Skin Tags

macro shot of melanoma with hairs on woman skin
Wearing jewelry near skin tags can irritate them. See more pictures of skin problems.
©éphane Bidouze

Most people have had some sort of embarrassing skin problem to deal with in their lifetime. You know the names of most of these common conditions -- like acne, warts and blisters -- and probably already have a plan of attack for when they pop up. But there's at least one that many people have trouble identifying, let alone treating: acrochordons.

Commonly referred to as skin tags, acrochordons are small outgrowths of the skin that affect about 46 percent of the general population [source: Schwartz]. Fortunately, skin tags are relatively harmless and quite common.


Skin tags form just below the skin's surface. They usually consist of fat, nerve cells, fibers and ducts, all covered by skin [source: Crosta]. What is visible to the naked eye is a raised surface or small bump. Over time, skin tags can become a small mass connected by a stalk of skin, which wiggles as you move [source: Harvard Health Publications] Before you say "Ew!" know that skin tags are incredibly small -- usually only 0.08 to 0.19 inches (2 to 5 millimeters) [source: Schwartz].

Skin tags usually show up in areas of the body where there are skin folds, like armpits or eyelids. They also occur on more remote areas such as on the neckline, below the breasts or in the groin area [source: Crosta]. They occur equally in men and women but more often in adults over 60. Some research has shown that skin tags may be genetic, but that hasn't been definitively proven yet [source: Harvard Health Publications].

Once skin tags form, they do not go away on their own. Although they tend to be small, they can grow to the size of large grapes. But the good news is skin tags are not directly associated with a major medical condition and are not life threatening, though their appearance may alarm you if you've never had one [source: Alai]. Learning a little bit about why people get skin tags and how to treat them may help you reduce the likelihood of their occurrence or reoccurrence.

Read on find out what causes skin tags.


Skin Tag Causes

Skin tags are actually a pretty common problem. No one really knows for sure what causes them, but there are several circumstances associated with their appearance. Some researchers believe that skin tags are simply caused by chafing, or skin rubbing against skin [source: Alai]. Other studies, however, also link biological factors such as genetics, hormonal imbalances, resistance to insulin and HPV (human papilloma virus) to skin tags [sources: Schwartz, Crosta].

Evidence exists to support the various theories. For example, people who are obese are more likely to have skin tags, since they tend to have more skin folds, which can lead to chafing [source: The New York Times Health Guide]. Skin tags are also a common problem for pregnant women, and researchers believe this may be caused by the hormones that manifest themselves during pregnancy, throwing women's body chemistry out of whack [source: Crosta].


Another possible cause of skin tags is the illegal use of steroids. The steroids cause skin fibers to bond, which results in the small outgrowths [source: Crosta]. And age, irrespective of weight, also seems to be a factor in many skin tag cases. By the time they are 70 years old, around 59 percent of the population will have experienced a skin tag or two [source: Schwartz].

Even though skin tags are technically tumors, they are benign. That means they do not turn into cancerous growths [source: Harvard Health Publications]. Therefore, their removal is for cosmetic purposes rather than any health danger.

If you want to find out how to get rid of an unwanted skin tag, move on to the next page.


How to Remove Skin Tags

If you have a couple of skin tags, you know that they're harmless. But if their presence embarrasses or annoys you, you'll be happy to discover that they can be removed safely. There are a few routes you can take to be tag-free.

One option is laser surgery. People who have very large skin tags might choose to have them surgically removed, even though surgery is more time consuming and costly. However, because skin tags are a cosmetic problem and not a reconstructive problem, insurance companies are not likely to pay for the surgery (and anesthesia and other costs involved). Therefore, it's worth considering non-surgical procedures.


Your doctor can also freeze the tag off with liquid nitrogen [source: University of Illinois Medical Center]. This method is known as cryotherapy. It can be done in a doctor's office rather than a hospital. While it's certainly no day at the spa, cryotherapy is less invasive and more relaxed than surgery. You may experience some pain and blistering after the treatment, but usually people heal quickly. Cauterization is another method of removal, in which the skin tag is burned off at the stalk or base [source: Harvard Health Publications]. But the easiest way for doctors to remove skin tags is to inject a local anesthetic into the area and cut them off with scissors or scalpel [source: Alai].

There are also some self-treatments for removal. One method is to tie a piece of floss or other thin string to the stalk of the skin tag, which cuts off its blood supply and causes it to fall off by itself [source: Alai].

Once skin tags are removed, there is little chance of their return, and there are little to no scars left behind. However, tags may appear in new areas [source: The New York Times Health Guide]. Read on to find out some ways to treat or prevent skin tags without visiting the doctor.


Skin Tag Treatment

While removing skin tags may be the best choice for some people, it isn't really necessary unless the area has become irritated. Some patients might prefer instead to treat them topically or make some life changes to prevent larger or additional growths.

The problem with topical treatments is that they can't really do much to keep a person's skin tags from growing bigger or from forming in the first place. If you've had skin tags in the past, and you have an associated risk factor -- for example, if you're overweight, over 60 or have diabetes -- you're very likely to have more of these growths in the future [source: Alai].


Also, there is no topical cream that can get rid of skin tags as quickly as cryotherapy or the use of a scalpel. However, there are a number of products that claim to cure skin tags. Many of these contain herbal remedies such as castor oil, apple cider vinegar or tea tree oil, and their goal is to eventually dry out the skin tag and cause it to fall off. But these approaches, when they work, reportedly take weeks to eliminate the skin tag, whereas a doctor's visit for medical treatment takes only about 20 minutes [source: Skin Tag Help].

Since chafing is one of the assumed causes, one way to treat skin tags is to keep the skin free of anything that could rub against it. Wearing loose clothing made of soft fabric could help reduce skin irritation and, consequently, skin tags. Even if tags have already formed, it's important to prevent them from being repeatedly chafed, which could lead to bleeding and pain [source: Alai]. As long as you can safely keep that irritation in check, it's totally up to you whether or not you decide to have a skin tag permanently removed.

Read on for much more information about treating your skin.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • Alai, Nili. "Skin Tag." (Accessed 8/2/09)
  • Crosta, Peter. "What Are Skin Tags? What Causes Skin Tags?" (Accessed 8/1/09)
  • Harvard Health Publications. "Skin Tags: Acrochordon." Everyday Health. (Accessed 8/1/09)
  • Kuwahara, Raymond. "Cryotherapy." Emedicine from WebMD. (Accessed 8/2/09)
  • Schwartz, Robert. "Acrochordon." EMedicine from WebMD. (Accessed 8/1/09)
  • Skin Tag Help. "The Definitive Skin Tag Resource." (Accessed 8/2/09)
  • The New York Times Health Guide. "Cutaneous Skin Tags." (Accessed 8/2/09)
  • University of Illinois Medical Center. "Skin Tags." (Accessed 8/2/09)