In the grand scheme of things, skin tags may sit low down on your beauty priorities – behind wrinkles, cellulite, dark circles or all of the wonderful things that pop up as we get older. However, that doesn’t make them any less annoying or inconvenient.
If you’ve got skin tags – and you’re likely to find them on your neck, armpits, around the groin and on your eyelids – you’ll know that they’re harmless and painless (unless you catch them in your jewellery!) But what are they, and why do they suddenly appear and never go away?
To get to the bottom of these questions, we’ve spoken to a consultant dermatologist to learn more about skin tags, their causes and their treatment.
According to Dr. Zainab Laftah, consultant dermatologist and British Skin Foundation spokesperson, skin tags are harmless, smooth skin-coloured growths on the skin.
They are made up of loose collagen (protein) fibres and blood vessels, surrounded by skin.
Skin tags are frequently found on the neck, armpits, around the groin, under the breasts and on eyelids. They vary in size (from a few millimetres up to five centimetres) and if not raised, they’re often joined to a small stalk too.
They are not to be confused with warts, which are rougher, and moles, which are darker on the skin.
Skin tags are also not contagious, whereas warts spread very easily, so easily to tell should you notice a cluster of growths.
The exact cause of skin tags isn’t yet known, however they commonly grow ‘at sites of friction’, where the skin can rub against itself and both men and women are equally likely to get skin tags. In fact, they occur in up to half the population.
The risk of getting them does increase with factors such as age and obesity levels. People with Type 2 diabetes or insulin resistance issues are more likely to have skin tags, for example, as are women during pregnancy. Dr. Laftah adds that “the latter is thought to be due to hormonal changes and increased levels of growth factors.”
Skin tags do not cause any pain or discomfort (unless they are caught on clothing or jewellery) and are either smooth and soft or knobbly, hanging off the skin.
There is a handful of ways to get rid of skin tags, and they vary in speed, price and how much they hurt (or not).
The most common include:
Freezing or burning skin tags can cause irritation and temporary skin discolouration, depending on how sensitive your skin is to this type of procedure. With cauterisation and cryotherapy, the skin tag may also not be removed with just one treatment, as is common with verrucas and other similar skin conditions.
These methods are typically carried out by professionals and can even be done on the NHS, although the latter is usually only done if your skin tags are causing you wider health problems or concerns.
It is worth noting that you shouldn’t try to remove a skin tag – or any skin growth – without speaking to a GP first. Just to rule out if it’s anything more serious or to make sure it’s removed safely.
If you have a skin tag that’s causing problems, you can get them removed at clinics or via a private GP.
The official guidelines from the NHS state that it’s possible to remove skin tags at home, using dental floss or cotton – but you should only do this if a GP has advised you to.
Alternatively, you can remove skin tags using products from brands such as Cryotag (£26).
Clinically proven, Cryotag instantly freezes the skin tag at the source with its precise tip applicator. Using the same freezing technology as a doctor or dermatologist would, Cryotag makes sure to only target the skin tag, leaving the surrounding skin safe and untouched.Buy Cryotag from Boots
You can also buy skin tag removal patches. These are designed to create a tight seal around the skin tag, effectively starving it of oxygen until it dies and falls off.
We’ve previously used the Excilor skin tag device (currently on sale for £12.50) and it took around a week for the skin tag to drop off. The company warns there is “negligible” risk of scarring but we didn’t experience any and this method wasn’t painful.
A little word of warning though. Dr. Laftah advises that these removal procedures should only be carried out by trained medical professionals and are absolutely not to be attempted at home, due to there being a high risk of infection and bleeding.
According to the NHS website, larger skin tags should definitely not be removed at home because they run the risk of heavy bleeding.Buy Excilor from Lloyds
Amira Arasteh is a freelance journalist and content creator. Find her making sense of beauty trends, tips and topics – when she’s not stuffing her face with the best food in London or travelling the globe