What Are Skin Tags? And How to Remove Them

Welcome to our column A Doctor’s Opinion, in which we put your most pressing medical questions to our resident doctor, Jane Leonard, MD, a general practitioner and cosmetic doctor based in London. This month, Dr. Leonard tackles the subject of skin tags.

First things first, you might be wondering what, exactly, skin tags are. In fact, skin tags are common and harmless skin lesions. They're small, soft, fleshy growths that vary in shape and hang off the skin. They're typically 1 to 5 centimetres in size, and they can develop anywhere on the skin, including the neck, armpits, groin and eyelids.

What are skin tags made of?

Skin tags are made of loose collagen fibres and blood capillaries, and they can easily mistaken for a wart. The main visual difference is that warts have a rough and irregular shape, whereas skin tags are typically smooth and project further from the skin.

Who gets skin tags?

Skin tags are equally as common in men and women. Skin tags are more common in older people, pregnant women, obese people (due to skin on skin contact in folds of excess skin) and people with type 2 diabetes.

Are skin tags dangerous?

No, skin tags are completely harmless, benign skin lesions. However, they can cause trauma. They project from the skin's surface so they can catch on clothes and jewellery. This can be a painful and recurrent occurrence. Skin tags can also look unsightly, which can affect self-confidence and self-esteem.

How to treat skin tags

With any skin lesion, the first and most important step is to confirm the diagnosis. In most cases, skin tags are easily diagnosed by your GP. However, not every skin lesion looks and behaves in a textbook way, so your GP may want to refer to dermatology to confirm the diagnosis before action is taken. Skin tags can be managed by your GP and removed under the NHS, or your may prefer to get them removed privately; this is more costly but quicker.

How are skin tags removed?

Skin tags can frozen using cryotherapy or burnt off with thermal energy using a laser or similar device. Larger skin tags may need local anaesthetic and removed surgically.

The Bottom Line

■ Skin tags are benign fleshy growths of skin.

■ They typically occur on eyelids, underarm area and groin.

■ Trauma by catching on clothes is the main problem.

■ Skin tags also have a cosmetic impact by affecting self-confidence.

Next up, how to get rid of a pesky cough.