What are skin tags, and how can you remove them?

Dermatologist looking closely at a woman's skin

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Skin tags are little bits of extra skin some people have. Usually the same color as your flesh or darker, they hang off your skin — looking a little like warts or moles.

They’re not only kind of ugly, but are annoying because they often catch on clothes or get hair wrapped around them. Here are some basics of skin tag removal.
(Skin) tag — you’re it

Thankfully, in most cases, skin tags — also known as skin tabs, acrochordons, soft fibromas, or fibroepithelial polyps (say that five times fast) — are nothing more than an annoyance and perhaps unsightly, depending on where they’re located.

They’re usually soft, smooth and fairly small — anywhere from a few millimeters to a half-centimeter — and after starting out as little lumps on the surface, will often hang from the skin by a stalk.

Skin tags are commonly found on the neck, armpits, groin, eyelids, or under the breasts. They seem to be most common in those who are overweight or have diabetes — they can actually be a warning sign that you might be diabetic.

They also often appear in skin folds — thought to arise as a result from skin rubbing on skin. These little excess bits of skin seem to be hereditary, so if either of your parents had them, there’s a good chance you will, too.

Though they’re usually harmless, they should be monitored for any change in appearance, as that could be a sign of malignancy. (You don’t want to confuse a growing mole with a harmless skin tag.)

Man with dark skin tags on his neck
Picture by kwanchaichaiudom/Deposit Photos
Skin tag removal

For the most part, skin tags can be left alone. However, if they are irritating or cosmetically unpleasant, they can be removed in a variety of ways.

For example, a dermatologist or other medical professional can use cauterization (burning them off), cryosurgery (freezing them off), surgical ligation (tying them off) or excision (cutting them off).

Some states have laws about who can manage your skin tags. For instance, in the State of California, “Only licensed physicians can perform skin tag/mole removals. Skin tag/mole removal is considered an invasive procedure and, therefore, licensed cosmetologists, barbers, manicurists, estheticians, and electrologists are prohibited from removing skin tags.”

MORE: What are those tiny broken blood vessels on your face?

Can you do it yourself?

Some people choose to remove their own skin tags by cutting them off with nail clippers or nail scissors. Others prefer a slower method that doesn’t involve sharp implements: they tie off the base of the skin tag with thread or dental floss, thereby cutting off the blood supply.

Skin tags - normal and when trying to remove
Skin tags – normal and when trying to remove

What is the latter experience like? A reader who tried this technique told us that it hurt when tying the thread, making it hard to get it tied tightly enough, and it takes about an hour for the pain to subside. After a day or two, the skin tag swells up and gets red, but it eventually dies and drops off within a week or so. (A small bit of stalk and/or a scar may remain.)

These at-home methods, of course, come with some risk — particularly from infection — so if you decide to try doing it yourself, only do it in areas you can clearly see and reach, avoid your face and genital/anal areas, and be sure to thoroughly sterilize the area and any tools you use before and after.

Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee that the skin tags you removed won’t grow back, or that others won’t appear.

But if you can’t stand that one skin tag that keeps getting snagged by your bra strap or shirt collar, before you do anything, have a chat with your healthcare provider about your situation and your options. You could easily score an infection on top of everything.

Nancy J Price & Betsy Bailey

Nancy J Price & Betsy Bailey

We're Nancy and Betsy, and we've been adventuring in the digital world since the mid-90s -- truly making us that type of entrepreneurial internet pioneer Gen X is known for! We started Myria.com back in 1998 and later launched SheKnows.com -- among various other online and print projects. Our partnership has spanned decades and crossed state lines (multiple times!). Nancy currently resides Arizona, and Betsy's newest home base is Minnesota. It's been an incredible journey of collaboration and innovation. You can read more about our story here!

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