If you’ve noticed fleshy little growths on your skin that are tempting to pick at, you likely have skin tags. These raised bumps and flaps are known as “acrochordons” or “cutaneous tags” by dermatologists. Fortunately, they’re completely harmless—but they can be super-annoying if you don’t like the way they look.
“They often occur in areas of friction like around the neck, under the arms, and by the groin and are thought to be caused by irritation from skin rubbing against skin or clothing,” says Bruce Katz, MD, a dermatologist in New York City.
You can probably blame them on your parents—skin tags are usually genetic. Obese people have a higher incidence of them since there is more flesh likely to rub against itself to provoke more tags. You may have just one or a couple of skin tags, or they can sprout up as a small, isolated group of bumps.
And if you have them, you’re definitely not alone. About one in four people will grow skin tags at some point, and it’s especially common after the age of 50 to start seeing more of them (so that’s something to look forward to, isn’t it?). While harmless, skin tags can become irritated and inflamed and even bleed if you scratch at them or catch the skin on something like a zipper. Ouch.
While there are a plethora of DIY methods on the Internet that claim to remove skin tags at home—like tying the base of the tag with thread—Katz warns that this is something you absolutely shouldn’t do yourself. “You’re opening yourself up to risk of scarring and infection,” he says.
The good news is that they’re easily removed if you’d rather do without them. At the dermatologist’s office, a local anesthetic and quick snip of special doctor’s scissors will do the job, says Katz. Super-freezing or heating (known as cauterizing) the tag are other common options.
Discomfort is minimal with any method, and you can immediately return to your normal activities. There should be no mark left behind after your tag is removed. The same skin tag shouldn’t grow back, but there’s always a chance that new skin tags may form in other areas.
If your skin tags don’t bother you, it’s totally fine to forget about them. But as with any skin growths, if there’s a noticeable change in the appearance or growth, you should have it looked at by your dermatologist.
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