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by Fayne Frey, Board Certified Dermatologist
Do you have skin tags?
You know, those fleshy small growths that dangle from your skin. Almost 50% of adults develop at least one skin tag during their lives. You can find them anytime, generally between ages 20-70, but they usually appear after age 50. Skin tags, commonly called acrochordons, are normal pieces of skin that grow on a narrow stalk.
What are skin tags?
Skin tags are an extremely common nuisance. They are annoying, and you may not like the way they look, but they are harmless. Usually, skin tags are flesh colored but may be darker. Skin tags are not contagious and seldom indicate a more serious underlying condition.
A skin tag story
Several years ago a big, burly, athletic looking guy visited my practice. He was 20 years old, well over 6 feet tall, and more than 200 pounds. I noticed his limp as he walked to the exam room, and thought he perhaps had a football injury. I watched him step forward with his right foot, then drag his left foot without bending his left knee, until his two feet were almost side-by-side. His left foot never quite reached his right foot as he continued down the hallway. He left a healthy space between his legs with each step as he walked toward me.
After our polite introductions, I asked why he came to see me. He explained that a few months ago he noticed a piece of skin dangling by “a thin stalk” from the upper part of his inner left thigh. He said he thought it was ugly, but it didn’t itch, hurt, or really bother him at all except for the fact it was there. So why did he come to my office?
My patient went on to explain that his friend recommended he tie dental floss around the piece of skin. Supposedly, this fix causes annoying skin tags to “fall off” in a few days. He decided to go for it.
Should you get them removed? If so, what’s the best way?
First let’s talk about how not to remove a skin tag. In my practice, I encounter a variety of botched DIY attempts to remove skin tags at home. These techniques include strangulation, burn methods with wart removers and other caustics, and the use of everyday scissors and knives to cut them off.
Mr. Linebacker is a good example of the strangulation method. Six days before our visit, based on his friend’s advice, he wrapped a foot long piece of dental floss around the stalk of the skin tag and pulled tight. He tied several knots to secure the thin string around the growth. As the days passed, the once asymptomatic piece of skin became red and swollen. His thighs rubbed together when he walked and irritated the tied off tag on the left thigh. The end result was extreme discomfort. I now understood his limp; it was painful to allow his thighs to rub together, and was glad he came to see me.
Upon examination, I found a red swollen pencil eraser sized piece of skin shaped like a little mushroom Mr. Linebacker’s upper left thigh. I explained to him the best way to remove a skin tag is to cut it off and that the procedure is not painful. He happily agreed to my plan.
How does a dermatologist cut off a skin tag?
Here’s the procedure. First, I numbed the site with an injection of lidocaine. After a pinch and a burn on his skin that lasted about 5 seconds, I removed the inflamed piece of skin with a small delicate curved scissor-like instrument called a Gradle. The entire procedure took approximately 2 minutes and is a great solution for those who seek instant gratification; the skin tag is gone immediately. As a final step, I applied an adhesive strip with antibiotic ointment to the site. Mr. Linebacker walked normally out of my office with a huge smile.
Who typically gets skin tags?
Skin tags can be seen in anyone, at any age. Since about half the population develops them at some point, I see them alot. However, skin tags are most common in older, overweight individuals or those with diabetes. They can be found anywhere,but often are found in areas of the body where your skin folds. For example, I commonly see skin tags in the armpits, creases of the groin, eyelids and around the neck. Frequently, they become inflamed by friction, when tangled with jewelry, or, as in the case of my young brawny patient, from a DIY attempt to remove it at home..Some folks grow one tag, others develop hundreds.
The good news
If you have a skin tag, there’s no medical reason to remove it, but if you find them bothersome or unsightly, a dermatologist easily gets the job done. Some skin tags fall off on their own, but most don’t. If you want a skin tag removed for cosmetic reasons, be aware most health insurance companies do not cover this expense. Please don’t try to remove a skin tag at home; see a professional for this procedure to avoid infection, uncontrollable bleeding or pain.
As for Mr. Linebacker, I discovered he does play college football!
About the Author
Fayne Frey, M.D., is a board-certified clinical and surgical dermatologist practicing in West Nyack, New York, where she specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer. She is a nationally recognized expert in the effectiveness and formulation of over-the-counter skincare products, and, as a speaker, has captivated audiences with her wry observations regarding the skincare industry. She has consulted for numerous media outlets, including NBC, USA Today, and, the Huffington Post, and has shared her expertise on both cable and major TV outlets. Dr. Frey is the Founder of FryFace.com, an educational skincare information and product selection service website that clarifies and simplifies the overwhelming choice of effective, safe and affordable products encountered in the skincare aisles. Dr. Frey is a fellow of both the American Academy of Dermatology and the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery.
image source: Caroline Ziemkiewicz from unsplash.com
originally posted August 23, 2020
updated May 18, 2022
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