10 Myths About Skin Tags You Need to Stop Believing
Yes they're mysterious little creatures and they can be pretty embarrassing during swimsuit season, but skin tags are mostly fine. Mostly.
Skin tags are trouble
Skin tags, medically termed as acrochordons or fibroepithelial polyps (FEP), are just a tiny benign bit of flesh that is typically connected to the underlying skin by a thin stalk. Yeah, gross. On the exterior, they look like minuscule bits of "hanging" skin that are typically taller than wide. These growths are seen in approximately half of all people and can form for a variety of reasons. However, they turn up more often during pregnancy, in diabetics, obese individuals, and those that have a family history of skin tags. They are also more common as you age—and men and women suffer them at about the same rate.
While they can turn up anywhere, skin tags tend to appear where there is frequent friction, such as the neck, breasts, groin, and underarms. Ultimately, there is no evidence that skin tags will lead to any serious skin condition: They're mostly an aesthetic annoyance. Regardless, most dermatologists encourage you to have them checked out—and removed, if you want. The only link to danger is from one study from the Indian Journal of Dermatology, which suggested that skin tags may be a sign of underlying heart issues. You could get your heart checked out, but the one research connection shouldn't concern anyone too much.
Skin tags are cancerous
Dermatologists say nay: The tags are almost never cancerous and don't need to be removed; in fact, they're (almost!) always benign. And while many people opt to remove them due to discomfort or for cosmetic reasons, there is no harm in leaving them be. There are extremely rare exceptions to this rule: In one study, two patients with known basal cell nevus syndrome (BCNS) were found to have multiple basal cell carcinomas that resembled ordinary skin tags. "There are rare cases where skin cancers, such as basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and even melanoma, can mimic a skin tag," says dermatologist Avnee Shah, MD. "Going to a board-certified dermatologist assures a trained eye is examining the lesion and determining the risk of a more harmful condition masquerading as a skin tag." To be safe, if any tag is growing, changing color, or bleeding and itching, it's definitely time to see an expert.
You can remove skin tags at home
Although skin tags are primarily a cosmetic problem, that doesn't mean they're not significant enough to consult a doctor. For starters, they can still bleed when they come off, so dermatologists stress never trying to cut or pull off a skin tag on your own. One theory on skin tag removal is that tying it off with dental floss will remove it—a bad idea, according to Tanya Kormeili, MD, "This may remove the small ones, but some of the bigger ones have a larger blood supply and may become very painful as you strangulate the skin tag. They are easily removed in the office by a dermatologist."
Most importantly, don't take it upon yourself to decide that a growth is benign. At your dermatologist's office, you'll have a better shot at getting a solid read on what you have—and whether it's an issue. And if you want it removed, most doctors will perform removal by freezing with liquid nitrogen (cryosurgery), cautery with an electric current (electrosurgery), or cutting with medical scissors (snip excision).
Removing a skin tag will cause more to grow
Thankfully, this is far from true. While a lot of people worry that removing one will lead to more down the road, take comfort in knowing this is bogus info. Any additional breakout is because they were meant to spawn there. "One skin tag has nothing to do with another. Though removing one does not mean that you will never get another—as a doctor cannot prevent them from coming—it also does not equate to causing more to grow," informs Dr. Shah.
There are creams and OTC remedies to remove skin tags
While you can find natural recipes for amazing skin, you're not going to find any such thing for skin tags. As wonderful as it would be to have an FDA-approved magic lotion or potion that would help get rid of these pesky spots, it unfortunately doesn't exist as of yet. Dr. Shah says, "This must be one of the most frequent myths I encounter! There are currently products in the pipeline that may be helpful in topically removing benign growths in the future, but nothing at this moment. So, if you'd like to get skin tags removed, it's highly recommended to see a board-certified dermatologist to have them treated."
There is nothing you can do to prevent skin tags
While the unpredictability of skin tags might give off the impression that they're uncontrollable, this isn't entirely true. Laura Korb Ferris, MD, says that skin tags are more common in overweight or obese people, and are also associated with insulin resistance and diabetes. As such, maintaining a healthy weight may help reduce skin tag trouble. Basically, think of tags as a barometer of your health. If you live a poor lifestyle, eat a lot of saturated fats, consume too much sugar, and maintain an unhealthy BMI, your body could be alerting you there's a problem.
Skin tags occur in 'dirty' or unfit people
Sure, skin tags can look pretty gross. But while other skin conditions might be triggered by bad hygiene, that's not true here. Sonam Yadav, MD, tell us, "While obesity, PCOD, and diabetes (among other conditions) increase risk of tags, these are not related to hygiene and can occur even without these precursors–during pregnancy, in thyroid imbalance, or from wearing tightly fitted clothing."
Skin tags result from skin rubbing against skin
While it is true that skin tags often show up in the armpit or neck creases, the skin-on-skin friction is not what's to blame. Rather, it's the creases and skin folds that produce a friendly environment for a virus that may cause some skin tags. According to Ben Johnson, MD, founder of holistic beauty brand Osmosis Skincare, "Viruses are much more commonly spread through contact than people realize, but they don't find the skin an easy place to survive. Creases improve their chances, and on rare occasions, one makes it into the follicle and infects local skin DNA to create skin tags."
Skin tags are contagious
Nope: Don't cringe away from your friends or family affected with skin tags; they pose no threat to you whatsoever. Even though some skin tags may be caused by a virus (HPV), once the virus has embedded itself, it's not going anywhere. "Viruses land on your skin all the time and the virus itself is minimally contagious because the skin is not a great habitat on its own," notes Dr. Johnson. "It takes a special environment to give the virus a chance to infect our skin cell DNA. Once it has survived and embedded itself, the skin keeps it isolated so that the only result is the skin tag itself."
All growths that are sticking out are skin tags
Don't impulsively deem any protruding bump as a skin tag; after all, there is an overwhelming number of things it could be—moles and seborrheic keratoses can closely resemble skin tags. Even worse, it could be something that requires medical treatment such as genital warts (possible indication of a sexually transmitted disease). Some growths could also be an extension of glands on the skin, and they can get infected if you're poking at them at home. As a rule of thumb, if the tag is pigmented, see a dermatologist to get it evaluated. And here are 11 other skin mysteries you should know about.