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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Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

10 Tips for Avoiding Germs on Flights

Masakatsu Ukon, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0
Masakatsu Ukon, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

The continued spread of the coronavirus pandemic raises valid concerns for domestic and international travel. As the number of cases keeps increasing in some parts of the world, travel restrictions won’t be relaxed anytime soon. Airlines are postponing and canceling flights globally, but for many individuals, travel remains an essential function.

Some people have already put their plans on hold to reduce the risk of infection, but if you absolutely need to travel by air, here are several helpful tips to avoid germs at the airport and inside the airplane.

1. Use the online check-in before arriving at the airport.

Skip the line at the airport counter and avoid unnecessary contact by checking in to your flight online. Many airlines allow passengers to check in up to 24 hours before their flight’s departure. It’s the safest and most comfortable option, and you’ll also steer clear of the germs on self-service check-in kiosks.

2. Choose a window seat on the plane.

When reserving your seat during the ticket-buying or check-in process, the one you choose makes a difference in your potential exposure to germs. Some airlines have chosen to leave the middle seats empty, leaving you with two other options in a typical medium-sized plane. Passengers in window seats are exposed to the fewest people during an average flight, so that’s your best bet. Avoid booking the aisle seats, which pose the highest risk of contact with multiple people.

3. Wear a face mask.

Properly wearing face masks and cloth face coverings are essential to reducing the spread of the coronavirus and other pathogens. It protects you and everyone else, too. Several airlines are making face coverings mandatory because social distancing measures are much more difficult to maintain inside the aircraft.

“It’s important to remember that all of the new guidance we’ve got used to over the past few months, like social distancing and hygiene measures, still apply when you travel,” travel expert and 5 Star Villa Holidays founder John Paul Donnelly tells Mental Floss.

4. Keep items stored inside your bag at security checkpoints.

The plastic bins for personal belongings are also used by other travelers, increasing your potential exposure to germs. Instead of emptying the contents of your pockets into the bins, it’s better if you keep your phone, wallet, and other loose belongings inside your bag. You’ll also avoid a pat-down by having removed anything that will set off the alarms.

5. Bring enough disinfectant wipes and alcohol-based sanitizer.

At least the chairs are socially distanced at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas.Daryl DeHart, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Anticipate all your travel needs beforehand. Donnelly says that sanitizing wipes, disinfecting alcohol and sanitizers, and face masks are now as essential to travel as passports and luggage, so pack these necessary items in your carry-on bag (just make sure that each container of gel or liquid is less than 3 ounces to pass U.S. security screening). Ensure that you have enough to disinfect your hands, cellphone, and immediate environment when you board the plane.

6. Refrain from touching your face.

A small behavioral observation study in 2015 revealed that people touch their faces an average of 23 times per hour. Face-touching is very instinctive—people often don’t realize they’re doing it. But during this pandemic, you need to avoid it as much as possible to reduce the spread of germs. Even if you haven’t touched any public surfaces, just don’t do it.

7. Take advantage of cashless transactions.

Some airport stores allow electronic payments from digital wallets. This kind of transaction, along with recent technological innovations such as virtual boarding passes and online check-ins, reduces unnecessary contact while traveling. Even though there’s a low probability [PDF] of virus transmission through money, it’s still overloaded with germs that you wouldn’t want to hold on to. According to Donnelly, eliminating the chances of contact is vital for the travel industry as it adapts to the pandemic.

8. Stay away from crowds.

This may be easier said than done, but there are a few ways you can keep a safe distance between yourself and others. Maintain a six-foot physical distance when lining up for security checkpoints or offloading luggage. Donnelly suggests minimizing your movement around the airport, so stay put as much as you can. While waiting to board the plane, choose a seat in the waiting area at least six feet away from anyone else—or stand apart from a crowded seating arrangement. Try to board last so you can avoid queuing in narrow walkways along with the other passengers.

9. Disinfect high-touch surfaces at your seat on the plane.

Although airlines are enhancing their cleaning routines, you should still sanitize your immediate environment on your own. Disinfect the high-touch surfaces like the armrest, tray table, seatbelt buckle, headrest, and seat and screen controls. Research has shown that the novel coronavirus may last two to three days on plastic and stainless steel, so clean everything that previous passengers could have possibly touched before you sat down.

10. Turn on the overhead air vent.

The frequent passenger turnaround can be a concern in enclosed environments such as airplanes, but as Donnelly says, “most large airplanes have sophisticated filtration systems [PDF] in place, which means the air is likely to be cleaner than in other confined spaces.” For extra protection from viruses and germs remaining in the air, turn on the overhead vent. It creates an air barrier around your seat that can disperse potentially harmful particles into the plane’s filtration system, where they will be neutralized.

Wherever you’re going, remember to exercise caution every step of the way. A little more attention to detail will keep you from compromising your health.