Skin tags are small and harmless irregularities that appear on the skin, usually tied to the rest of it only by a little stalk. They look like tiny parts of skin that appears to be hanging and are normally found in areas of friction. Typical areas are those where there is skin to skin rubbing or where clothes frequently rub on it, like on the groin, underarms, neck or upper chest.
In medical terms, a skin tag is named an acrochordon. Doctors sometimes use alternative names to designate them, such as fibroma pendulans, pedunculated fibroma, soft fibromas or fibroepithelial polyps (FEP). They can also be named soft warts, even if they are not related in any way to the normal warts.
Unlike other types of skin issues, the tags are never present since birth. The effects of friction build up in time, so elder people have a higher risk to develop them. About one quarter of all adults have skin tags and there seems to be a genetic cause as well, since they often affect entire families.
While both males and females can be affected by skin tags, some people have a higher risk of developing them. Older persons are a lot more likely to grow skin tags, as well as fat individuals or diabetes patients. Because of severe hormonal imbalances, women have a much higher risk to develop skin tags during pregnancy. However, nobody is immune and some people can have skin tags even if they appear to be perfectly healthy.
Areas where the skin rubs itself, like the groin, armpits or neck, are a lot more likely to develop skin tags. This is one of the main reasons why the risk is increased for obese people, who have a lot of extras skin and additional folds.
Skin tags can't become cancer and usually are not painful and don't cause any kind of trouble. They are still removed for cosmetic reasons or if they are located in sensitive locations, where they can start bleeding after repeated contacts with accessories or clothes. It is also possible for the thin tissue that supplies blood to a skin tag to become twisted, causing the tag to fall on its own.
In most cases, skin tags are the same color as the skin. People with very fair skin might have tags that appear to be slightly darker than the rest. Both their size and appearance is variable, from tiny to as big as a grape, with an irregular or smooth surface. When the skin tags are very small, they can be confused with other skin issues. However, bigger ones have the distinctive narrow stalk that unites them with the skin.
A skin tag can turn red or dark if the blood supply is reduced, usually because the stalk is twisted. Wounding a skin tag might result in serious bleeding. Otherwise, they are harmless and painful, without any known link to more dangerous diseases. It is only associated with acanthosis nigricans, a skin disease caused by diabetes. This proves that skin tags and diabetes might share a common cause, although the exact mechanism is not known yet.
Dermatologists, who are doctors specialized in treating the skin, have several options available to eliminate skin tags. All procedures are quite simple and don't require admission to a hospital. The skin tags can be simply cut off using a sharp tool, burnt with high voltage power (electro surgery) or frozen (cryosurgery).
Small skin tags have a low number of nervous terminations and can be removed without anesthetics. Larger one might require the area to be numbed in advance, using a local cream or injections with lidocaine and similar products.