Have you ever noticed soft, small pieces of skin dangling under your armpits, or unsightly fleshy lumps protruding from the skin surface around your neck?
Well, these may very well be a common and harmless skin condition known as skin tags.
1. What are skin tags and why do I have them?
A skin tag is a small and soft skin growth that is connected to the skin by a small and firm stalk called a peduncle. Its medical name is also known as an acrochordon.
Skin tags can be skin coloured or darker, they can be smooth and round, or have a wrinkly or uneven surface, and usually range in size from 1mm to 5cm.
They are most often found in body areas where the skin rubs against itself, such as neck, armpits, groin, under the breasts, in the genital region and folds of the buttocks, or even the eyelids.
A skin tag may appear as a tiny soft bump on the skin at first. Over time, it grows into a flesh-colored piece of skin attached to the skin surface by a stalk. It’s easy to wiggle a skin tag back and forth.
A skin tag is painless, although it can become irritated if it is rubbed a lot, such as in an area where clothing or jewelry rubs against them. If a skin tag is twisted on its stalk, a blood clot can develop within it and the skin tag may become painful.
2. Is there a group of people more susceptible to getting them?
They develop in both men and women with age. There can be a genetic predisposition but generally skin tags can develop after weight gain or pregnancy, as the excess skin folds or increased growth factors can cause increased skin irritation or friction.
People with type 2 diabetes mellitus, or the HPV (human papillomavirus) infection, are also at increased risk of developing skin tags. However, skin tags are usually harmless and not contagious, and are commonly removed for aesthetic reasons.
3. Can I just pull them off on my own?
Skin tags are made up of clusters of loosely arranged collagen fibres and blood vessels surrounded by a thickened epidermis. It is probably not a good idea to pull at them or cut them off yourself, as it will be painful, there can be bleeding and there is also a risk of infection. The stalk may not be completely removed and the skin tag can regrow.
4. What are some treatments available to remove skin tags?
Skin tags are usually a cosmetic concern and can be removed via freezing with liquid nitrogen, surgical removal using a scissors or scalpel, burning with laser or electrocautery, or ligation whereby a suture is tied around the neck of the skin tag to cut off its blood supply. That said, recurrence can be a possibility and repeat procedures may be needed.
It is a good idea to consult your doctor even if you aren’t bothered by them aesthetically, as these skin tags can be in uncomfortable places, and for some, they can hurt, itch or bleed when caught on accessories or clothes.
However, if you have a skin growth that bleeds, itches, or changes color, please do seek a medical consultation, to rule out other more serious conditions such as skin cancer.