Ask the Doctors: Skin tags shouldn’t be removed at home

They’re typically harmless, though a doctor or dermatologist can safely and easily remove skin tags with minimal pain and scarring.

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Skin tags, which look like fleshy tubes or bumps on the surface of the skin.

Skin tags look like fleshy tubes or bumps on the surface of the skin.

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Dear doctors: I turned 46 last winter, and all of a sudden I started getting skin tags. I worried it might be a sign of skin cancer, but my sister insists they’re harmless. Is that true? There are a few on my neck that keep getting irritated by my clothes and jewelry. Is there any way to get rid of them?

Dear reader: Skin tags, which are also known as acrochordons, are not a sign of cancer.

Other than looking a bit odd and potentially getting in the way of clothing or jewelry, they are typically harmless.

Skin tags look like fleshy tubes or bumps on the surface of the skin. They’re often around two millimeters long — about the size of a grain of rice — but can grow a bit larger.

Skin tags have a springy texture. They move around quite easily, and touching them doesn’t cause pain or discomfort. They are often the same color as the surrounding skin but in certain cases can appear slightly darker.

Older skin tags can take on a brown or russet hue. Some can be lumpy and uneven, with a rough, warty texture. In those cases, it’s a good idea to have a doctor make sure it’s a skin tag, not a precancerous growth.

Up to two-thirds of all adults develop skin tags. The condition affects women and men equally and becomes more common with age.

The cause is unknown. Genetics is believed to play a role.

Skin tags are seen more often in people who are overweight. They often arise in areas where there’s rubbing or chafing, such as the creases of the armpits, beneath the breasts, on the eyelids, along the neck and around the groin.

Research suggests a possible link between skin tags and metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure and insulin resistance. So it’s worth talking with a doctor about a sudden or marked increase in the number of skin tags.

It isn’t necessary to have skin tags removed. But some people do so for cosmetic reasons or their location makes them a nuisance.

It’s never a good idea to remove them yourself. Skin tags are vascular, which means they have a blood source. They sometimes also have nerves. Cutting them off with scissors is not only painful but can lead to uncontrolled bleeding, and there’s a risk of infection.

A doctor can remove skin tags with minimal pain and scarring by snipping them with a sharp, sterile blade, freezing them with liquid nitrogen or burning them off.

Dr. Eve Glazier and Dr. Elizabeth Ko are UCLA Health internists.

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