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Skin tags: what they are, what causes them and how to remove them

November 15th 2017 / Anna Hunter / 0 comment

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Harmless but oh so annoying, skin tags are incredibly common, particularly if you’re pregnant. Here’s how you know if you’ve got them and the skin tag fixes that actually work

One in four of us has at least one skin tag, and how to get rid of them is one of the most frequent questions put to dermatologists. It’s also something you regularly quiz Dr Google about, with Internet solutions ranging from tying them with a cotton string and giving them a good yank (just NO) to literally cutting them off with scissors (again, don’t go there unless medically advised). We put the record straight on what constitutes a skin tag, and what you can do to get rid if you so please. Take your DIY solutions elsewhere.

What are skin tags?

Dr Suchitra Badvey, consultant dermatologist and specialist in dermatology and cosmetic dermatology at 25 Harley Street, explains how to identify a skin tag:

“Lots of people have skin tags- they’re small, soft, skin growths that hang off the skin. They’re generally flesh coloured and range from 1 mm to 5 cm in size. Most are harmless and nothing to worry about, although they can be a cosmetic bother, or rub against clothing or jewellery and become a real annoyance.”

Basically, if you’ve got something that looks like a wart but isn’t a wart (i.e, it’s smooth rather than rough and not contagious), it could be a skin tag, but always have it checked out by your GP or a dermatologist if you’re in any doubt. In very rare occasions, skin tags can be confused with a rare skin cancer known as a pinkus tumour which looks very similar.

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Skin tag in action

Where do skin tags develop?

“They usually crop up in the skin folds, such as under the arms, buttocks, breast, around the groin and on the neck. It’s surprisingly common for them to grow on the eyelids too.”

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Skin tags on the neck

Why do skin tags occur?

“Skin tags are formed from the loose collagen fibres and blood vessels that surround the skin (collagen is a protein naturally found in the body). There is some link to pregnant women developing them as hormones can impact on collagen fibres, however, both men and women of all ages and skin colours can develop skin tags, for seemingly no reason.”

Are certain people more prone to skin tags than others?

“Skin tags are more common in obese patients, as well as those with type 2 diabetes. The elderly population is also more likely to get skin tags, and as above, pregnant women often find that they develop them too.”

Can they ever go bad?

“Skin tags are for the most part harmless, but occasionally people can’t resist the urge to pick, or even try to remove them themselves at home. This can lead to skin infections.”

As above, no no no no to the at-home derm clinic, and keep an eye on your tags for any changes:

“Get your skin tags looked at by a doctor if you notice changes in colour or size.”

So how do you remove skin tags?

“The removal of skin tags is considered to be a cosmetic procedure and unless there is a medical problem with a skin tag, removal would not be covered under the NHS.

“It’s best to see a private GP or a dermatologist to arrange to have any skin tags removed. This can be done by a local anaesthetic and the procedure is very similar to having a wart removed. Your options are ligation (tying a skin tag with a suture), cryotherapy ( freezing it off) surgical excision (slicing off with a knife or scissors) or electrocautery, which involves a small current being run through the skin tag to burn or destroy tissue.”

While these may sound a tad medieval, local anaesthetic makes them painless, and carried out by a reputable dermatologist or relevant expert, treatment is normally complication-free and quick, although occasionally skin tags can be stubborn and more than one type of treatment may be required. You can expect a little blood after surgical excision, and potential irritation post-cryotherapy or electrocautery, but this is usually temporary. You may also be delighted to know that sometimes skin tags evacuate themselves- they can twist off or die due to a lack of blood supply. All of this considered, you may have grown rather fond of your skin tags, in which case, rock on.

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