4 Facts About Skin Tags

Skin Tags are Benign Growths

Skin tags are those pesky growths that look like little pieces of wrinkly skin. They tend to pop up on your chest, neck, armpits, and back. They are called acrochordons in the dermatology world. They are skin colored and can grow from 1mm to 5cm long. They are not going to kill you, but they can be annoying. They can rub uncomfortably against your clothing. Or they can get stuck on something and cause pain as its pulled. Once a skin tag gets irritated or rubbed it can become red and inflamed.

Why do skin tags develop?

Doctors don’t know what cause skin tags. However, they do know of many risk factors. It’s most likely a combination of genetic and environmental factors that predispose you to develop these growths. Chafing and skin irritation can cause skin tags to grow. Obese persons tend to have more chafing and constant rubbing of skin against each other. Likewise insulin resistance (like that classically seen in diabetes) is associated with the development of skin tags. Other random risk factors include: pregnancy, acromegaly (aka gigantism), and Human papilloma virus.

If you don’t have diabetes but have been growing skin tags, go see your doctor! Have them check your sugar levels because you may have a problem with sugar metabolism. It may not be full-blown diabetes yet, but it may be a sign of pre-diabetes and insulin resistance.

Skin tags can be confused with other skin lesions.

Since skin tags are fleshy overgrowths of normal skin, they can look like a lot of other skin conditions. One genetic condition called neurofibromatosis can have many skin lesions similar to skin tags. In neurofibromatosis, patients have neurofibromas on their skin which are thicker than skin tags. Another condition that can mimic a skin tag is a pedunculated mole. Molluscum contagiosum, a common infectious disease of childhood, can also have skin-colored growths that resemble skin tags. Some other common conditions that can be confused with skin tags include viral warts and seborrheic keratoses.

Neurofibromatosis can mimic skin tags in appearance.

Neurofibromatosis can mimic skin tags in appearance.

Since this condition can mimic other skin diseases, your dermatologist may want to do a punch biopsy. This is not at all commonplace. You would have to have a really weird skin tag for this to happen to you. If your skin tag gets turn around on its stalk it may become tender or necrotic (aka black and dead) which is an uncommon presentation that can necessitate a biopsy.

Skin tags are completely harmless.

A skin tag will never become cancer. You don’t have to worry about constant surveillance, biopsies, or routine trips to your dermatologist to have this growth checked out. However, if what you thought was a skin tag happens to bleed, change color, or change shape, go see your doctor. That may not be a skin tag after all.

There is no way to prevent skin tags from appearing. You can’t take a magic pill or apply a cream or avoid sun exposure (my favorite piece of advice for almost any skin condition) in the hopes of curing it. You can either live with it or take steps to remove them. Which leads me into my next fun fact…

How to Remove Skin Tags

Skin tags are usually removed for cosmetic purposes. People don’t like the way they look or they rub them the wrong way (literally). You can take your pick in the way in which your skin tag is removed. You can have it frozen off with liquid nitrogen. Don’t like the idea of an extremely cold gas burning your skin? Your dermatologist can simply cut it off with scissors. Don’t want the pain of having something cut off? Your dermatologist can inject you with lidocaine beforehand. Then they can burn the skin tag off.


Liquid nitrogen delivery device.

Unfortunately, for people with many skin tags you will need many small injections near each skin tag in order to get the anesthetic effect. I’ve seen this in the office more times than I can count. The pain of the anesthesia may be more than the second of cauterization this small growth needs to be removed.


  1. http://www.dermnetnz.org/lesions/skin-tags.html
  2. http://www.mountsinai.org/patient-care/health-library/diseases-and-conditions/acrochordons
  3. http://www2.med.umich.edu/umguidelines/handbook.cfm?condition_id=137
  4. https://www.onlinedermclinic.com/archive/acrochordons-skin-tags-
  5. featured image: http://www.timesfull.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/1657_5.jpg
  6. neurofibromatosis: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-taIDwG2Oio0/UHJUIpVYbvI/AAAAAAAAACM/duFroAemn7k/s1600/neurofibromatosis_3_041012.jpg
  7. skin tags: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/64/Weiches-fibrom-augenlid.jpg and http://www.laserandskinclinics.co.uk/img/treatments/skin-tag-removal/skin-tag-removal1.jpg


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