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Beauty

What are skin tags and how can you get rid of them?

They're harmless but not so pretty.

Three images of skin tags on a body being identified and excised. Credit: Getty Images / Russell102 / megaflopp / peakSTOCK

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To properly take care of your skin, it’s a good idea to routinely check your body for changes, raise questions to a dermatologist, and start a treatment regimen, if necessary. One common occurrence on the body is the development of skin tags, which appear as growths that are the same color as the surrounding skin or darker. While they pose little risk to your health, as skin tags are almost always benign, you may elect to get rid of them. To learn more about what causes skin tags and how to remove them, we spoke with Dr. Alexander Zuriarrain, double board-certified plastic surgeon with Zuri Plastic Surgery in Miami.

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What causes skin tags?

Close up image of a skin tag on a face.
Credit: Getty Images / Russell102

Skin tags are painless but may get caught in jewelry or clothing.

Skin tags, a.k.a. Acrochordons, are 1 to 5 millimeter growths made up of fast-growing skin cells that group together and protrude from the surrounding skin. An estimated 50% to 60% of adults will develop at least once skin tag, but it’s more common for them to appear in someone’s 40s or later. Some people have genetic malformations that cause an increased predisposition to developing skin tags, Zuriarrain says. However, “these individuals are rare and do not represent most of the population.”

Skin tags are painless, though it’s possible for them to catch on your clothing, jewelry, or even on a nail while scratching, which may cause discomfort. While they can appear anywhere on the body, the most common areas to see skin tags are the face and back. “[Location] is very dependent on the patient’s ethnic background as well as genetic makeup,” Zurriarrain says. “Everybody is different around the world regarding skin tag locations on their body.”

Can you remove skin tags at home?

A person removes a skin tag with a needle.
Credit: Getty Images / peakSTOCK

It's best to leave skin tag removal to doctors.

Though you may be tempted to perform your own minor surgery at home, Zuriarrain recommends leaving it up to the doctors. One reason for this is to confirm that the growth is benign, not malignant, by sending it to pathology for an assessment. Of course, an office setting also has the proper tools—a doctor can inject a local anesthetic to eliminate pain and use heat, cold, or a sharp tool such as a scalpel for the skin tag removal.

Once a skin tag is excised, it’s uncommon for a new one to grow back in the same spot, though you may see more in the future in other locations.

Can you prevent skin tags?

A doctor examines a body with moles and skin tags.
Credit: Getty Images / megaflopp

You can elect to get skin tags removed.

Unfortunately, there’s little you can do to keep skin tags from forming. “On occasion, they can occur in areas of increased skin friction, such as the axilla [i.e., the armpit],” Zuriarrain says. “In that case, weight loss and removal of excess skin laxity can facilitate a decrease in friction and development of skin tags.” Applying a product that reduces friction, such as Body Glide, to areas that are prone to skin tags may also help.

The best thing to do is to alert your doctor to any concerns you have about developing skin tags and work with a dermatologist to remove them as soon as they occur, if the appearance bothers you.

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