I never knew what skin tags were until about 10 years ago. They’re annoying more than anything, but I know some people who are very concerned when they have them (even if they’ve gone to the doctor and been cleared). Good to see there are a number of home remedies. Not surprised to see apple cider vinegar listed as a possible solution. If ever nature produced a universal elixir, that would be it.
Recognize the benefits of professional medical care. It is very tempting to treat skin tags at home, but your doctor’s care offers some unique benefits. They will use sterile instruments to prevent infection. They will also rub on numbing cream to reduce your pain during and after the procedure. In addition, some of the methods, such as cauterization, are so advanced that they rarely leave a noticeable scar.
Skin tags (acrochordons) are small, noncancerous (benign) growths that usually measure only a few millimeters in length, though they can grow up to half an inch.3 They typically appear on the neck, armpit, groin or inframammary areas.4 Almost half the population has been reported to have a skin tag, but the condition is more associated with obese people.5 Skin tags are also rare during childhood, but older people have an increased chance of developing them.6
Although skin tags are primarily a cosmetic problem, that doesn’t mean they’re not significant enough to consult a doctor. For starters, they can still bleed when they come off, so dermatologists stress never trying to cut or pull off a skin tag on your own. One theory on skin tag removal is that tying it off with dental floss will remove it—a bad idea, according to Tanya Kormeili, MD, “This may remove the small ones, but some of the bigger ones have a larger blood supply and may become very painful as you strangulate the skin tag. They are easily removed in the office by a dermatologist.”
Susan Besser, MD, a family medicine specialist with Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, says that if skin tags “get large, change color, or become infected or ulcerated, you need to see your doctor. In those cases, it may not be a simple skin tag and further evaluation is needed.” By and large, Todd Minars, MD, of MINARS Dermatology in Hollywood, Florida, states, “Skin tags are harmless. If they do not bother you, then there is no need to treat them.”
As noted above, it is possible to remove a mole by "shaving" it off. Shaving a mole offers the advantage of not having sutures, but has the clear disadvantage that if the mole extends beneath the surface of the skin, as most do, it will predictably grow back, usually within weeks of being shaved off. It is for this reason that Dr. Rapaport usually does not recommend shaving off moles. Many patients who go to a dermatologist complaining of moles will end up having the moles shaved, because many dermatologists are not comfortable with performing excisions and fine suture closure. Many dermatologists deal with these moles by performing what is called a “deep shave.” This means that the lesion is essentially “scooped out,” with the shave extending lower than the surface of the skin. While this is more likely than a flat shave to remove the entire mole, the resulting scar is generally quite unfavorable, appearing as an indentation in the skin, much like a chicken pox scar. Dr. Rapaport does not perform deep shaves for the reasons noted above.
Doctors do not recommend that you snip off you skin tag yourself. "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 will end up with a sore, red, inflamed, tender bump."
Other skin conditions such as warts and moles can resemble skin tags. Since some moles may be cancerous, it’s best to have your skin tags examined by a doctor. Your dermatologist or family doctor will be able to diagnose skin tags. They’ll likely do this through a visual exam. If they have any doubt about the diagnosis, they may also perform a biopsy.