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Education Library: Skin Tags

Introduction

Skin tags, medically termed acrochordons, are common harmless skin growths. They appear as rounded or tube-like structures that are attached to the skin by a thin stalk. Skin tags may be skin colored or darker.

Skin tags commonly develop in skin folds or areas affected by friction from clothing or skin on skin rubbing. They are more common in people with obesity or Type 2 Diabetes. Skin tags usually do not require treatment. You may have skin tags removed if you are concerned about their appearance or if they cause you discomfort.

Anatomy

Your skin covers your body and protects it from the environment. You skin is composed of three major layers, the epidermis, dermis, and subcutaneous tissue. The epidermis is the outermost layer of your skin. It protects your inner layers of skin. The cells at the bottom layer of the epidermis continually move upward to the outer layer. They eventually wear off and are replaced by the next layer of cells.

Causes

Skin tags are common harmless growths that appear on the outer layer of the skin. They frequently occur with aging. Skin tags are more common in people that are overweight or have Type 2 Diabetes. Skin tags appear to run in families. Researchers suspect that the tendency to develop them may be inherited. Skin tags commonly develop in skin folds or areas affected by friction or skin on skin rubbing.

Symptoms

Skin tags appear as small growths on the skin. They typically look like a rounded growth or tube with a thin stalk that attaches it to the skin. Skin tags are raised and stick out from the skin. They may be skin colored or darker.

Skin tags may be small or grow up to a half-inch long. They most commonly appear on skin folds where friction occurs. Common locations include the eyelids, neck, armpits, trunk, under breasts, or between the legs. Most skin tags are painless. In some locations, friction can cause minor pain, discomfort, and irritation. Friction can be caused by jewelry, clothing, and skin on skin rubbing.

Diagnosis

Your doctor can diagnose a skin tag by the way it appears. Your doctor will examine its structure, color, and overall appearance. You should let your doctor know if a skin tag bleeds, hurts, has grown in size or has changed in appearance. Tell your doctor if a skin tag causes you discomfort or if you are bothered by the way it looks.

Treatment

Skin tags usually do not require treatment. You may have skin tags removed if you are concerned about their appearance or if they cause you discomfort. Your doctor can remove skin tags quickly and safely in his or her office.

Your doctor will numb the affected area before removing a skin tag. The skin tag can be surgically removed, frozen (cryotherapy), or burned off (cautery). For some large skin tags, a stitch may be necessary to close the wound.

Prevention

You may prevent skin tag irritation by attempting to keep the areas in your skin folds clean, dry, and free of friction during movement. It may help to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. You may be able to prevent discomfort and irritation by not wearing jewelry, necklines, or certain clothing items that are particularly annoying.

Am I at Risk?

Risk factors may increase your likelihood of developing skin tags. People with all of the risk factors may never develop the condition; however, the chance of developing skin tags increases with the more risk factors you have. You should tell your doctor about your risk factors and discuss your concerns.

Risk factors for skin tags:

  • Overweight people are more likely to develop skin tags.
  • Type 2 Diabetes is associated with skin tag development.
  • Aging increases the likelihood of skin tag formation.
  • Frequent skin irritation or friction can cause skin tags.
  • High levels of hormones during pregnancy are associated with skin tag development.
  • Skin tags appear to run in families. Researchers suspect there is a hereditary factor.
  • People with Birt-Hogg-Dube (BHD) syndrome, a rare genetic condition, have a tendency to develop skin tags.

Complications

Skin tags are almost always benign, meaning non-cancerous. In rare cases, skin tags have contained cancerous cells. Ask your doctor if a specialist will analyze your skin tags for abnormal cells. You should contact your doctor anytime the appearance of your skin tag changes.

Skin tags can cause discomfort. Friction from skin folds, jewelry, underwear, and bras can cause irritation and minor pain. You should contact your doctor if bleeding occurs. Your doctor can remove skin tags that bother you.

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