You might have seen little balloon-like patches of skin hanging off your grandma’s neck. Although it might look a little disturbing, they are harmless. Medically, they are called arochordon. Most people develop at least one of these in a lifetime.
While obese and older people are more prone to having skin tags, it can occur at any age. Some skin tags fall spontaneously while others keep growing and may grow up to a size of a grape. They are usually flesh colored and dark pigmented. Most commonly they occur at the base of the neck, eye lids, groin area, armpits, buttocks and under the breasts.
The cause of skin tags is thought to be friction between skin areas. Plump babies might develop skin tags on their eye lids as the skin rubs on itself when the baby blinks, the same can happen to teenagers in arm pits due to friction while playing sports. Pregnant females can also develop skin tags due to hormonal surge.
Although skin tags are harmless, they might be bothersome and can be easily removed by a dermatologist; removing them does not cause more skin tags to develop – as rumored. Some patients, who are more prone to developing skin tags, grow about a hundred skin tags and then get them removed on annual or quarterly basis. Another rumor of skin tags being cancerous is also not true. They are completely benign. However, rarely they can become malignant i.e. cancerous. Malignant skin tags can be identified if they are bleeding, changing colors and growing. Biopsy is done to rule out the causes.
Skin tags are usually removed due to cosmetic reasons. They might become dark with hemorrhage, get twisted on its stalk and cause pain. This happens due to more friction around the skin tag as collar rubs on the neck, underwear in groin region repeatedly irritate the skin. As skin tags have proper blood supply, it might hurt and cause discomfort if it is snagged by pets, jewelry, seat belts or babies.
It is important to know that not removing skin tags causes no harm either. If they are not bothersome it is reasonable to not get treated. However, there are easy home remedies and cosmetic treatments to get them removed.
They can be cut off using scissors with or without anesthesia depending on the size of the skin tag. Removal with scissors gives an instant result; however there is a little bleeding. Another procedure that doctors use is freezing and burning the skin tag. The skin tags are frozen using liquid nitrogen. Then they are burned near the stalk using electric cautery. This procedure might take a while and tags might not fall off.
At home, skin tags can be removed using a topical numbing cream and dental floss string. Topical numbing cream is applied on the tag, and is tied off with a small dental floss string. People often tend to use creams for removal of skin tags. However, there is no cream that has proven to remove skin tags effectively.
Patients do use tea tree oil, nail polish, toothpaste, vinegar and hair removal creams – all of which are unapproved for treatment of skin tags but are known to be effective home remedies. Soaking a cotton ball in apple cider vinegar and applying on the skin tag daily is known to reduce its size and gradually cause it to fall off in a month’s time. Similarly tea tree oil, pineapple juice and castor oil with baking soda can be used in similar manners.
Often skin tags are confused with warts. While warts are associated with human papilloma virus and skin tags have no such association. Skin tags grow off a stalk (pedunculated), flesh colored and soft, warts don’t grow off a stalk, are darkly colored and hard. Warts are very contagious and can spread; skin tags have no such tendencies.