tag with thread—doctors warn this is something you absolutely shouldn’t do yourself. You’re opening yourself up to risk of scarring and infection with any of these unproven home remedies.

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How Do You Get Rid Of Them?

Dr Low makes it clear that your friendly skin tags can be removed in just a few simple steps at your doctor’s office:

  1. First comes the numbing, usually in the form topical cream. In some cases of larger tags, a tiny needle prick’s worth of lidocaine is administered.
  2. Next, the spot is carefully and easily removed with a cautery device which will also stop any bleeding. This bloodless procedure is quick and almost painless and takes less than 10 minutes under expert hands.
skin tag
Dr Low uses cautery to remove skin tags from patient’s body

Dr Low favours this method of removal as it results in the cleanest removal with the least risk of downtime and scarring to surrounding skin. The patient is usually given some ointment to apply to prevent infection for a few days, and advised to avoid friction or picking at the treated area. In most cases, skin healing is speedy and uneventful especially if post-treatment instructions are adhered to, she says.

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Alternatively, some establishments with no access to the above might take the following course of action:

  1. A topical numbing cream will be applied first
  2. Liquid nitrogen (cryotherapy) will be applied to the tag to freeze it off

And sometimes, you might see some combination or variation on all of the above, with cautery being used to burn off spots directly, after topical or injected numbing is first applied.

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How Do You Prevent Them?

images-9 Reducing skin friction—like, not wearing necklaces that can rub on the skin—can help keep new skin tags from developing, says Dr Low, 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.

images-9 She recommends that you not try to remove skin tags at home yourself since they can bleed upon removal and become infected without proper precaution and explains that at-home treatments are not very effective at treating large tags and can cause significant irritation.

images-9 The good news? A healthy diet and lifestyle can help keep blood sugar level low, which can help prevent skin tags from forming.

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