BOD-ities: Should I be worried about skin tags?

Woman examining skin in mirror

If you’ve recently noticed a new skin tag somewhere on your body, it’s normal to be surprised and, maybe, a little worried. Do I need to make an appointment with my doctor? Is it a sign of skin cancer? An infection?

There’s no need to worry—skin tags aren’t a sign of a more serious health issue. It’s a benign skin condition that affects millions of people every year. These tiny skin growths are often found in “folds” of the skin, or areas where skin frequently rubs against itself. Skin tags commonly appear on the neck, eyelids, underarms, groin or under the breast.

While skin tags can happen to anyone, they are more common among some people. Age is a risk factor; skin tags are more likely among people who are middle-aged or seniors. Weight and body mass index (BMI) are also risk factors. Studies have shown that people who are overweight or obese and have a high BMI or Type 2 diabetes are more likely to develop skin tags.

Even though skin tags aren’t harmful or painful, they can be irritating and some people want to get rid of them for cosmetic reasons. Skin tag removal is an easy process, but it’s not one that you should do at home. Self-removal could lead to infection, scarring, or other unwanted results. Instead, your health care provider can remove skin tags in one of several different ways:

  • Freezing – Your provider will swab or spray a small amount of liquid nitrogen on the affected area to freeze off the skin tag.
  • Burning – By channeling electricity through a wire, your provider will burn the skin tag off. This option may require multiple visits to fully remove the skin tag, but the heat will help prevent bleeding and promote a clean healing process.
  • Severing/cutting – Skin tags can be removed with a scalpel or surgical scissors, but this treatment may require a small needle to numb the area, or rarely require you to have stitches as part of the healing process.

Trying to cut or burn off a skin tag is a treatment that should be performed in your doctor’s office—not your home. While freezing kits are available at drugstores, it’s always best to play it safe and talk to your health care provider, especially if there’s any question as to whether it’s just a skin tag.

Is there anything I can do to prevent skin tags?

There’s no guaranteed way to prevent skin tags but you can take some simple precautions to reduce the risk that you have them. Try:

  • Eating a nutritious diet to maintain a healthy weight and BMI
  • Exercising regularly
  • Keeping your skin dry to reduce friction. Apply baby powder to the skin.
  • Avoiding clothing or jewelry that is uncomfortable or irritates your skin. When possible, wear moisture-wicking fabric.

While many aestheticians currently offer cosmetic dermatology services, Main Line Health dermatologists are board-certified medical doctors who treat not only the appearance of your hair, skin and nails, but the health of them. Should you experience a more serious skin disorder, Main Line Health dermatologists have the advanced training to provide you the latest comprehensive care, based on current clinical research.

Main Line Health serves patients at hospitals and health centers throughout the western suburbs of Philadelphia. To schedule an appointment with a specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (225.5654).