Ew, But Yes Please—Doctor Advice for Skin Tag Removal at Home

Ew, But Yes Please—Doctor Advice for Skin Tag Removal at Home
Photo: Shutterstock.

If you’ve ever noticed a little fleshy piece of skin hanging off your neck, it could be a skin tag. And if it is, you may have contemplated researching how to handle skin tag removal at home. But before I give you the 411 on that process, here is some good news—you don’t have to worry about it being harmful to your health.

According to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Marisa K. Garshick, MD, these strange-looking growths typically aren’t cancerous. “Skin tags, also known as acrochordons or fibroepithelial polyps, are benign skin growths that appear as skin-colored growths that often stick out on a narrow stalk,” Garshick told me. “They can develop in areas of friction such as the eyelids, neck, and underarms.”

However, should you want an in-depth explainer as to who exactly is at risk in developing skin tags, and if you should treat them at home, I tapped Garshick (and other board-certified dermatologists) to break down everything you need to know concerning these growths. From potential causes of irritation to dermatological treatments to consider, read on for the full 411 on skin tags and skin tag removal.

Skin Tags Are Typically Not Painful

As Garshick mentioned earlier, skin tags are flesh-colored growths that are typically painless and not itchy. This allows them to go unnoticed by many, she explained.

However, board-certified dermatologist Dr. Robin Evans, MD, says that skin tag irritation can occur, especially if they are rubbed, scabbed, or become caught in clothing or jewelry. “Occasionally, skin tags will become irritated and can then cause some discomfort,” Evans explained. “They also tend to be brown to tan in color, but if they get irritated, they may darken due to scabbing and bleeding.”

A 2019 article published by Harvard Medical School also suggested that skin tags can become painful if the tag is twisted on its stalk, making it important to approach skin tags carefully in order to avoid injury.

Skin Tags Can Appear On Certain Areas

Although skin tags on your neck may be easier to see, these growths are also often seen in areas of friction such as the groins, armpits or under the breasts, according to board-certified member of the American Academy of Aesthetic Medicine, Dr. Alain Michon, MD.

However, a 2019 article published by the Cleveland Clinic suggested that skin tags can also grow on your face, making it something worth keeping in mind, should you be nervous about that odd growth forming on your chin or under your eyes.

skin tags

Shutterstock.

Some People Are More At Risk In Developing Skin Tags

While Dr. Michon explained that the cause behind skin tags remains unknown, it still occurs in 50 percent of adults. However, he warned that there are some individuals who are more at risk in developing them, including people who are older, have diabetes, or are in the last stage of pregnancy.

“Skin tags are more common with older people, people who battle obesity, and diabetics,” Michon said. “They can also appear or increase during the last stage of pregnancy for certain females, but tend to regress afterward.”

Similarly, board-certified dermatologist Dr. Susan Bard, MD suggested that genetics can also play a big factor in determining who develops skin tags, as some individuals may be more genetically predisposed than others. Genetic disorders such as Birt-Hogg-Dube Syndrome, for example, is characterized by numerous skin tags and other skin and systemic findings, according to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology.

However, high hormone levels can also lead to skin tags, as Bard says that women who use birth control, take estrogen, or are in pregnancy are more likely to develop them. “Skin tags can occur in times of increased hormones in women – use of birth control pills, taking estrogen, or pregnancy,” she says. “They can also occur in association with being overweight or obese.”

Approach At-Home Treatments Carefully

Although there are many DIY skin tag remedies available online, Evans said you’ll want to approach these treatments with caution, as some can actually be quite irritating, making it important to seek care from a board-certified dermatologist.

“Topicals such as tea tree oil and apple cider vinegar can be tried which may help to dry out the lesion, but please note that sometimes these topicals can be very irritating to the skin,” she explained. “The best option is to seek care from your dermatologist.”

Similarly, board-certified dermatologist Dr. Adam Mamelak, MD, warns against removing skin tags on your own, as they can cause pain, irritation and skin infection if you aren’t careful. “I always caution patients about removing tags at home as many of these methods risk causing pain, bleeding, irritation and skin infection,” said Mamelak.

And yes, Mamelak acknowledged that there are over-the-counter treatments for skin tags that are similar to wart removers. However, these only really work for very small tags, he added and can cause significant irritation and pain for larger ones.

Alas, Garshick suggested that it is okay to apply some moisturizer or emollient to skin tags. However, she also noted that it’s still best to see a dermatologist if you want them removed safely.

“Emollients such as Vaseline and Aquaphor help create a barrier effect on the skin, and if it becomes itchy, it is okay to apply a cortisone cream for a few days,” she said. “In general, it is still best to check with a board-certified dermatologist to determine your best treatment options.”

Removal Should Be Handled by Pros

Although it may be tempting to remove skin tags on your own, it is always best to see a dermatologist in order to remove them in a way that minimizes the risk of scarring or irritation, according to Garshick.

To remove skin tags professionally, she explained that there are several procedures that can be explored. These include numbing, snipping, and even burning the tags off from the skin, according to a 2019 article published by the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“The procedure to remove them often may sometimes involve numbing the skin either topically or with an injection and then either snipping off the tag, gently heating it using electrodessication or sometimes using a cold spray called cryotherapy,” Garshick added.

And if you are worried about downtime, Michon said since the procedure is relatively painless, it doesn’t have a dedicated recovery time, except for proper basic wound care for a week or two.

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