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How to remove skin tags

Netdoctor (UK) logo Netdoctor (UK) 23/08/2019 Dr Ross Perry - MBBS
a woman wearing a white shirt and black hair: Skin tags are most commonly caused by friction, where skin rubs against skin or clothing. That’s why they commonly appear in the underarms and groin area or on eyelids. © B. BOISSONNET /BSIP - Getty Images Skin tags are most commonly caused by friction, where skin rubs against skin or clothing. That’s why they commonly appear in the underarms and groin area or on eyelids.

Skin tags are small, painless growths on the skin that vary in colour and size. They are completely harmless, but some people choose to have them removed for cosmetic purposes, or if they get caught on clothing.

Dr Ross Perry, MBBS, Founder & Medical Director of Cosmedics Skin Clinics, looks at the common causes, risk factors and removal options for skin tags:

What are skin tags?

Skin tags are small areas of overgrown skin tissue, which stick out from the surface of the skin. They tend to be quite small initially.

Most stay at around 2-3mm, but might grow to protrude quite noticeably, or develop into papilloma, a larger version of a skin tag which can reach 5mm or more. Over time, more skin tags are likely to develop so that the patient has a patch or crop of skin tags.

What causes skin tags?

Unlike warts, there is no viral cause. Skin tags are most commonly caused by friction, where skin rubs against skin or clothing. That’s why they commonly appear in the underarms and groin area or on eyelids. They can also appear in genital areas.

How can you identify skin tags?

Skin tags are protruding bits of skin, sticking out like little pillars. They tend to be quite soft and flexible and can be flicked from side to side.

They do not have the speckled ‘cauliflower’ appearance which characterises warts and are not uncomfortable or painful in themselves.

Are skin tags ever a problem?

The main problem with skin tags is often cosmetic concerns, as they can look unpleasant, especially when they are on the face or neck or a large crop appears.

The other issue is that skin tags can catch on clothing or in zippers or jewellery, which can be very painful.

Are there any skin tag risk factors?

Skin tags might run in the family, so you could have a genetic predisposition to them if your parents or grandparents had a lot.

Excess weight is also a factor and wearing tight clothing that rubs, such as badly fitting bras, is likely to increase the risk of localised skin tags appearing.

How can you remove skin tags?

The best solution for removing skin tags is to have them professionally treated using cryotherapy (freezing), surgical excision or laser treatment.

‘DIY’ skin tag solutions such as using dental flow or duct tape are really best avoided. Creams and topical applications designed for warts tend to be ineffective on skin tags as there is no viral cause.

What skin tag removal treatments are available?

There are a number of skin tag removal options:

✔️ Cryotherapy is a treatment which uses intense cold to freeze the area, destroying the skin tag so that it drops off and the skin is able to heal.

✔️ Laser or micro-cauterisation could also be used to destroy the skin tag and is more suitable for skin tags that are well-established and may be stubborn or resistant to freezing.

✔️ For very larger or stubborn skin tags, surgical excision is an option. This is relatively quick and straightforward. A local anaesthetic is delivered to ensure the procedure is pain-free, then the doctor or surgeon is able to carefully remove the skin tag with a scalpel or blade, ensuring that it is thoroughly removed to avoid it regrowing.

✔️ After any treatment, it is also important to consider whether any lifestyle changes might help to prevent them recurring eg weight loss or changing style of clothing/underwear.

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