Skin tags, skin tabs or barnacles are small light brown or flesh colored skin protrusions that are commonly seen to develop in the friction prone areas of the body such as under the breasts, in the groins, buttocks, underarms, base of the neck, and sometimes even in the eyelids. Babies and toddlers do not have skin tags, and you are never born with it. Skin tags can start developing from a young age, although studies have shown the average age for skin tags to be around middle age when the skin starts to age and sag. Hormonal elevations in pregnancy increase the chances of formation of skin tags in pregnant women. Skin tags are non cancerous growths and are completely harmless. Their removal is usually for cosmetic purposes since they dont look particularly appealing! The appearance of skin tags can be smooth or slightly wrinkled and irregular and they hang from the skin through a small stalk. Since skin tags are benign, they are not directly associated with any medical ailments. Skin tags are found in healthy people across all age groups and sometimes grow in inconvenient folds and creases of the body like the buttocks, groin and neck. If skin tags become bothersome, never try to remove them yourself without consulting a dermatologist.
Symptoms of Skin Tags
There are few symptoms of skin tags. Skin tags do not cause physical discomfort and are not painful, and they are not associated with any skin problems or conditions.
- Skin tags are growths on the skin that normally causes symptoms when they are repeatedly irritated or rubbed. For example, in the neck, where a collar rubbing against the skin can produce skin tags. Areas where the skin forms folds, such as under the breasts, are prone to skin tags because the underwire from womens bras repeatedly brushes against the skin.
- People suffering from type II diabetes and people who are overweight are potential sufferers; fat loosens skin, increases the creases in the body, making the body more conducive to skin tags.
- Skin tags may appear light brown in light complexioned people, but are normally the color of your flesh.
- They can be as small as one millimeter or as large as the size of a grape. The smaller skin tags may appear as tiny raised bumps on the skin, while the slightly larger ones normally have a stalk that attaches the skin tag to the skin beneath.
- Research on skin tags has suggested that in most people skin tags are harmless, invariably benign skin growth or tumors; and some people are more prone to getting skin tags as compared to others.
- Pregnant women, people suffering from diabetes and obese individuals are more susceptible to skin tags. It is also a hereditary condition.
- Occasionally, you may need to remove a tag with the help of a dermatologist if it becomes red from hemorrhaging or bleeding, or turns black from twisting or necrosis, a condition where the skin tissues in the area dies. Skin tags may also be injured through accidental snagging of the skin growths.
Causes of Skin Tags
Health professionals and dermatologists are not sure about the exact causes of skin tags, but there are several theories although none have been proven conclusively. Studies have found certain factors that contribute to the development of skin tags in the body and these are worth noting.
- Friction and repeated irritation in certain areas of the body is one of the triggers of skin tags. Areas around the neck, armpits, underneath the breasts in women, in the groin area and genitals have deep folds of skin and are most vulnerable to the development of these skin growths. Obese people are especially more prone to develop skin tags since their skin is looser in these areas.
- Obesity has been linked to the causes of skin tags. Excessive fat tends to cause creasing and loosening of skin which results in skin irritation; one of the triggers of skin tags. Obese and overweight people are more prone to diabetes; a co-relation between type II diabetes and skin tags has also been established.
- Studies say that about 25 percent of patients with type II diabetes have more skin tags than usual. An outbreak of skin tags in the body thus indicates that you might be suffering from diabetes. Type I and gestational diabetes patients are not affected by this. Treating diabetes and consequently losing weight through a modified diet, exercise and medication will also reduce the risk of skin tags.
- Babies are not born with skin tags. They start to develop mostly around middle age, and an estimated 59 percent of people above the age of 70 have skin tags. You tend to put on more weight as you grow older, making your skin susceptible to the condition.
- Doctors have found evidence that it is a genetic condition and you are more likely to have it if one, or both of your parents have prominent skin tags.
- Some women become vulnerable to skin tags during their pregnancy and experts speculate on the changes in hormonal levels as the reason for them.
- People with human papilloma virus (low risk HPV 6 and 11) are at a risk of getting skin tags
- Skin rags are caused by the use of illegal steroids. These interfere with the body and muscles, causing collagen fibers in the skin to bond together, resulting in skin tags. You should consult a doctor before starting out on any form of steroids.
Remedies for Skin Tags
Medically, there are only a few procedures for removing skin tags that are employed by dermatologists. Typical dermatological procedures include the use of lasers to burn skin tags, using freezing or cryotherapy, using a scalpel to cut off the skin growth and cutting off the blood supply to the skin tag tissues, also called ligation.
- Home remedies for skin tags are alternative treatment options, but you should not use these natural treatments or any other self treatment of skin tags without being advised to do so by your dermatologist.
- Skin tags do not pose any threat to human health, but they can be uncomfortable in certain parts of the body and getting rid of skin tags remains the only viable option. You can attempt a removal of skin tags at home, but some of the methods are painful and it is not advisable to try them out without consulting your doctor and dermatologist.
- You can use herbal extracts like Dermisil for removing skin tags. This is a tropical treatment that gently attacks the tissues of the tags and kills them without damaging the healthy skin.
- You can tie a thin string, a dental floss or a fishing line at the base of the skin tag and block the blood supply. This will cause the tissues to die and the skin tag will fall off eventually.
- Dabbing a cotton ball soaked in apple cider vinegar on the skin tag will turn it black and it will eventually fall off. You should avoid using this method on anal skin tags and near the eyes.
- Using fingernail polish over the skin tags repeatedly about two-three times a day is said to shrink the skin tags. As a fingernail polish dries off the skin tag will dry off and start to shrink within a week or two.
- Some use drastic measures like using disinfected scissors or a pair of disinfected nail clippers to cut off the skin tags. This is a painful procedure and you should be prepared to apply a good amount of rubbing alcohol, burning peroxide and pressure on the tissues to stop bleeding.
However, this is not a recommended procedure as it can lead to serious infections and should never be attempted without consulting your dermatologist.
Diet for Skin Tags
While skin tags are harmless, they can be indications that the body needs more attention and the best way to start providing the care is by eating healthy.
Skin tags have a co relation with type II diabetes so eating a healthy low carbohydrate and low sugar diet along with regular exercises will reduce diabetes and help in weight loss. Since people who are overweight or obese are more prone to skin tags, the skin tags will automatically disappear as you start losing weight.
Since skin tags are triggered in overweight and obese people, you need to eat wisely, selectively and get rid of junk foods, fast foods and comfort foods. Follow a healthy eating routine with a diet rich in foods containing fibers, whole grains, low fat protein like fish and meat cuts. Your diet must include lots of vegetables and seasonal fruits. Avoid sugar, caffeine, aerated drinks and quit smoking.
Suggestions for Skin Tags
You should avoid using cosmetics with harsh chemicals on skin tags. Use soaps and deodorants that are organic.
Since skin tags are triggered by obesity, try and shed the extra pounds by maintaining healthy eating habits, exercising regularly and by making more responsible dietary and lifestyle choices.
While over the counter medications and cosmetic products may help to get rid off or conceal skin tags, its best to check with your dermatologist before trying any, as they could simply worsen the problem.
- Benign skin tumors. In: Habif TP, ed. Clinical Dermatology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2009:chap 20.
Skin Tags - Frequently asked questions