How to Remove Skin Tags the Right Way, According to Dermatologists | SELF

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How to Remove Skin Tags the Right Way, According to Dermatologists | SELF

By Jessica Chia and Mara Santilli

Reviewed by Shari Marchbein, MD

Unless you’re a dermatologist, you probably don’t know how to remove skin tags the right way—as in, without hurting yourself or potentially causing other issues like excessive bleeding, scarring, or infection. But you’re definitely not alone if you’re looking to cut one of those suckers loose.

Skin tags—or acrochordons, if you want to be fancy and use the proper (Latin) name—are a super common type of raised growth. In fact, as many as 60% of adults will get at least one in their lifetime.1 They can develop anywhere on the body, but they tend to show up in spots with skin folds—like the neck, armpits, groin, or under-boob area.1

To be clear, these fleshy little protrusions are considered harmless, from a medical perspective, but that doesn’t make them any less annoying. If you have one and you’re not happy with how it looks or feels, you’re not necessarily stuck with it.

We asked dermatologists to walk us through everything you need to know about skin tags—including whether or not it’s worth it to get them removed.

What causes skin tags? | Why am I suddenly getting skin tags? | How can I prevent skin tags? | Can I remove skin tags at home? | How do doctors do skin tag removal? | Can skin tags be cancerous?

Like warts, they grow out of your skin on a stalk and contain their own blood supply but little innervation (i.e. nerve supply), Sarmela Sunder, MD, a double-board-certified facial plastic reconstructive surgeon in Beverly Hills, tells SELF.

And they can come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The shapes: beady or fingerlike projections and even soft, bag-like fibromas. The sizes: anywhere from one to five millimeters, though skin tags as long as 12.7 millimeters have been recorded.2 While experts concur that there isn’t a singular cause of these fleshy growths, there is evidence that skin tag formation is linked to a number of factors, including friction from skin-on-skin rubbing or tight clothing, genetics, and certain health conditions, Dr. Sunder says. High blood pressure, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and high cholesterol, for example, are all correlated with the presence of skin tags.3

There’s no direct connection between age and skin tags, Tracy Evans, MD, board-certified dermatologist and medical director of Pacific Skin and Cosmetic Dermatology in San Francisco, tells SELF. But many conditions that correlate with (not cause!) their formation are likelier to develop in adulthood than in childhood. Research suggests that skin tags can appear as early as your teen years, but are most likely to show up after you turn 40 (and that likelihood levels off again after age 70—who knew?).1

Regardless of your age, if you notice you’re getting a whole new crop of skin tags, schedule an appointment with your dermatologist or primary care provider, especially if you’re experiencing other symptoms that aren’t typical for you: “There are situations where a significant number of skin tags can signal an underlying issue, such as certain autoimmune conditions like Crohn’s disease, certain polyp-causing gastrointestinal syndromes, or a growth-related syndrome known as acromegaly,” Dr. Sunder says.4 “Developing a skin tag doesn’t mean that you have one of these diseases, and having one of these conditions doesn’t mean you will get skin tags, but we sometimes see an overlap in both.”

Unfortunately, this isn’t an issue you can address with a dedicated skin care routine. “There’s nothing you can really do to prevent skin tags,” Dr. Evans says. However, she adds that reducing the amount of friction your skin endures in areas like the underarms and neck (by avoiding tight clothes, cushioning belts or straps that frequently rub in one area—consider this permission to ditch the uncomfortable underwire bra that digs into your skin—or using an anti-chafing balm, for example) could help. If you have any of the correlated health conditions above, working with your doctor to get those under control may also help to prevent skin tags; though it’s not guaranteed.

If you already know you tend to get them, not to worry—we’ve got you. Read on for advice on how to remove skin tags safely.

For those of you hoping to learn how to remove skin tags yourself, unfortunately, the chances that you can successfully and safely get rid of them are slim, according to the experts we talked to. “Despite big promises, the over-the-counter creams do not deliver,” Joshua Zeichner, MD, board-certified dermatologist and director of cosmetic and clinical research at the Mount Sinai Department of Dermatology in New York City, tells SELF. Ditto for at-home freezing kits, Dr. Evans says.

There are other DIY methods modeled after ligation, an outdated practice that involves tying off the tag with a string or band. “For larger skin tags, the hack of wrapping a piece of dental floss tightly around the base can actually work by cutting off circulation—after a few days, the tag will dry up and fall off,” Dr. Zeichner says.

You definitely shouldn’t try this at home though. Unfortunately, the larger the tag—and the more likely you are to try the ol’ dental floss trick—the higher the chances of excess bleeding and skin scarring, Dr. Evans says. And that’s the best-case scenario; you could also give yourself an infection. “The biggest problem is that the things people use are not sterile and skin tags actually bleed quite a bit,” she explains.

Other “natural” home remedies for skin tag removal you might hear about (er, read online) include apple cider vinegar, a commonly touted treatment for warts, and tea tree oil. These aren’t necessarily harmful ingredients, but they could potentially cause irritation, burning, or allergic reactions in some people, Margarita Lolis, MD, board-certified dermatologist and Mohs surgeon, tells SELF. (At that point, it’s probably worth keeping the skin tag.)

The bottom line: If you’re wondering how to cut off skin tags painlessly or how to remove them at home, there are no entirely safe steps or methods to try, and DIY’ing it could, again, lead to bleeding, scarring, and/or infection. “I don’t recommend anything at home,” Dr. Evans says. “I always recommend coming in.” You can schedule an appointment with your dermatologist, if you have one, or ask your primary care doctor if they remove skin tags (some do). If not, they can refer you to a derm who will know how to get rid of them in the safest way possible.

Doctor’s note: Generally speaking, skin tag removal for cosmetic reasons is not covered by insurance. However, there are some circumstances where getting rid of them can be deemed medically necessary—if they’re interfering with your daily activities, for example—and may therefore be covered, Dr. Zeichner says. Without insurance, he adds, it would typically cost you $200 and up to remove a handful of tags.

While we wish skin tags would simply fall off on their own, they seldom do. There are a couple of ways board-certified dermatologists and plastic surgeons typically remove them, and the method depends on the size of the tag and the stalk attached to it. For example, if it's little and has a narrow stalk, the preferred method is a “snip” removal, where the doctor uses small, curved, sterile surgical scissors to, yep, snip the tag from the skin’s surface, Dr. Lolis says. If it’s small, it won’t be very innervated, and she’ll do the excision procedure without numbing cream, she adds. Wider skin tags typically get a topical anesthetic, like lidocaine, to minimize pain, per Dr. Evans.

If the tag is flat or thick, Dr. Sunder will often turn to electrocauterization of the stalk or the skin tag itself, which involves destroying tissue with a heated electric current. “The thicker the stalk, the wider the blood vessel inside,” Dr. Lolis explains. “A larger, wider blood vessel will lead to more bleeding, necessitating electrocautery to burn the base of the skin tag.”

Another potential option for skin tag removal is cryotherapy (freezing it off with liquid nitrogen), though this method may not be as effective in general, according to Dr. Lolis. “Cryotherapy is not as precise as physical removal of the skin tag, and I sometimes worry about hyperpigmentation with it,” Dr. Sunder adds. This can happen to anyone, but many dermatologists are especially wary of using severe cold (or heat) to destroy tissue on people with deep skin tones, she adds.

That’s because the inflammation caused by extreme deviations in temperature can trigger excessive melanin production, which can then lead to more pronounced hyperpigmentation for those folks.5 Because of the freezing temperatures and the inflammation they can cause, thick scarring is another possible complication of cryotherapy for anyone who tends to scar easily, according to Dr. Sunder.6

Especially sensitive areas may need an even more careful approach. The safest way to get rid of a skin tag on your very delicate eyelid area, for example, is to have it removed by a dermatologist or plastic or ocular surgeon. They will likely numb the tag with an agent like lidocaine or epinephrine to reduce bleeding, and then use a very precise electrocautery instrument to zap them off, Dr. Sunder explains. Your doctor is less likely to use scissors in this area due to the delicate tissues and curvature of the orbital bone, she adds.

After your skin tag is removed, you can go about your normal life, but your doctor will likely recommend keeping the site clean (to prevent infection) and, depending on the area, may also advise you to keep it covered (to prevent friction) for a few days.

This one’s complicated. By definition, skin tags are benign (non-cancerous). But it’s totally possible to mistake a potentially cancerous growth for a skin tag, and only a health care professional can determine whether or not you’re in the clear. Be sure to point out any questionable spots to a dermatologist (check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s helpful guide to skin cancer symptoms for some red flags)—they can examine your potential skin tag to ensure it’s not something more worrisome that requires a biopsy.

“Any pain or itching are signs you need to get it checked out before you even think about how to remove skin tags,” Dr. Evans says. And if the skin growth looks shiny, scabbed, bleeds, or is changing or darkening in color, “it should definitely be biopsied,” Dr. Zeichner adds. It may very well be nothing to worry about, but it’s better to be proactive when it comes to your skin health. Your outer layer works hard to shield you from harm, and getting ahead of any potential problems is the best way to return the favor.

SELF does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Any information published on this website or by this brand is not intended as a substitute for medical advice, and you should not take any action before consulting with a healthcare professional.

How to Remove Skin Tags the Right Way, According to Dermatologists | SELF

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