Skin Tags: Why do I get them, what can I do?

Our skin is our largest organ and may develop new growths as we age. Skin tags are variably-sized, fleshy, non-cancerous, soft growths that appear like small appendages on the skin. Most lesions appear in folded areas of the body at the neck, armpits, beneath breasts, and in the groin. It is unclear why skin tags occur but their presentation appears to be related to aging, body metabolism, and hormonal changes.

Who gets skin tags?

Any one may develop skin tags. They are most common in adults over the age of 30 but can be found in older children entering puberty or in young adulthood.

In addition to normal aging, skin tags are associated with insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome. These two conditions are related to increased body weight and obesity. Other metabolic disturbances related to hormonal imbalances may also lead to skin tag growth. A velvety change of the neck, armpits, or groin called acanthosis nigricans may present with skin tags in the setting of insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and Type II diabetes. Often, treating these underlying health conditions will reduce the presentation of skin tags.

While pregnancy is not a hormonal imbalance, the state of increased hormones in the body may lead to skin tag growth in the second or third trimesters in pregnant women.

What other things can look like skin tags?

Other growths on our skin may develop in common skin tag areas and may resemble these benign lesions.

  • Raised moles ( dermal nevi or nevus lipomatosis): normal, benign moles that can look like skin tags.
  • Molluscum contagiosum: skin lesions due to a viral infection that may mimic skin tags and readily occurs in the same warm, moist, body-fold distribution at neck, armpits, breasts, and groin. This is most common in young children but can be seen in adults.
  • Warts: skin lesions that grow due to viral infection with Human Papilloma Virus ( HPV). While the HPV strains that cause most skin warts are benign, some warts, especially in the genital or anal region, may be precancerous or cancerous.
  • Skin cancer: depending on the location and unique presentation of some skin lesions, malignant growths might be mistaken by a person or inexperienced clinician for skin tags. There are reports of basal cell, squamous cell, merkel cell, and melanoma skin cancers confirmed on biopsies after clinically benign-appearing lesions were sampled due to size, unique features, or symptoms.
  • What can I do?

    Skin tags can be removed as they present usually with no scarring or other long-term consequence.

  • Have lesions formally evaluated if large, in an atypical location for a skin tag, symptomatic ( itch, pain, burning, bleeding, sore), growing, or easily traumatized.
  • Self removal: there are numerous over-the-counter products that aim to freeze skin tags or destroy them topically with essentials oils that may or may not be fully effective.
  • Surgical removal with shears with our without local anesthesia by a health care provider.
  • Croytherapy with liquid nitrogen to destroy growths by a health care provider.
  • It is important to have all atypical-appearing or symptomatic skin lesions evaluated because a trained clinical eye can identify these differences or send in a biopsy of a lesion to confirm the diagnosis. Be health proactive and find a board-certified dermatologist or other experienced skin care provider near you!