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What Are Skin Tags, & What Should You Do When You Have the Urge to Remove One?

Many of us are born with and live all our lives with a million little freckles, moles, and birthmarks that we don’t even notice. Other times, there are spots on your skin that are more prominent and might cause you to be concerned if you don’t know exactly what they are.

There’s a chance that some of the spots on your skin are skin tags, which are benign growths on the skin that might be the same color or darker than your skin, a pinkish, red, or brown color. They can appear on people of any skin tone, according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association.

Some skin tags may look smaller and appear closer to the skin, where others might hang off the skin and be even more tempting to remove yourself. Is it safe to remove skin tags at home though? We spoke to a dermatologist to find out more about skin tags, what causes them, and what to do when you want to get rid of them.

What is the cause of skin tags?

Genetics might be a factor in skin tags, especially if you have family members who have them. Hormonal changes can also play a role in the development of skin tags, explains Dr. Hadley King, board-certified dermatologist specializing in medical and cosmetic dermatology. 

People are not always born with skin tags — they often form of a period of time. One theory behind skin tag development is friction against certain parts of the skin, according to King.  They can develop in spots where skin is rubbing up against jewelry, clothing, or other areas of skin, so it’s common to see skin tags on the neck (right where you’d wear a necklace), on the eyelids, or beneath the breasts. Skin tags might be more likely to develop on a body with more loose skin or even during pregnancy, per the American Academy of Dermatology Association.

Skin tags themselves are not dangerous and do not cause skin cancer, so you technically don’t really need to do anything about them. That said, you should keep tabs on different spots on your skin to make sure they do not get larger or look oddly shaped to avoid missing an instance of melanoma. That involves knowing the difference between skin tags and moles, though.

Skin tags vs. moles

It can be easy to mistake a mole for a skin tag, but they are made of different cells (skin tags are mostly tissue and fat, while moles are made from melanocytes, the cells that create the level of melanin, or pigment, in the skin). When you’re checking your skin, note that moles will look like dome-shaped lesions, King says. Moles will often be much larger than skin tags and don’t stick out from the skin like a skin tag would.

You can find moles anywhere on the body, which is why you should be extra careful when screening for any that look like they could develop into skin cancer. Skin tags will typically appear in the parts of the skin where lots of friction takes place.

While skin tags are not dangerous, if they cause you any pain, irritation, or appear on your eyelids and bother your eyes or vision, it’s smart to look into getting them removed.

What is the best way to remove skin tags?

Before you take any skin tag removal into your own hands, note King’s advice: “It’s important to remember that your skin is the largest organ on your body; you should have a professional verify the diagnosis before taking any next steps.”

Sure, there are plenty over-the-counter skin tag removal products that may seem like a simple solution to pick up at the pharmacy, but King cautions against these, as they could irritate skin. “Skin tags often occur in areas of delicate skin (armpits, groin, neck, under the breasts)–this softer skin is more susceptible to poor reactions to any product that contains harsh chemicals, like acids for example,” says King.

The other issue with at-home skin tag removal is the possibility of misdiagnosis. King shares that patients have mistaken moles or even genital warts as skin tags, both of which can’t be safely removed by a patient. Your best bet is to visit your dermatologist. “In the office, small skin tags can quickly be burned or frozen off. Larger skin tags may need to be cut off,” King explains.

Not sure what a new spot on your skin is? Book an appointment with your dermatologist (some derms might check it out via telehealth first) and find out more before you do anything else.

In the market for some new skincare products after this? Here’s our favorite skincare for teens:

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