How to Remove a Skin Tag

A man showing his skin tags

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Skin tags are soft growths on the skin that are usually benign, or non-cancerous. About 50-60% of people will develop at least one in their lifetime.

While a skin tag is not usually a cause for concern, you may find them distracting or irritating and want it removed.

There are several ways to have a skin tag safely removed by a healthcare provider.

What Is a Skin Tag?

Skin tags are small growths of tissue that often develop in areas where skin folds or overlaps, such as in the neck, underarms, or groin.

These tags can be the same color as your skin, darker than your skin, or red. Skin tags can be egg-shaped. They are typically quite small, ranging in size between 1-5mm. In rare cases, they can grow to reach 1-2cm.

Skin tags tend to occur most often in adults 40 years or older. People who have diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome, or a family history of skin tags are also more likely to develop skin tags.

There are several reasons why a skin tag may develop. Frequent irritation of the skin, a rise in hormone levels, and natural aging can all play a part in the development of the small growths.

When Should Skin Tags Be Removed?

Skin tags are typically benign and painless and often do not need to be removed. However, some people find that they don’t like the appearance of skin tags or they may find them annoying.

A skin tag may become caught on jewelry or clothing. In some cases, skin tags that sit in places that rub against clothing can become itchy or start to bleed from the constant friction. Over time, this could lead to pain or possibly an infection.

The Best Way to Remove a Skin Tag

The safest and most effective way to remove a skin tag is to have a healthcare provider do it.

There are several methods a healthcare provider can use to remove a skin tag, including:

  • Surgical removal: Before this minor surgery, your healthcare provider will disinfect and likely numb the area. They will then cut the skin tag off at its base and apply pressure to stop any bleeding.
  • Cauterization: Cauterization destroys tissue by applying heat, cold, or a chemical solution. By destroying the tissue, the skin tag dissolves and disappears. 
  • Laser therapy: Lasers create energy from light which can then be focused on the skin tag to perform a very precise cut for removal.
  • Cryosurgery: Extreme cold can be used to freeze the tissue of the skin tag, causing it to die off and eventually disappear.

Removing a Skin Tag Yourself

An internet search or trip to your local drug store may give you several options for removing a skin tag yourself. Some of these products try to mimic the medical procedures that a healthcare provider provides. For instance, there are freezing kits that claim to be able to get rid of skin tags. Another common product is a liquid you can drop onto your skin tag to supposedly make the growth go away.

Not only are at-home methods unsupported by research, but they may also be unsafe. Products that claim to remove skin tags often have high amounts of salicylic acid or other substances that can cause harm. Even if the product does remove the skin tag, the product might end up causing permanent scarring or discoloration to the surrounding skin.

You might have also heard that tea tree oil and apple cider vinegar can help get rid of skin tags. Research would be needed to confirm this. But keep in mind that even products that claim to be "natural," "organic," or "herbal" may contain high concentrations of salicylic acid or other ingredients that can cause injury or infection.

Before attempting to remove a skin tag yourself, it is best to talk to your healthcare provider. While there are over-the-counter products that are being developed and tested, currently there are no FDA approved at home remedies for removing a skin tag yourself.

You should also never try to cut a skin tag off on your own with fingernail clippers, scissors, or another sharp tool.

Risks of At-Home Skin Tag Removal

Attempting to remove a skin tag at home carries risks that could lead to several complications, often outweighing the benefits.

May Cause Scarring

By attempting to remove a skin tag yourself, you may cause scarring. This can happen through cutting, freezing, or applying a chemical or natural solution to remove the skin tag. In some cases, scars can cause a loss of movement, particularly when they develop over joints, such as a knuckle or elbow. Healthcare providers are trained to avoid this complication.

May Increase Risk of Infection

Removing something from your body that leaves an open wound can leave you vulnerable to infection. When left untreated, infections can develop into a serious complication that may require antibiotics or other medical care. Healthcare providers are trained to remove skin tags in a way that avoids infection.

Can Cause Excessive Bleeding

When trying to cut a skin tag yourself, you may accidentally cut too deep or too harshly, leading to excessive bleeding. Healthcare providers are trained to make incisions and remove skin tags with minimal bleeding or injury.  

Can Cause You to Miss Signs of Skin Cancer

While most skin tags are benign, it is possible that what you think is a skin tag could be something else entirely, like skin cancer. Having a healthcare provider correctly identify the skin tag can help you get the proper treatment.

If you remove the skin tag yourself when it was actually skin cancer, you could leave behind small cancer cells that could multiply and spread deep within your tissues, causing further issues.

A Quick Review

A skin tag is a small, benign growth of tissue that more commonly develops on people older than 40. While removal of a skin tag is not necessary, many people like to have them removed for cosmetic reasons or if the growth is causing discomfort. A healthcare provider can remove skin tags using surgery, extreme cold (cryosurgery), or the application of cold, heat, or a chemical solution to destroy the tissue (cauterization). It is not recommended to remove skin tags at home. At-home removal of skin tags carries risks such as scarring, infection, bleeding, and an improper diagnosis.  

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