What are skin tags, and how can you remove them?

Skin tags are little bits of extra skin some people have. Usually the same color as your flesh or darker, they hang off your skin — looking a little like warts or moles.

They’re not only kind of ugly, but are annoying because they often catch on clothes or get hair wrapped around them. Here are some basics of skin tag removal.

woman with scarf covering her face and neck

(Skin) tag — you’re it

Thankfully, in most cases, skin tags — also known as skin tabs, acrochordons, soft fibromas, or fibroepithelial polyps (say that five times fast) — are nothing more than an annoyance and perhaps unsightly, depending on where they’re located. They’re usually soft, smooth and fairly small — anywhere from a few millimeters to a half centimeter — and after starting out as little lumps on the surface, will often hang from the skin by a stalk.

>> Face washing tips for healthier-looking skin

skin tag removal

Skin tags seem to be most common in those who are overweight or have diabetes. They’re commonly found on the neck, armpits, groin, eyelids, or under the breasts. They also often appear in skin folds — thought to arise as a result from skin rubbing on skin. These little excess bits of skin seem to be hereditary, so if either of your parents had them, there’s a good chance you will, too.

Though they’re usually harmless, they should be monitored for any change in appearance, as that could be a sign of malignancy.

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Skin tag removal

For the most part, skin tags can be left alone. However, if they are irritating or cosmetically unpleasant, they can be removed in a variety of ways.

For example, a dermatologist or other medical professional can use cauterization (burning them off), cryosurgery (freezing them off), surgical ligation (tying them off) or excision (cutting them off).

Some states have laws about who can manage your skin tags. For instance, in the State of California, “Only licensed physicians can perform skin tag/mole removals. Skin tag/mole removal is considered an invasive procedure and, therefore, licensed cosmetologists, barbers, manicurists, estheticians, and electrologists are prohibited from removing skin tags.”

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Doing it yourself

Some people choose to remove their own skin tags by cutting them off with nail clippers or nail scissors. Others prefer a slower method that doesn’t involve sharp implements: they tie off the base of the skin tag with thread or dental floss, thereby cutting off the blood supply.

What is the latter experience like? A reader who tried this technique tells us that it hurts when you’re tying the thread, making it hard to get it tied tightly enough, and it takes about an hour for the pain to subside. After a day or two, the skin tag swells up and gets red — as shown in the bottom photo on the right — but it eventually dies and drops off within a week or so. (A small bit of stalk and/or a scar may remain.)

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These at-home methods, of course, come with some risk — particularly from infection — so if you decide to try doing it yourself, only do it in areas you can clearly see and reach, avoid your face and genital/anal areas, and be sure to thoroughly sterilize the area and any tools you use before and after.

Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee that the skin tags you removed won’t grow back, or that others won’t appear. But if you can’t stand that one skin tag that keeps getting snagged by your bra strap or shirt collar, have a quick chat with your healthcare provider about your options.

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