What Are Skin Tags (And How Do You Get Rid of Them)?

iStock.com/Wavebreakmedia
iStock.com/Wavebreakmedia

If you’ve ever found an extraneous nub of tissue protruding from your skin—especially around your neck, armpits, or groin—you’re not alone. Known to doctors as acrochordons, skin tags are growths, most often found in the folds of your skin, like in your armpits. While it can be alarming to see any kind of growth on your skin, skin tags are completely harmless, and very common. According to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology, they occur in as much as half the adult population. Here’s what you should know about skin tags—including how to remove them.

What are skin tags, exactly?

Technically, a skin tag is a benign (non-cancerous) tumor made up of collagen fibers, capillaries, and lymphatic vessels. They’re usually flesh colored, about the size of a grain of rice, and look like a little flap of skin connected to the body by a small stalk of tissue called a peduncle. While they’re most commonly found in the folds of your skin around your armpits, groin, neck, and sometimes eyelids, they can appear elsewhere on the body, too. They tend to affect middle-aged people more than young people, but they can happen to anyone.

What causes skin tags?

A close-up image of a raised skin tag
iStock.com/Tetiana Mandziuk

Scientists don’t really know what causes skin tags. The friction of skin rubbing on skin may play a role, which would explain why they tend to form in the folds of your armpits and neck. There may be a genetic component, too—if your parents are prone to skin tags, you probably are as well. Recent studies have also linked a higher incidence of skin tags to conditions like obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and insulin resistance. Hormonal changes seem to play a role, too, since many women develop skin tags during pregnancy. Studies of biopsied skin tags have found that some low-risk forms of the human papilloma virus (HPV) are often present in the tissue. However, the tags themselves are harmless (and not contagious), and they don't need to be treated.

How do I get rid of a skin tag?

Just because skin tags are common doesn’t mean they aren’t bothersome. If your skin tags irk you, either because they rub against clothing, or get caught in jewelry, or itch, or just because you don’t like the way they look, you may want to have them removed. If you do want to get rid of them, you have a few different options.

First off, most dermatologists recommend getting your skin tags checked out by a professional. It’s possible to misdiagnose them, and you don’t want to ignore a more serious medical issue. Your doctor can confirm that your lesions are, in fact, skin tags, and that they aren’t a sign of something like insulin resistance.

From there, there are a few different ways to remove skin tags. A doctor might cut it off with a scalpel, freeze it with liquid nitrogen (much like they would a wart), or cauterize it with an electric device.

Can I get rid of a skin tag at home?

Since skin tags aren’t harmful to your health, health insurance plans typically don’t cover removal services in a doctor’s office. It’s considered a cosmetic procedure, unless the skin tag is particularly irritating or prone to bleeding, and can cost hundreds of dollars out of pocket.

So it's no surprise that people would rather remove their skin tags without visiting a medical facility. Many dermatologists strongly recommend having a licensed doctor remove your skin tags rather than trying to excise them at home, cautioning that improper removal can result in infection and scarring. But some medical authorities say it's OK to remove small tags at home.

The UK’s NHS notes that if you have a small skin tag, it may be possible to remove it yourself with sterile (we repeat: sterile) scissors, though that seems like a pretty risky proposition to us. The health authority warns that you should never try to remove a large skin tag yourself because of the risk of bleeding. (Also, please do not attempt to remove a skin tag on your eyelids or other sensitive areas at home.)


The Claritag at-home skin tag removal device

Claritag, Walmart

There are a few at-home devices that are designed to be idiot-proof methods of removing skin tags. Mental Floss tested out Claritag’s “squeeze and freeze” skin tag removal device, which works very similarly to an at-home wart removal kit. Available from Walmart and Amazon for $50 for 10 treatments, the dermatologist-developed gadget is much cheaper than a visit to the doctor. The easy-to-set up, tweezer-like device encloses your hanging skin tag with foam pads soaked in a liquid cooling agent, freezing the extraneous tissue. The treatment itself takes only a few seconds, and is designed to remove your skin tag within two weeks. (It simply falls off as the area underneath it heals.)

Other devices, like TagBand ($12.50 on Amazon), use a rubber band to cut off the blood supply to the skin tag, achieving the same result: The skin tag dies and falls off within a week or so.

However, while some websites recommend using essential oils like tea tree oil to treat skin tags, there’s no scientific evidence to show that those remedies work. That means you should probably stay away from the patch- and gel-based removal treatments that tout their natural ingredients.

If you have a large number of skin tags, have particularly large ones, or have them on your face, eyes, or groin, though, you're out of luck—you should go see a doctor to get them removed.

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How to Make a DIY Face Mask at Home—No Sewing Required

Sean Gallup, iStock via Getty Images
Sean Gallup, iStock via Getty Images

By the time the CDC told all Americans to start wearing face coverings to slow the spread of coronavirus in early April, protective masks were already hard to find. The medical-grade masks that are available should be reserved for healthcare workers, which leaves everyone else with limited options for following the updated safety guidelines. Luckily, making your own mask at home is fast, ethical, and cheap—and you don't even need to break out the sewing machine to do it.

This video, posted on Julie Eigenmann's Instagram, illustrates how to make a no-sew face mask using supplies you likely already have at home. Start by folding a square scarf or bandana four times lengthwise to create a strip that's big enough to cover the bottom half of your face. Next, pull each end of the cloth through an elastic hair tie or rubber band (one on the right end and one of the left) so that it's roughly divided into thirds. Fold the ends into the center and tuck one end into the opening of the other to hold it all together. Pull the hair ties over your ears to secure the mask to your face.

To boost your mask's filtration power, place a trimmed coffee filter or paper towel on the cloth where your mouth will go before folding it.

After wearing the mask outdoors, you'll need to disinfect it. Take it apart, throw away the disposable filter, and soak the fabric in soapy water for a few minutes. When the cloth is clean and dry, add a new filter and reassemble the mask as shown above to use it again.

DIY cloth masks are better than nothing when it comes to protecting your face from someone coughing or sneezing nearby. But no mask will make you invincible to COVID-19, and you shouldn't use one as an excuse to act any differently outdoors. Use them on necessary trips outside, like to the grocery store or your essential job, and continue keeping a safe distance from others.

Coronavirus News Digest

"See you when the pandemic's over!"
"See you when the pandemic's over!"
Blue Planet Studio/iStock via Getty Images

The constant stream of information about the novel coronvirus and COVID-19 can cause a lot of anxiety. Mental Floss created this semiweekly digest so you can peruse the news at your own pace—without feeling overwhelmed.

April 7, 2020

Almost 24 million people watched Queen Elizabeth II deliver a personal televised message about the coronavirus pandemic on Sunday, April 5. The queen thanked healthcare workers and those staying at home for their continued efforts in battling the outbreak, and said this address reminded her of her very first TV broadcast in 1940, when she offered a message to children who had been sent overseas for their own safety at the beginning of World War II. "We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return," the queen said. "We will be with our friends again. We will be with our families again. We will meet again." The queen rarely gives televised speeches apart from her annual Christmas message—this broadcast was only her fifth in her 68-year reign.

A tiger at the Bronx Zoo in New York City tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. The zoo's chief vet Paul Calle tweeted that Nadia, a 4-year-old Malayan tiger, had tests confirmed at the USDA's National Veterinary Services Laboratory after showing respiratory symptoms. Three other tigers exhibited the same symptoms, and zoo officials believe the big cats were exposed to the virus by an asymptomatic zoo employee. The Wildlife Conservation Society, which operates the Bronx Zoo, expects all the cats to fully recover. In a press release, the USDA said it's unlikely that your pet cat could transmit the virus to you, but if you feel sick, it's best to stay away from Fluffy as long as you have symptoms.

Oscar-winning actor and University of Texas at Austin professor Matthew McConaughey hosted bingo night (via Zoom) for a group of residents at The Enclave at Round Rock, a senior living community in a suburb of Austin. Along with his wife, mom, and kids, McConaughey called out the numbers while the quarantined seniors played along at home.

Should you be wearing a mask when you go outside? The answer is complicated, but New York City's mayor has begun urging residents to wear a fabric face covering to reduce the chance the virus could spread through breathing or talking. Recent research suggests presymptomatic people could transmit the coronavirus more easily through aerosols than previously thought.

And finally, you may have a hard time finding hand sanitizer in stores these days, but if you do, check its expiration date.

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