What are Skin Tags?
Skin tags are small growths on the skin. They are very common and generally harmless. They contain blood vessels and loose collagen fibers on the epidermis. In the medical field, they are called papilloma, soft fibromas, fibroepithelial polyps or more commonly, acrochorda.
Researchers estimate that about 50 percent of adults have at least one of these harmless growths. They can appear in patients as early as 20. Typically, after age seventy people do not develop new skin tags. They tend to grow in areas where the skin folds, such as the underarms, neck, eyelids and groin. Skin tags on the eyelids are a pretty common occurrence. In most cases, skin tags are hard to notice unless they grow in a prominent part of the body. Some people may have skin tags without knowing it if they form in isolated, hard-to-reach areas. Usually, they are small, between 2-5 mm, but they can grow up to several centimeters from irritation from shaving, clothing or jewelry (x).
These growths may appear the same color as the patient’s skin, but in other cases they may have a darker pigment. Because they are benign, skin tags never change in color, shape or size regardless of how long they reside on the skin. They are also painless unless external factors—shaving, friction or a skin pathology such as eczema—irritate the skin. Acrochordons are not painful but they can be bothersome. People frequently complain that they catch on clothing or jewelry. Doctors have not concluded a definitive cause of skin tags, but there are several theories. Also, they are rarely ever linked to cancer and it is extremely rare for a skin tag to transformation into a malignant growth (x, x).
Symptoms & Characteristics of Skin Tags
A skin tag may have a similar appearance as other skin conditions. Certain skin growths such as moles or warts may look similar, which is why it is important to be able to recognize its basic characteristics. It can be easy to identify them if the patient knows exactly what they look like. This can prevent unnecessary worry that a patient may feel after discovering an unfamiliar growth on the skin. However, it is still best to visit a doctor or a dermatologist in order to get a reliable and definitive diagnosis.
Bumps on the Skin
The skin may develop small bumps all the time and most of the time, they are harmless. They usually result from different conditions including allergies, infections, identifiable skin conditions and, in some cases, skin cancer. They also come in different numbers, size and appearances depending on the cause or trigger. While some may be the same color as the skin, others may bear a distinctly different color. When skin tags start out, they usually appear as a tiny, soft bump on the skin (x).
Soft Skin Growth
At first, the growth is usually extremely soft to the touch and patients may be tempted to pull it out or use a sharp object to pierce it. However, these methods are not a good idea. After a while, this soft skin growth begins to develop and expand until it hangs from the skin from a small stalk. The skin tag may mimic the color of the skin and then change pigment over time. This change may result from oxygen reduction, especially if the patient twists or manipulates it (x).
Unlike a number of other skin conditions, a skin tag is movable. This means a patient can move or pull the tag in different directions. This unique characteristic makes it easier to identify. In the case of skin tag versus warts, skin tags tend to hang loosely from the skin, but warts grow flat against it. Also, a wart may have an irregular surface and skin tags usually have a regular, smooth surface. Tampering with a skin tag may irritate it and if the tag detaches from the skin, the patient is at risk for infection (x).
Size, Shape & Color
Skin tags are usually shaped like a grain of rice, between 2 and 5 mm in size, but they may grow up to several centimeters. More often than not, skin tags are usually the same color as the skin. However, in some cases they may be darker or lighter than the skin. Sometimes a patient may not be able to tell the difference between a skin tag versus a mole, if the tag doesn’t match their skin color. But they differ in size. Some moles may grow as large as an eraser, but so far doctors have not identified a skin tag bigger than a few centimeters (x).
Diagnosing Skin Tags
Doctors can recognize a skin tag easily by looking at it. If the skin tag follows the general characteristics—soft, easily movable, flesh-colored or slightly darker and attached to the skin surface by a stalk—the patient won’t need any diagnostic tests. But if the skin growth is multicolored, raw, bleeding or if it is firm and does not move or wiggle easily, ask a doctor to examine it. If it is not obvious that your skin growth is a skin tag, your doctor may want to do a biopsy, which means he or she will remove a small piece of skin and send it to a laboratory for examination (x).
Causes of Skin Tags
Researchers have not been able to pinpoint the exact reason why people develop skin tags. However, there are a number of theories or assumptions based on cases that researchers study and cross-reference. One theory is that irritation or friction may play a role. For example, skin tags usually develop on body folds where the skin folds and rubs together, like the underarms, groin, neck or eyelids (x).
However, some researchers think insulin resistance may play a major role because the growths are very common in patients with diabetes. It may also be related to viral infections. Another scientific study examined 49 patients with acrochordons. They noted that a large percentage of the subjects had the human papillomavirus (HPV). This detail suggests that there may be a correlation with this particular virus (x).
Doctors theorize acrochordons may be genetic. In a genetic disorder called Birt-Hogg-Dube Syndrome, patients often have numerous skin tags along with other skin conditions. However, skin tags may simply be a characteristic of normal aging as the skin loses elasticity (x).
Natural Remedies for Skin Tags
Skin tags are harmless. Usually patients do not need to have them removed. However, they can be a nuisance and some patients may want to remove them to ease discomfort or for cosmetic purposes. Treatment options include excision, burning or freezing. If the tag has a long stalk, it can twist around itself and cut off blood flow and the tag may darken in color. If the tag is painful or if it appears to be changing, consult a doctor to rule out any other conditions. Patients should always consult a doctor to remove a skin tag instead of trying to remove it themselves, to prevent infection (x). However, because skin tags are harmless and do not necessarily need medical attention, patients can try natural, non-surgical home remedies to get rid of them.
Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil has antifungal and antiviral properties, which makes it suitable and safe to use directly on the skin. Experts claim that it is safe to use on the skin daily and the pure oil should not cause irritation. But some patients may have an allergy to tea tree oil and develop contact dermatitis, a skin rash. Patients report that tea tree oil is an effective natural treatment for several different conditions and symptoms, including acne, mild infections on the nails, athlete’s foot and yeast infections. It is a safe topical treatment, but do not take it by mouth (x).
Patients can also use a banana peel to remove a skin tag. Place the banana peel over the tag and then cover it with a bandage overnight. The peel will dry up the growth. Repeat this process every night until the tag is dry enough to fall off (x).
Apple Cider Vinegar
Soak a cotton swab in apple cider vinegar and then gently massage the cotton swab over the skin tag. Wrap the section in a bandage for 15 to 30 minutes and then wash the skin. Repeat this process daily for a couple of weeks. Apple cider vinegar has acidic qualities that help break down the tissue around the skin tag, causing it to dry up and fall off (x).
Garlic is a natural anti-aging agent and helps reduce inflammation, improving the skin’s overall appearance. To get rid of a skin tag using garlic, apply a small amount of crushed garlic, cover it with a bandage and leave it on overnight. Wash the area the next morning and repeat the process again until the skin tag shrinks (x).
Supplements for Healthy Skin
As a lipid-soluble substance, Vitamin E is an essential antioxidant that humans need to maintain general health. Deficiency may include anemia and peripheral neuropathy when nerves become damaged and cannot carry messages from the brain and spinal cord to the body (x). As an antioxidant, Vitamin E prevents oxidative damage in the body. It is also a common ingredient in several cosmetic products designed to promote healthy skin because it helps produce collagen (x). As a dietary supplement, take 500 to 1,000 mg of Vitamin E 700 IU powder daily with food, unless a physician advises a different dosage.
Ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) is a common antioxidant that patients use to treat the common cold and flu. Vitamin C is an important mineral that strengthens the immune system. Humans do not have the ability to synthesize ascorbic acid naturally and must gain it through the diet (x). Like Vitamin E, Vitamin C helps the body make collagen to reduce wrinkles and maintain elasticity and hydration (x). Vitamin C is available as a supplement to ensure a consistent daily dosage. As a dietary supplement, take ascorbic acid / Vitamin C in 1,000 mg doses per day, or following a physician’s advice.
When humans consume fat, the body breaks it down into fatty acids like omega-3-6-9 that it can absorb more easily. Essential fatty acids help maintain skin health by providing an efficient skin barrier, influencing proper inflammatory responses and promoting efficient wound healing (x). The body can make some of these fats naturally, such as omega-9, but if the body cannot make these fats itself (omega-3 and omega-6), it needs them from dietary sources. They are also available in supplement form, which makes it easier to get a healthy, consistent dosage. As a supplement, take three omega-3-6-9 softgels once or twice a day. Consult a doctor before taking the supplement to confirm safety and dosage.
The Bottom Line
A skin tag is a common, benign growth on the skin. An estimated 50 percent of the adult population have skin tags. They are small, raised bumps attached with stalks to the skin. Skin tags usually range from 2 to 5 mm in size and can grow up to a few centimeters. They usually develop in places on the body where the skin folds, possibly from irritation if the skin rubs together. Some patients may have skin tags on the body without knowing it if they grow in a discrete part of the body. They may be the same color as the patient’s skin or they may look lighter or darker.
Medical personnel do not consider skin tags a harmful or serious medical condition. Rather, physicians consider them a cosmetic issue, since they rarely ever cause damage or complications. However, skin tags can be annoying or uncomfortable if they catch on clothing or jewelry. They do not require removal for health or safety purposes, but many patients like to get them removed for cosmetic purposes or to reduce any discomfort. Contact a physician to have a skin tag removed via surgery by freezing, burning or excision. If a patient attempts to remove a skin tag themselves, it can cause an infection.
There are also natural, non-surgical home remedies to get rid of them, including tea tree oil or garlic and Vitamin E, Vitamin C and omega-3-6-9 supplements to improve skin health. Always consult a doctor before starting a supplement regimen. They are not a medical treatment, but they can improve skin health.