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?

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 deviceClaritag, 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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12 Creative Ways to Spend Your FSA Money Before the Deadline

stockfour/iStock via Getty Images
stockfour/iStock via Getty Images

If you have a Flexible Spending Account (FSA), chances are, time is running out for you to use that cash. Depending on your employer’s rules, if you don’t spend your FSA money by the end of the grace period, you potentially lose some of it. Lost cash is never a good thing.

For those unfamiliar, an FSA is an employer-sponsored spending account. You deposit pre-tax dollars into the account, and you can spend that money on a number of health care expenses. It’s kind of like a Health Savings Account (HSA), but with a few big differences—namely, your HSA funds roll over from year to year, so there’s no deadline to spend it all. With an FSA, though, most of your funds expire at the end of the year. Bummer.

The good news is: The law allows employers to roll $500 over into the new year and also offer a grace period of up to two and a half months to use that cash (March 15). Depending on your employer, you might not even have that long, though. The deadline is fast approaching for many account holders, so if you have to use your FSA money soon, here are a handful of creative ways to spend it.

1. Buy some new shades.

Head to the optometrist, get an eye prescription, then use your FSA funds to buy some new specs or shades. Contact lenses and solution are also covered.

You can also buy reading glasses with your FSA money, and you don’t even need a prescription.

2. Try acupuncture.

Scientists are divided on the efficacy of acupuncture, but some studies show it’s useful for treating chronic pain, arthritis, and even depression. If you’ve been curious about the treatment, now's a good time to try it: Your FSA money will cover acupuncture sessions in some cases. You can even buy an acupressure mat without a prescription.

If you’d rather go to a chiropractor, your FSA funds cover those visits, too.

3. Stock up on staples.

If you’re running low on standard over-the-counter meds, good news: Most of them are FSA-eligible. This includes headache medicine, pain relievers, antacids, heartburn meds, and anything else your heart (or other parts of your body) desires.

There’s one big caveat, though: Most of these require a prescription in order to be eligible, so you may have to make an appointment with your doctor first. The FSA store tells you which over-the-counter items require a prescription.

4. Treat your feet.

Give your feet a break with a pair of massaging gel shoe inserts. They’re FSA-eligible, along with a few other foot care products, including arch braces, toe cushions, and callus trimmers.

In some cases, foot massagers or circulators may be covered, too. For example, here’s one that’s available via the FSA store, no prescription necessary.

5. Get clear skin.

Yep—acne treatments, toner, and other skin care products are all eligible for FSA spending. Again, most of these require a prescription for reimbursement, but don’t let that deter you. Your doctor is familiar with the rules and you shouldn’t have trouble getting a prescription. And, as WageWorks points out, your prescription also lasts for a year. Check the rules of your FSA plan to see if you need a separate prescription for each item, or if you can include multiple products or drug categories on a single prescription.

While we’re on the topic of faces, lip balm is another great way to spend your FSA funds—and you don’t need a prescription for that. There’s also no prescription necessary for this vibrating face massager.

6. Fill your medicine cabinet.

If your medicine cabinet is getting bare, or you don’t have one to begin with, stock it with a handful of FSA-eligible items. Here are some items that don’t require a prescription:

You can also stock up on first aid kits. You don’t need a prescription to buy those, and many of them come with pain relievers and other medicine.

7. Make sure you’re covered in the bedroom.

Condoms are FSA-eligible, and so are pregnancy tests, monitors, and fertility kits. Female contraceptives are also covered when you have a prescription.

8. Prepare for your upcoming vacation.

If you have a vacation planned this year, use your FSA money to stock up on trip essentials. For example:

9. Get a better night’s sleep.

If you have trouble sleeping, sleep aids are eligible, though you’ll need a prescription. If you want to try a sleep mask, many of them are eligible without a prescription. For example, there’s this relaxing sleep mask and this thermal eye mask.

For those nights you’re sleeping off a cold or flu, a vaporizer can make a big difference, and those are eligible, too (no prescription required). Bed warmers like this one are often covered, too.

Your FSA funds likely cover more than you realize, so if you have to use them up by the deadline, get creative. This list should help you get started, and many drugstores will tell you which items are FSA-eligible when you shop online.

10. Go to the dentist.

While basics like toothpaste and cosmetic procedures like whitening treatments aren’t FSA eligible, most of the expenses you incur at your dentist’s office are. That includes co-pays and deductibles as well as fees for cleanings, x-rays, fillings, and even the cost of braces. There are also some products you can buy over-the-counter without ever visiting the dentist. Some mouthguards that prevent you from grinding your teeth at night are eligible, as are cleaning solutions for retainers and dentures.

11. Try some new gadgets.

If you still have some extra cash to burn, it’s a great time to try some expensive high-tech devices that you’ve been curious about but might not otherwise want to splurge on. The list includes light therapy treatments for acne, vibrating nausea relief bands, electrical stimulation devices for chronic pain, cloud-connected stethoscopes, and smart thermometers.

12. Head to Amazon.

There are plenty of FSA-eligible items available on Amazon, including items for foot health, cold and allergy medication, eye care, and first-aid kits. Find out more details on how to spend your FSA money on Amazon here.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don't return, so we're only happy if you're happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

6 Effective Tips for Coping With Panic Attacks

Photo by RF._.studio from Pexels
Photo by RF._.studio from Pexels

If you suddenly find yourself having an abrupt feeling of fear paired with anxiety or an overwhelming sense that you are losing control, you might be experiencing a panic attack. A panic attack, which can last for minutes or hours, can manifest in physical symptoms that some sufferers compare to a heart attack. And if you've ever had one, you're far from alone.

Each year, up to 11 percent of Americans experience panic attacks—though that percentage could rise in 2020. Using Google Trends, researchers have noted a significant increase in searches related to panic attacks during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although it’s not entirely conclusive, it's clear that people need to be paying attention to their mental health right now as much as they are their physical well-being.

“I have seen a huge increase in those experiencing panic attacks and other forms of anxiety during lockdown,” psychotherapist and coach Sarie Taylor tells Mental Floss. She attributes it to the uncertainty and unpredictability of the pandemic.

If you're prone to panic attacks, here are several methods you can use to help cope. Keep in mind that these techniques are not mutually exclusive, so you might find that practicing two or three of them at once is the fastest way to alleviate the symptoms brought on by a panic attack. Nor should you become frustrated if they don't always work for you. Every person and every panic attack is different. “Do not be disheartened if they do not always seem to work for you," Taylor says. "Your mind will always eventually settle regardless.”

1. Control your breathing.

Changes in breathing patterns and shortness of breath during panic attacks are common, but it can heighten the feeling of suffocation that some people experience. To address this, try common breathing techniques such as the 4-7-8 exercise [PDF] or roll breathing (also known as abdominal breathing). Deep breathing, or breath focus, is a great strategy to lower your heart rate, stabilize your blood pressure, and lower your stress levels. If you can control your breathing, the panic may subside and you can reduce some of your other symptoms.

2. Connect with your current environment.

To de-escalate the overwhelming emotions that often come with a panic attack and bring your focus to the present, it helps to engage your senses. You may be able to do this through visualization exercises, like imagining yourself sitting by the ocean or wherever you're happiest. Another effective method is the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique, where you acknowledge five things you can see around you, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. This can be a great way to distract yourself from intrusive thoughts and focus on the sensations you can physically experience in that moment instead.

3. Grab an ice cube.

If you feel that breathing and relaxation exercises don’t bring enough relief, some people are able to lessen the effects of a panic with ice cubes. Holding an ice cube in your hand for as long as you can, or putting it inside your mouth until it melts, brings enough discomfort to divert your body’s response away from panic. If you put the ice cube in your mouth, it forces your body to produce more saliva, activating the parasympathetic nervous system and halting the fight-or-flight response that panic attacks typically trigger.

According to Taylor, when you hold something stimulating, it appeals to the senses and becomes difficult to ignore. This means that your attention goes to the ice’s temperature and texture. Like all methods, it’s not equally effective for everyone and experiences may vary.

4. Relax your muscles.

Progressive muscle relaxation is an anxiety and stress management technique that relieves tension from the body [PDF]. The practice is done by lying down, tensing a muscle group for up to 10 seconds, relaxing it, then moving on to another muscle group. You can start from head to toe or vice versa, or begin with your hands and then work your way through your body. Concentrating on how your muscles tense and relax helps you let go of the negative feelings a panic attack brings on.

5. Challenge your brain.

It’s not easy to shake off negative thoughts, especially as they increasingly worsen. To force your brain to think of something else, engage in small mental exercises. This includes anything from counting backward from 100 in threes or reciting the alphabet backward to counting how many letters there are in your full name or reciting all the colors you can think of or see. By completing these exercises, even imperfectly, you can distract yourself enough to potentially reduce your symptoms.

The effectiveness of such exercises depends on how invested you are in your anxious thoughts. “The earlier you notice your mind getting busy, the easier these techniques may be,” Taylor says.

6. Take your prescribed medications.

Seeing a doctor and getting treatment for frequent panic attacks is important because they can become worse over time. There are a variety of medications that can help with panic attacks, but according to the Mayo Clinic, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most effective choice for panic attacks. Take your medication(s) as prescribed, and try to be aware of how well and quickly they work for you, so that you can talk with your doctor to make sure you're taking the best medication for your symptoms.