How do I get rid of skin tags?

Skin tags become increasingly common with age, but are these small growths anything to worry about? This is what you need to know.

Often, they look like warts and they commonly appear in folds of the skin – perhaps in the armpits, groin, neck or eyelids.

But skin tags aren’t warts. They are small, soft growths that are connected to skin by a thin stalk.

What are skin tags?

Skin tags are often only a few millimetres across, and may be smooth and round or sometimes appear to be wrinkly and uneven.

Most often they are the same colour as your skin, but they can also be darker.

“They are common skin growths and they can be small but may also grow to over 10mm,” explains Dr Jo-Ann See, of The Australasian College of Dermatologists.

“Skin tags are soft to the touch and some resemble rice grains or a small piece of string. They are simply excess skin growths and are not cancerous.”

What causes skin tags?

Skin tags most often appear as we get older and become more common after the age of 40.

The exact cause is unknown but can be a combination of lifestyle and genetic causes.

Skin tags can occur in women during pregnancy, perhaps due to pregnancy hormones and weight gain, but often disappear after a baby arrives.

They can also be more common in men and women who are overweight, Dr See says.

“Multiple skin tags are associated with insulin resistance, a high body mass index and high triglycerides – an unhealthy type of fat found in the blood,” she explains.

Research has found that skin tags can be a potential warning sign of insulin resistance – where the body doesn’t use insulin effectively to transfer glucose from the blood into cells to be used as energy.

Insulin resistance also increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Can skin tags be prevented?

While maintaining a healthy weight may help, generally skin tags can’t be prevented, Dr See says.

“They can be part of ageing and while weight management may help some people avoid skin tags, thinner people can get them, too,” she says.

Do skin tags needs to be treated?

While skin tags are harmless, they can rub and be an irritation. Constant rubbing can also cause skin tags to bleed, says Dr See.

“Because they are harmless and usually don’t cause any pain, in most cases skin tags don’t require treatment,” she says.

“Usually, people want them removed because they run on a collar or necklace or perhaps they rub when people exercise. If they occur on the face, people may also want them removed because they believe they are unsightly.”

Treatment options for skin tags

While skin tags are attached to skin via a thin stalk, simply cutting off the tag isn’t recommended because it contains a blood vessel and so it will bleed… and bleed.

Instead, see a GP or dermatologist to discuss treatment options.

Cryotherapy is a simple and effective treatment method, similar to that used to treat and remove warts.

“Small skin tags can be frozen with liquid nitrogen,” Dr See says.

“Electrosurgery may also be recommended and this involves burning off the skin tag with high-frequency electrical energy.”

A skin tag can also be removed by a GP or dermatologist using scissors or a scalpel with heat then used to cauterise and seal the blood vessel.

Old-fashioned home solutions include tying cotton or dental floss around the skin tag stalk to interrupt the blood supply so it shrivels, dies and falls off. But that can take days or weeks and be quite painful, Dr See says.

Once a skin tag is removed from a particular spot, it is unlikely to return.

Read more on skin issues:

Written by Sarah Marinos, March 2021. Updated by Erin Miller, June 2024. 

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