What causes skin tags and how to remove them
What is a skin tag?
Skin tags are harmless growths that hang off the skin. They usually develop on the neck, armpits, groin or under the breasts, although they can grow elsewhere. Skin tags aren’t usually painful or uncomfortable, which means most of the time, they don’t require any medical attention.
However, if you have skin tags that are bothering you, there are some medical options available. These don’t tend to be available on the NHS because skin tag removal is considered a cosmetic procedure, so you’ll need to seek out a private GP if you want them removed professionally.
For smaller skin tags, removal at home is an option, but you shouldn’t try this without speaking to a doctor first.
What do skin tags look like?
If you have a growth and it ticks the following boxes, it’s probably a skin tag:
- Small (usually a few millimetres wide, although they can be larger)
- Soft and smooth
- Hangs off the skin
- Not painful or uncomfortable
- Not contagious
Skin tags have quite a distinctive appearance and feel, which means they generally won’t be mistaken for other types of growth. As an example, warts tend to be rough and irregular, and don’t hang off the skin.
What causes skin tags?
We don’t know exactly what causes skin tags, but we do know that they tend to develop in areas where the skin is rubbing against itself. We also know that they are more common in older people, people who have type 2 diabetes and people who are obese, as well as pregnant women.
Is it safe to remove skin tags at home?
It’s not recommended that you try removing skin tags without speaking to a doctor first. This is because – depending on the size of the tag – removal can cause heavy bleeding and may lead to scarring. If you want to try removing a skin tag at home, speak to your GP first.
How to remove skin tags
If your GP has told you it’s safe to remove a skin tag yourself at home, you can visit your local pharmacy to browse available treatments.Find a pharmacy
Skin tag treatments
Skin tag removal patches and bands
Skin tag removal patches and bands work by cutting off blood supply to the skin tag, which makes the tag wither away and drop off – this process is known as ligation. One thing to bear in mind with this is that a product like Excilor is only suited to skin tags between three and five millimetres.
Skin tag freezing kits
Another option is to try an at-home skin tag freezing kit, however these can be tricky to use and may result in burns and scarring if used incorrectly. If you want your skin tags frozen off, it’s better to have it done professionally.
For small skin tags you may be able to try ligation yourself, simply by tying some dental floss or cotton thread around the tag. However, you shouldn’t try this without speaking to a doctor first.
Iodine, apple cider vinegar and tea tree oil
There’s some anecdotal evidence that “natural” remedies like iodine, apple cider vinegar and tea tree oil work on skin tags, but this is not backed up by science. In fact, these kinds of substances may irritate the skin and cause other unpleasant symptoms.
When to see a professional about skin tags
You should see a doctor if:
- You aren’t sure whether a growth is a skin tag
- Your skin tag is causing you pain or discomfort e.g. it’s snagging on jewellery or a watch
- You don’t like the way the skin tag looks
If your doctor thinks removal is appropriate, you have a few different options, which are listed below. Just remember, you’ll need to get the removal done privately and not by your NHS GP.
Cauterisation is where a skin tag is burnt off. It can cause irritation and skin discolouration, and may not work the first time.
Cryotherapy is where a skin tag is frozen off. As with cauterisation it can cause irritation and skin discolouration, and isn’t always successful.
Excision is where a skin tag is cut off. This kind of removal may be more successful than freezing or burning as it allows for the whole tag to be cut away, which can prevent recurrence. However, it can cause some minor bleeding.
Remember, it’s not recommended that you try removing a skin tag at home without speaking to a doctor first. This is especially important if you have a large skin tag.