If you've never experienced a skin tag, lucky you. These little fleshy lumps (or acrochordons to give them their medical name) can pop up when you least expect it, and even if you're not bothered with them on an aesthetic level, they do have the tendency to rub up against your clothes or jewellery, causing discomfort.
We asked aesthetic doctor and founder of The Lovely Clinic Sarah Tonks to weigh in on the matter and to fill us in on the best course of action when it comes to skin tag removal.
What is a skin tag and what causes them?
A skin tag is a small growth of skin or flap of tissue that sticks out above the surface of the skin. They tend to simply be the same colour as your skin tone (i.e., they're not red like a spot, nor are they brown like a mole) and are usually fairly small, around a few millimetres in diameter, but they can grow larger. Oh, and they can pop up anywhere on the body.
The worst part is that the medical world seems to still be clueless on the matter. "Nobody knows what forms skin tags," explains Tonks. "Sometimes rubbing on clothes can, sometimes they can be linked to human papillomavirus or hormone fluctuations and they are very common amongst those with insulin metabolism issues like diabetes and metabolic syndrome."
So can you prevent them?
There's no good news here, either, unfortunately. "You can't really prevent them, but it could be worth looking at your insulin metabolism, which would be beneficial for you as a whole, as it could show up a metabolic syndrome that you didn't know about." Apart from that, you've just gotta sit back and hope one of the buggers doesn't rear its head one day.
How do you remove a skin tag?
If you've found a skin tag, your best bet is to book in to see your GP to have it checked over. They're harmless, so you needn't have them removed, but if they're really bothering you, your GP can talk to you about the skin tag removal options available, although it might not be offered by the NHS.
"The process is very quick," Tonks says (finally some good news). "And you can either have them lasered, frozen or cut off." Sounds pretty painful right? Actually, not really. "The laser is like a sharp nip, freezing obviously just feels very cold and cutting them off is just a sharp feeling for a second." In fact, it's no more painful than having your ears pierced.
In the case of cryotherapy (freezing), often it takes a fair few sessions, and the skin tags sometimes return, so most dermatologists would recommend the cutting technique, as it can be done under local anaesthetic and has pretty efficacious results.
If you can't be treated by the NHS, procedures tend to be available at most dermatologist practices, but be sure to read reviews and check out their credentials, and always book a consultation before any skin tag removal procedure first to make sure you're happy with their service.
Can you remove skin tags at home?
Search "skin tag removal at home" and you'll definitely come across loads of tutorials and kits to take matters into your own hands, but it comes with a warning. "I wouldn't recommend removing skin tags yourself, as sometimes you'll need to check the histology if the lesion is suspicious," explains Tonks, further emphasising the importance of consulting your doctor first. It's also pretty dangerous to try cutting them off yourself, as this can lead to serious infection and/or scarring.
Some experts would recommend more natural, traditional therapies, such as soaking the skin tag with apple cider vinegar, tea tree oil or crushed garlic, but the efficacy is still a little dubious.