What You Should Know About Skin Tags
It is good to be aware of changes in your skin, but don’t be too worried about skin tags. They're not dangerous, but they can sometimes be a sign of a health issue that needs medical attention. Learn about these common skin growths, related conditions, and how to tell the difference between skin tags and more serious skin problems that might need treatment.
What Are Skin Tags?
Skin tags are small, soft, raised growths on the skin. They are often skin-colored or brown and about the size of a grain of rice. They're not bumps, like moles can be. Rather, skin tags usually hang off the skin from a tiny stem or stalk, not unlike an apple hanging from the tree.
They most often show up in places where the skin folds such as:
- Around the neck
- In the groin
- On the eyelids
- Under the breasts
- Under the arm
Skin tags also can form near the anus. There, they are often mistaken for hemorrhoids.
You might find one skin tag on your body or many of them. Doctors may call them acrochordons or fibroepithelial polyps, depending on their size. Rest assured, however, that skin tags are harmless. They are not signs of cancer. They are made up of skin, blood vessels, and some connective tissues. Skin tags are usually flesh-toned and smooth. In contrast, skin cancer often has an irregular shape, uneven color, and changes in size.
Why Do Skin Tags Form?
Anyone can get a skin tag. In fact, almost half of all people will have a skin tag at some point in their lives. The reason they appear varies. Things that can play a role include:
Age. Skin tags become more common as people get older.
Friction. Skin tags usually appear in areas where the skin folds. This suggests that constant rubbing of the skin could be why they form.
Human papillomavirus (HPV). Research suggests there may be a link between skin tags and low-risk HPV infections. This type of HPV sometimes causes warts. Many people do not even realize they have HPV. Unlike warts, skin tags don't spread to other parts of your body. They are not contagious. That means you can’t “catch them” from another person.
Should Skin Tags Be Removed?
There is usually no medical reason to remove skin tags, but you should talk with your doctor if they are bothersome or make you feel self-conscious. Your doctor may remove them if they are large, bleed, get irritated by jewelry or clothing, or are unsightly.
Doctors remove skin tags in several ways:
Surgical scissors. A doctor can often clip off small skin tags. Anesthesia is not needed. This can be done during an office visit.
Cryotherapy. This involves freezing off skin tags with liquid nitrogen.
Cauterization. This procedure burns off skin tags with an electrical current.
- Minor surgery. Larger skin tags may require surgical removal with anesthesia.
The freezing and burning procedures could cause color changes in the treated skin. A skin tag on your eyelid may need treatment by an eye specialist known as an ophthalmologist.
Are Skin Tags a Red Flag for Other Health Problems?
Some experts believe that skin tags could be a sign of another health condition that may need treatment, particularly if the skin tags appear relatively quickly and are numerous. See your doctor regularly to check for the following conditions that may occur with skin tags:
Metabolic syndrome. This condition is a combination of factors that increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other health problems. Someone with metabolic syndrome has at least three of these risk factors: high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high triglycerides, low HDL (“good” cholesterol), or obesity, especially extra fat in the belly area.
Obesity. People who are very overweight often have skin tags. That may be because their skin has extra folds where tags can grow. Skin tags are also common in people who have high levels of fats in their blood (hyperlipidemia).
Insulin resistance and diabetes. Skin tags occur much more often among those with insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes. Insulin resistance means that the body makes insulin but does not use it properly. Over time, insulin resistance can lead to high blood sugar levels (prediabetes) and type 2 diabetes.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). This condition causes women to have irregular menstrual periods and high levels of androgens (male hormones). PCOS also causes small cysts to form on the ovaries. Symptoms vary, but skin tags may be a warning sign in some women.
- Pregnancy. Skin tags are one of many skin changes that are common during pregnancy. These harmless growths may disappear after giving birth.
When to Talk With Your Doctor
Be sure to keep a close eye on any skin tags. Talk with your doctor about any skin tag or growth that:
- Appears to be spreading
- Feels rough
- Has an irregular shape
- Looks multicolored
- Seems to be getting bigger
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