Don’t impulsively deem any protruding bump as a skin tag; after all, there is an overwhelming number of things it could be—moles and seborrheic keratoses can closely resemble skin tags. Even worse, it could be something that requires medical treatment such as genital warts (possible indication of a sexually transmitted disease). Some growths could also be an extension of glands on the skin, and they can get infected if you’re poking at them at home. As a rule of thumb, if the tag is pigmented, see a dermatologist to get it evaluated. And here are 11 other skin mysteries you should know about.
The vast majority of moles are not dangerous. Moles that are more likely to be cancer are those that look different than other existing moles or those that first appear after age 25. If you notice changes in a mole's color, height, size, or shape, you should have a dermatologist (skin doctor) evaluate it. You also should have moles checked if they bleed, ooze, itch, or become tender or painful.
While it is true that skin tags often show up in the armpit or neck creases, the skin-on-skin friction is not what’s to blame. Rather, it’s the creases and skin folds that produce a friendly environment for a virus that may cause some skin tags. According to Ben Johnson, MD, founder of holistic beauty brand Osmosis Skincare, “Viruses are much more commonly spread through contact than people realize, but they don’t find the skin an easy place to survive. Creases improve their chances, and on rare occasions, one makes it into the follicle and infects local skin DNA to create skin tags.”
Tying a String. For an elongated skin tag, your physician may tie a sterile string around the base to cut off the blood supply, causing the skin tag to die. As skin tags do have a blood supply of their own and doing this technique improperly can cause excessive bleeding, it is not recommended to do this yourself. When deciding how to remove skin tags, there are other safe and effective at-home treatments you can try.
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.
Mole removal typically takes place in under an hour using a local anesthesia. Larger moles that are excised will require sutures. This treated area may feel a little discomfort, which typically goes away within a few days after the procedure. The skin will scab over and will completely heal within 2-3 weeks with proper application of topical medications.
Some essential oils are quite useful in treating skin issues, including skin tags. Well known for its antiseptic and antibacterial properties, tea tree oil is particularly beneficial for skin issues including skin tags. Tea tree oil comes from the Southeast Australian coast. The oil has many health and beauty benefits including skin benefits, treating fungal infections, and clearing coughs and congestion. (4)
Many people who develop skin tags simply choose to leave them alone. If, however, you find a skin tag unsightly or find that it’s becoming irritated by shaving or rubbing on clothing or jewelry, you can have it removed by a doctor. The two most common methods are cryotherapy, in which the tag is taken off using a freezing solution, or cauterization, in which the tag is burned off. There are also home kits available (similar to wart removal kits), but they may only be appropriate for certain small tags. Consult your healthcare provider for advice, especially if the tag is large (in which case a biopsy may be taken), or it is near your eye.
Cauterization. Burning off a skin tag should never be attempted at home. This is a procedure that must be conducted by an experienced medical professional. Electrocauterization requires a special tool that is heated and then carefully applied to the skin tag; the skin tag may not come off immediately. It may fall off in the hours or days following the procedure.
Skin tags can occur almost anywhere on the body covered by skin. However, the two most common areas for skin tags are the neck and armpits. Other common body areas for the development of skin tags include the eyelids, upper chest (particularly under the female breasts), buttock folds, and groin folds. Tags are typically thought to occur where skin rubs against itself or clothing. Babies who are plump may also develop skin tags in areas where skin rubs against skin, like the sides of the neck. Younger children may develop tags at the upper eyelid areas, often in areas where they may rub their eyes. Older children and preteens may develop tags in the underarm area from friction and repetitive irritation from sports.
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.