Learn more about skin tags

Updated November 14, 2019

If you’ve noticed a small, flesh-colored or brown growth on your skin, you’re not alone. In fact, you might have a skin tag, one of the most common skin conditions.

Skin tags are thought to occur in almost half of adults, according to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. They grow most often in areas with skin folds.

While skin folds are benign and do not have to be removed, there are several available removal options.

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Exactly What Are Skin Tags?

Skin tags, formally known as acrochordons, are small pieces of flesh that protrude from your skin. They’re attached through a stem or stalk and are typically the same color as your skin. In comparison, moles are raised spots that have a different pigmentation than your skin.

Skin tags are most commonly found in folds of skin. That includes areas such as:

  • Neck
  • Armpits
  • Groin
  • Eyelids
  • Upper trunk
  • Under the breasts

Skin tags appear commonly in both men and women and usually appear in people of middle age. While these growths aren’t painful, daily movement can produce friction, which may irritate them.

If you wish to have a consult or are unsure about whether your skin condition is a skin tag, you can visit eDermatology.upmc.com.

“Seek medical treatment if you wish to have these skin tags removed,” says Autumn Moorhead, RN, BSN, a professional staff nurse in UPMC’s Department of Dermatology. “Otherwise, monitor any skin lesion for any changes in asymmetry, border irregularity, color, diameter, and evolution.”

What Causes Skin Tags?

While the exact causes of skin tags are unknown, a couple of factors may predispose you to them. Research published in the Open Access Macedonian Journal of Medical Sciences highlighted two proven determinants:

  • Age: Skin tags occur most often in middle-aged and older people.
  • Body mass index: Skin tags were associated with people with high BMIs. Maintaining a healthy weight, therefore, is a good way to ensure you’re doing what you can to prevent skin tags.

Other potential factors that could lead to skin tags include:

  • Body friction: Skin rubbing against skin, like what happens in skin folds, could play a role.
  • Diabetes: Insulin resistance is considered a potential factor for skin tags to develop.
  • Human papillomavirus: A study of people with skin tags found a significant number had HPV.
  • Family history

How to Remove Skin Tags

It is not medically necessary for skin tags to be removed, Moorhead says. But some people might choose removal if the skin tags become bothersome, or for cosmetic reasons. Your doctor will determine the best treatment.

Here are your removal options:

  • Severing 
    With the help of surgical scissors or a scalpel, your doctor cuts your skin tag off. This method may require stitches to heal.
  • Freezing 
    Doctors spray or swab a small amount of liquid nitrogen onto your skin tag. The element conveniently freezes the tissue, with little discomfort. With this treatment, the skin usually heals on its own, although there may be a small blister at first.
  • Burning 
    If your doctor prefers to superheat the tissue to remove the skin tag, he or she will likely use electricity conducted through a wire. The heat burns the stem of the growth and facilitates a cleaner healing process. The heat is used to prevent bleeding.

    Burning off the skin tag may cause some pain, but your doctor will use an anesthetic to numb the area before the procedure. The heat is used to prevent bleeding, but some bleeding may occur. No scars or marks usually result from burning.

Should You Remove Skin Tags at Home?

If you’re wondering how to remove skin tags yourself, you’re not alone. Many people try to get rid of them at home, which is a bad idea.

“There is the risk of infection and bleeding,” Moorhead says. “Also, any lesion that is removed should be sent to pathology to confirm that it is of benign nature.”

Permanent scarring is another risk of home removal.

Cutting or burning any part of your skin intentionally can lead to infection and permanent scarring. Instead, contact a dermatologist to get the proper care.

Skin tags themselves are usually harmless. However, according to the American Academy of Dermatologists, having numerous skin tags can be an indication of a systemic internal imbalance, like diabetes. That’s why you should talk with your doctor, even if your skin tags aren’t bothering you.

For more information, make an appointment with the experts at UPMC’s Department of Dermatology, who diagnose and treat all types of skin conditions and dermatologic diseases.

Sources reviewed for this article

Autumn Moorhead, BSN, RN

American Osteopathic College of Dermatology, Skin Tags (retrieved from https://www.aocd.org/page/SkinTags)

About Dermatology

The UPMC Department of Dermatology diagnoses, treats, and manages numerous hair, skin, and nail conditions and diseases. We care for common and uncommon conditions, and our treatments include both surgical and nonsurgical options. We operate several specialty centers for various conditions. The UPMC Cosmetic Surgery and Skin Health Center is a comprehensive dermatologic laser facility, offering a full range of cosmetic services and procedures. With UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, we offer a Skin Cancer Program that provides complete care from screenings, diagnosis, treatment, and beyond. Find a dermatology provider near you.