All kinds of things happen to our skin as it ages. Skin tags are one of them. While they can look a bit unsightly, they’re harmless and straightforward to remove if you don’t like the way they look.
For those who like their technical terms, skin tags are also known as achrochordons, cutaneous papillomas, fibroepithelial polyps, fibroma molluscum, fibroma pendulum or papilloma colli!
What are skin tags?
These are usually flesh coloured – but can be pigmented – fleshy growths that are particularly found in areas where skin rubs against clothes, jewellery or other skin.
They are composed of a core of collagen fibres, nerve and fat cells and covered by epidermis (the outer layer of skin).
Commonly affected areas include the neck, armpits and groin, as well as under the breasts, especially in ladies who wear underwired bras. They can even grow on the eyelids and buttocks, and it is thought to be the friction that creates them.
They are more common in older skin and people with diabetes, but pregnant women can also develop them due to hormone changes. Overweight people tend to develop them in deeper skin folds.
What do skin tags look like?
They tend to start small and flattened like a pin-head bump, but end up hanging off the skin like a soft fleshy balloon with a smooth surface. They often have a thin peduncle, or neck, which widens into the tag itself and they can grow to 5cm in size.
Are skin tags dangerous?
No. They’re completely benign and anybody can develop between one and 100 skin tags.
Can they be removed?
The simple answer is yes. The main reason people have them removed is that they are unsightly, especially if they are on the eyelids or neck, or other visible areas. The NHS does not tend to offer treatment for these skin lesions as this is considered to be cosmetic.
There are a few different ways to remove skin tags:
- Tying. For those with a ‘stalk’, or peduncle, some people recommend tying cotton round the stalk, cutting off the blood supply so the tags dies and drops off. It is, however, very difficult to get the cotton down to the base of the stalk so a residual smaller tag can be left behind as just the thickened portion of the tag sheds.
- Freezing. They can be frozen off with cryotherapy, although this is a treatment most often used in GP surgeries and not usually available due to new NHS guidelines. This method tends to cause them to shrivel and shed after several days.
- Electrocautery or burning the tags off with heat can be successful, but you need a careful post- treatment programme to avoid residual skin marks
- Excision or cutting off the lesion can be done by a doctor and requires a small local anaesthetic injection prior to the surgery.
- Lasering is a quick, easy way to remove skin tags, with each tag usually only needing one single treatment session, making it possible to treat several tags at a time.The laser cuts off the blood supply, causing the tag to swell and turn white, and later to shrivel and drop off. Because there is no point at which there is an open wound, the risk of skin marks or scarring is absolutely minimal. Sometimes darkly pigmented tags will be evaporated by the laser and a few shots of healing laser will be applied to the surrounding area to help assist healing, after which the area simply needs to be kept clean and dry.
It’s important to have any skin lesions properly diagnosed before you think about removal, to eliminate the risk of inadvertently removing an undiagnosed skin cancer. So check first with your GP before undergoing any form of treatment.
Alternatively, you can make an appointment at a private clinic and get a dermatologist to check them with a dermatoscope prior to removal.
So skin tags might not look very pretty. But they’re completely harmless and there are plenty of ways to treat them if this is the path you choose.
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