Skin Tags: Discover Their Causes and How to Get Rid of Them

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skin tag

Story at-a-glance -

  • Skin tags (acrochordons) are small, noncancerous (benign) growths that usually measure only a few millimeters in length, though they can grow up to half an inch
  • Experts don’t know the exact cause of skin tags, but they believe that these growths appear when skin rubs against skin

Your skin is the heaviest organ in the body and takes up about 16% of your total weight.1 It serves many purposes, such as protecting your internal organs from microbes and environmental heat, as well as regulating body temperature.2 But due to its size and breadth, there’s a chance that growths can unexpectedly form. One common example found among adults is skin tags.

What Are Skin Tags?

Skin tags (acrochordons) are small, noncancerous (benign) growths that usually measure only a few millimeters in length, though they can grow up to half an inch.3 They typically appear on the neck, armpit, eyelids or inframammary (beneath the breast) areas.4 Almost half of the population has been reported to have a skin tag, but the condition is more associated with obese people.5 Skin tags are rare during childhood, but very common among older people.6

While harmless, skin tags can affect your quality of life.7 For example, if a skin tag grows on your eyelid, you may want to have it removed for cosmetic reasons. A skin tag may also cause friction in your clothing, which can lead to skin irritation and bleeding.8

What Causes Skin Tags?

According to Live Science, experts don’t know the exact cause of skin tags, but they believe that these growths appear when skin rubs against skin. As such, skin tags are often found in armpits, or on the neck and groin.9 In other cases, your skin tag may be confused with a condition known as the Birt-Hogg-Dube (BHD) syndrome, a condition that produces growths on the skin that look exactly like  skin tags.10

The cause of BHD syndrome is a mutation in your FLCN gene that produces folliculin, which is a tumor-suppressing protein. Eventually, the mutation causes “multiple fibrofolliculomas and trichodiscomas that may be indistinguishable from skin tags.”11

To be clear, topical growths caused by BHD syndrome are not skin tags — they only look very similar. The cause of regular skin tags is still unknown. Other risk factors can influence the appearance skin tags, namely:12

Gender — Women are more likely to develop skin tags compared to men.

Age — Skin tags are more commonly found in middle-aged and elderly citizens.

Weight — Overweight and obese people have a higher chance of developing skin tags.

Lifestyle — One study notes that skin tags may signify metabolic syndrome.13

If you discover any unusual growths on your skin, don’t immediately assume it’s a skin tag, as it could indicate a more severe condition. Visit a doctor before doing anything else.

How to Get Rid of Skin Tags

Oftentimes, skin tags aren’t actually removed. Since they don’t affect your health, there’s no need to remove them unless you really want to. The only exception to this rule is during childhood. If a skin tag grows on a child, it could indicate a presenting sign of nevoid basal cell carcinoma, a rare genetic condition linked to skin cancer.14

If you do happen to have a skin tag that you want removed, but you’re not confident removing it on your own, you can visit a dermatologist who will employ one of three different methods:15

Manual — A scalpel will be used to remove the skin tag.

Cryosurgery — The skin tag will be frozen to help facilitate easy removal.

Electrosurgery — A device with an electric current will safely burn away the skin tag.

If circumstances don’t permit you visiting a doctor, it’s possible to remove skin tags on your own. Here are three ways you can try to help remove skin tags manually at home:

String — Follow this simple procedure that you can do at home:1616

Get a thin string, such as a dental floss. Clean the skin, string and hands to prevent infection.

Tie off the base of the skin tag to cut off blood supply.

The skin tag should fall off after a few days.

Onion juice and salt — To use onion juice and salt, follow these steps:17

Chop an onion and cover it with salt.

Leave the mixture overnight.

Squeeze out the juice and apply it to the skin tag three times a day until the skin tag disappears.

Iodine — If you have iodine at home, you can use it to remove skin tags:18

Spread coconut oil on the skin tag.

Pour iodine on a cotton bud and spread it across the skin tag.

Cover with a bandage until the iodine dries.

Repeat the procedure twice a day.

Essential Oils for Skin Tags: Tea Tree, Oregano and Helichrysum Oils

Essential oils contain anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties that may help remove skin tags naturally. One solution that’s becoming popular is the use of tea tree oil, which is a potent product derived from the Melaleuca alternifolia tree from Australia.19

This plant has been studied extensively, with research pointing out that it can help fight bacteria,20 fungi21 and viruses.22 Furthermore, other experts note that tea tree oil contains anti-inflammatory properties.23,24,25 To use tea tree oil for skin tags, follow these steps:

Pour a few drops of the diluted essential oil on a cotton ball.

Place the cotton ball on the skin tag and secure with medical bandage.

Leave it on your skin for 10 minutes, repeating the procedure thrice a day until the growth falls off.

It’s important to note that you should never use tea tree oil on skin tags around your eyes.26 Two other essential oils that may be effective against skin tags include:

Oregano oil27

Thoroughly mix three drops of oregano oil in one-half teaspoon of carrier oil.

Pour a few drops of the mixture on a bandage or gauze.

Leave it on the skin tag for several hours or overnight.

Helichrysum oil28

Mix four drops of helichrysum oil, four drops of oregano oil and 1 ounce of carrier oil in a container.

Rub the mixture to the skin tag using your fingertips or a soft cloth.

Using Apple Cider Vinegar for Skin Tags

Another popular home remedy for removing skin tags is apple cider vinegar (ACV), a product made by fermenting the sugar in the fruit until it turns into acetic acid.29 The method of application is the same as for tea tree oil:

Put a few drops of ACV on a cotton ball and bandage it to the skin tag.

Repeat three times a day until it falls off.

Note: Do not use around the eyes as it can cause irritation. If other allergic reactions appear, stop using the vinegar and look for other natural alternatives.30

If You Do Choose to Remove Skin Tags, Remember to Prioritize Your Safety

If you notice a growth on your skin, don’t assume it’s a skin tag right away. Check with a doctor first, as it can signify a more severe condition. If the growth is confirmed to be a skin tag and you want to remove it manually, sterilize your tools and check for any allergic reactions first, particularly if applying essential oils. If home remedies don’t work, you may visit a dermatologist as a last resort.

Frequently Asked Questions About Skin Tags

Q: What is the difference between a skin tag versus warts?

A: Warts have a rougher appearance, while skin tags have a smoother look. Furthermore, warts are often flat while skin tags look like a bump.31

Q: Can you cut off skin tags?

A: Yes, it’s possible to do it on your own. One method is by tying off the base of the tag to stop blood flow, causing it to fall off. Before trying it on your own, however, consult with your doctor as they may recommend a safer method for you.32

Q: Are skin tags cancerous?

A: No, skin tags are only benign growths on your skin.33

Q: How do skin tags form?

A: Friction is often cited as the source of skin tags, when one part of the skin rubs against another location. They are often found in people who are overweight or obese.34