Written by Christian Nordqvist/ Medical News Today
A skin tag, also known as an acrochordon, cutaneous papilloma, cutaneous tag, fibroepithelial polyp, fibroma molluscum, fibroma pendulum, papilloma colli, soft fibroma, and Templeton skin tag, is a small tag of skin which may have a peduncle (stalk) – they look like a small piece of soft, hanging skin.
Skin tags can appear on any part of the surface of the body (skin), but most typically exist in areas where skin may rub against skin, such as the:
- Axillae (armpits)
- Under the breasts
- Upper chest
Skin tags are invariably benign – non cancerous – tumors of the skin which cause no symptoms, unless it is repeatedly rubbed or scratched, as may happen with clothing, jewelry, or when shaving. Very large skin tags may burst under pressure.
Skin tags are composed of a core of fibers and ducts, nerve cells, fat cells, and a covering or epidermis.
Some people are more susceptible to tags, either because of their overweight, partly due to heredity, and often for unknown reasons. People with diabetes and pregnant women tend to be more prone to skin tags. Dermatologists say that skin tags affect males and females equally.Some people may have had skin tags and never noticed them – they would have rubbed or fallen off painlessly. In most cases, however, they do not fall off.The surface of skin tags may be smooth or irregular in appearance, they are often raised from the surface of the skin on fleshy peduncles (stalks). They are usually flesh-colored or slightly brownish.
Initially they are quite small, flattened like a pinhead bump. Skin tags can range in diameter from 2mm to 1cm; some may even reach 5cm.
As skin tags more commonly occur in skin creases or fold, it is believed they are mainly caused by skin rubbing against skin.
What causes skin tags?
Skin tags are benign, asymptomatic skin tumors, often raised from the skin on fleshy peduncles.
Skin tags are very common and generally occur after midlife. They are said to be caused by bunches of collagen and blood vessels which are trapped inside thicker bits of skin.
They are believed to be the result of skin rubbing against skin. That is why they are generally found in skin creases and folds.
Risk factors – a risk factor is something which increases the likelihood of developing a condition or disease. For example,obesity significantly raises the risk of developing diabetes type 2. Therefore, obesity is a risk factor for diabetes type 2. Skin tags are more common in:
- People who are overweight and obese, probably because they have more skin folds and creases
- Pregnant women – most likely because of the hormones secreted
- Individuals with diabetes
- People with the human papilloma virus (low-risk HPV 6 and 11)
- Illegal steroid use – they interfere with the body and muscles, causing the collagen fibers in the skin to bond, allowing skin tags to be formed.
According to the NIH (National Institutes of Health), USA, approximately 46% of people have skin tags.
A causal genetic component is thought to exist, i.e. susceptibility may be genetic. People with close family members who have skin tags are more likely to develop them themselves.
Skin tags are rarely associated with:
- Birt-Hogg-Dubé syndrome
- Polycystic ovary syndrome.
A skin tag is also known as acrochordon, cutaneous papilloma, cutaneous tag, fibroepithelial polyp, fibroma molluscum, fibroma pendulum, papilloma colli, soft fibroma, and Templeton skin tag.
Skin tag removal / treatment
Skin tags can be excised by dermatologists or similarly trained medical professionals.
As skin tags are usually harmless, people tend to have them removed for aesthetic or cosmetic reasons. Sometimes large ones, especially in areas where they may rub against something, such as clothing, jewelry or skin, may be removed because the area becomes frequently irritated. An individual may have a large skin tag removed from his face or under her arms in order to make shaving easier.
The following procedures may be used to remove skin tags:
- Cauterization – the skin tag is burned off using electrolysis (heat is used to remove them)
- Cryosurgery – the skin tag is frozen off using a probe containing liquid nitrogen
- Ligation – the blood supply to the skin tag is interrupted
- Excision – the skin tag is removed with a scalpel (it is cut out).
These procedures should be performed only by a dermatologist (specialist skin doctor) or similarly trained medical professional.
Skin tags on the eyelid – if the skin tag is very close to the eyelid margin, the procedure may have to be done by an ophthalmologist (eye specialist doctor).
Over-the-counter (no prescription required) solutions
OTC solutions can be purchased at pharmacies which freeze the skin tag; it eventually falls off after 7 to 10 days. These medications are similar to those used for wart-removal.
If the skin tag is small enough and suitable, it might come off by simply scratching it. However, it is recommended that you have this done by a health care professional.
There is no evidence to support the theory that removing skin tags encourages more of them to develop.