Skin tags are common, acquired benign skin growths that look like a small, soft balloons of hanging skin. Skin tags are harmless growths that can vary in number from one to hundreds. Males and females are equally prone to developing skin tags. Obesity is associated with skin tag development. Although some skin tags may fall off spontaneously, most persist once formed. The medical name for skin tag is acrochordon.
Skin tags are bits of flesh-colored or darkly pigmented tissue that project from the surrounding skin from a small, narrow stalk (pedunculated). Some people call these growths “skin tabs.”
Early on, skin tags may be as small as a flattened pinhead-sized bump. While most tags typically are small (2 mm-5 mm in diameter) at approximately one-third to one-half the size of a pencil eraser, some skin tags may become as large as a big grape (1 cm in diameter) or a fig (5 cm in diameter).
Skin tags typically occur in the following characteristic locations:
Under the breasts Skin tags or acrochordons are soft skin growths where a narrow papule sticks out of the skin from a short piece of flesh like a tag.
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 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.
It is important to keep in mind that skin tags usually do not have to be treated. Deciding not to have treatment is always a reasonable option if the growths are not bothersome. If the tags are bothersome, multiple home and medical treatment options are available:
There are several effective ways to remove a skin tag, including removing with scissors, freezing (using liquid nitrogen), and burning (using medical electric cautery at the physician’s office).
Usually small tags may be removed easily without anesthesia, while larger growths may require some local anesthesia (injected Lidocaine) prior to removal. Application of a topical anesthesia cream (Betacaine cream or LMX 5% cream) prior to the procedure may be desirable in areas where there are a large number of tags.
Dermatologists (skin specialist doctors), family physicians, and internal medicine physicians are the doctors who treat skin tags most often. Occasionally, an eye specialist (ophthalmologist) is needed to remove tags very close to the eyelid margin.
There are also home remedies and self-treatments, including tying off the small tag stalk with a piece of thread or dental floss and allowing the tag to fall off over several days.
The advantage of scissor removal is that the growth is immediately removed and there are instant results. The potential disadvantage of any kind of scissor or minor surgical procedure to remove tags is minor bleeding.
Possible risks with freezing or burning include temporary skin discoloration, need for repeat treatment(s), and failure for the tag to fall off.
There is no evidence that removing tags causes more tags to grow. Rather, there are some people who may be more prone to developing skin tags and may have new growths periodically. Some patients even require periodic removal of tags at annual or quarterly intervals.