Understanding skin tags: Causes, risks, and safe removal methods

Jul 25, 2023
Many people get skin tags as they get older, but there are safe ways to remove them. Source: Getty

For most of us, skin tags are just another niggle of ageing. But rather than simply putting up with them, we’ve taken a deep dive into exactly what they are, what causes them, and most importantly, how you can get rid of them.

The good news is you’re far from alone, with studies suggesting anywhere from 50 to 60 per cent of us will develop at least one skin tag in our lifetimes. The other good news? They’re usually completely harmless.

What are skin tags?

Skin tags are common growths that usually look like small patches of hanging skin. While many of us will develop one, the probability of their occurrence increases as we enter our 50s and affects both women and men equally.

The “tag” itself usually consists of fat, collagen, nerve cells and small blood vessels, which means any dodgy attempts to remove them at home can risk infection. They can pop up anywhere on the body but usually do so on the neck, underarms, under breasts, eyelids, and other skin folds. Most often they will go unnoticed for some time, starting out as small flesh-coloured bumps and eventually growing into larger tags.

Why do we get them?

The exact cause of skin tags isn’t widely known, though they do occur more frequently in individuals suffering from obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndromes, and in people with a family history of skin tags. It’s believed there is a link with hormonal changes, backed up by the fact that many women see an increase during pregnancy.

They are usually entirely benign and painless, however they can become irritated if bumped. If you do notice any sudden change in colour, size or shape, or any bleeding, it’s still worth getting checked by a GP just in case.

How do I prevent skin tags?

While the cause is unknown, prevention is somewhat difficult, though experts suggest that if you are overweight changes in your lifestyle could help prevent them from developing. Sticking to a diet low in saturated fat, getting regular exercise, keeping skin folds dry and avoiding clothes and jewellery that may irritate the skin, are ways to reduce your chance of getting skin tags.

How do I get rid of skin tags naturally?

A quick Google of this question and you’ll have home remedies and old wives’ solutions coming out your ears: tea tree oil, lemon juice, toothpaste and even a particularly painful and dangerous suggestion to just cut them off (don’t!). Home remedies like these are largely unproven and best avoided or you could risk leaving a scar or infection. So we did a little digging to find a safer and more effective solution.

We’d recommend you go down the professional path and discuss the options available for you with a doctor, which if you’ve ever had a wart removed is a fairly similar process. They’ll likely suggest either cauterization, having the skin tag cut off, or cryosurgery where the doctor will freeze the tag off using liquid nitrogen.

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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