Skin Tags (Acrochordon)

By:    Published: November 3, 2011

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Have you ever noticed any tiny, wrinkled skin growths around various areas of your body? These skin-colored and shriveled fragments of flesh are called arochordon, but are commonly known as skin tags or skin tabs. Skin tags typically form around the neck, groin, armpits, eyelids and other areas where the skin folds. While skin tags aren't considered life-threatening, many people find them to be a nuisance for cosmetic reasons, or because the skin tag itself may cause irritation and general discomfort.

What is a Skin Tag?

A skin tag is classified as a benign skin growth, or tumor, meaning it is harmless and noncancerous. These growths affect many people and are characterized as being tiny protrusions on a person's skin, and usually form after midlife, although some people may experience them during their childhood. Physicians commonly diagnose patients with skin tags through their appearance alone, but in some cases, a biopsy may be needed for further diagnosis if there are abnormalities surrounding the skin tag, like a skin tag that is unusual in appearance or size.

What Causes Skin Tags to Form

Many believe that skin tags form due to constant rubbing or friction between two areas of skin on the body, which is why they tend to appear in areas where the skin folds. Since those who are overweight or are suffering from obesity tend to have more skin folds and increased skin-on-skin contact, they are more likely to suffer from skin tags. Here is a list of those who are likely to have skin tags:

  • People who are past midlife (Ages 60 and up)
  • People who are overweight or obese
  • Pregnant women due to the hormonal changes that occur
  • Anyone with family members who also suffer from skin tags

While skin tags may slightly resemble warts, causing people to fear they are contagious, there is no evidence that might suggest a skin tag can be spread from person to person.

Treatments for Skin Tags

Since skin tags are considered harmless, they can be left untreated. However, some people may wish to remove a skin tag due to cosmetic reasons, especially if it is in a noticeable area like on the cheek or a person's eyelid. Another reason a person might wish to seek treatment for skin tags is if they cause pain or irritation, especially when located in areas that constantly rub against the skin. Skin tags on the neck, for example, may constantly rub on shirt colors, leading to pain and irritation. Skin tags can also get caught on jewelry, seat belts and zippers, which can also lead to further pain and discomfort. Common treatment methods include:

  • Surgical removal
  • Freezing the skin tag with liquid nitrogen (cryotherapy)
  • Electrically burning off the skin tag (cautery)

There are also home treatments that can be performed, but come with a risk of complications like excessive bleeding or infection. Home treatments include:

  • Numbing the skin tag with ice and cutting with a knife or scissors
  • Tie a piece of dental floss or string around the base of the skin tag for several days, causing the skin tag to fall off
  • Tugging or pulling on the skin tag, which may be painful and may cause the affected area to bleed excessively

Often times, a skin tag may fall from the skin on its own without a person even noticing it. To avoid complications, those who wish to have their skin tags removed should visit their physician, dermatologist or skin specialist to have the skin tags professionally removed.

Complications Caused by Skin Tags

Aside from being caught in clothing, jewelry or any other objects that might come in contact with the skin, skin tags may lead to other complications that would require their removal. However, these complications are typically not considered life-threatening and skin tag removal is at the discretion of the physician or the patient's preference. These complications can include:

  • Skin tag bleeding and irritation, resulting in red coloration and more pain in the affected area
  • A dark or even black skin tag where the skin tissue dies (necrosis) due to twisting and pinching.

Skin tags may also form in unusual areas, like on the scrotum or on a person's nipple, where the skin does not fold. This can be caused by constant irritation and friction that may be caused by something like undergarments.

Bottom Line

Skin tags should be considered nothing more than a mild nuisance, and are not life-threatening in almost all cases. However, people may opt for skin tag removal for cosmetic reasons or to alleviate discomfort. Those who experience any complications caused by skin tags should consult their physician for further evaluation.

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