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9 Myths About Skin Tags You Need to Stop Believing

Yes they're mysterious little creatures and they can be pretty embarrassing during swimsuit season, but skin tags are mostly fine. Mostly.

Two skin tags on a person's skin.andriano.cz/Shutterstock

Skin tags are trouble

Skin tags, medically termed as acrochordons or fibroepithelial polyps (FEP), are just a tiny benign bit of flesh that is typically connected to the underlying skin by a thin stalk. On the exterior, they look like minuscule bits of “hanging” skin that are typically taller than wide. These growths are seen in approximately half of all people and can form for a variety of reasons. However, they turn up more often in pregnant women, people with diabetes, obese individuals, and those with a family history of skin tags. They are also more common as you age—and men and women are about equally likely to have them.

While they can appear anywhere, skin tags tend to appear where there is frequent friction, such as the neck, breasts, groin, and underarms. Ultimately, there is no evidence that skin tags will lead to any serious skin condition: They’re mostly an aesthetic annoyance. Regardless, most dermatologists encourage you to have them checked out (and removed if that is your preference). One study in the Indian Journal of Dermatology suggested that skin tags may be a sign of underlying heart issues, so that is another reason to have a skin tag (and your heart) checked.

Red image of cancerous cells beneath a microscope.Shebeko/Shutterstock

Skin tags are cancerous

Dermatologists say no: The tags are almost never cancerous and don’t need to be removed. In fact, they’re (almost!) always benign. And while many people opt to remove them due to discomfort or for cosmetic reasons, there is no harm in leaving them be. There are extremely rare exceptions to this rule, however. “There are rare cases where skin cancers, such as basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and even melanoma, can mimic a skin tag,” says Avnee Shah, MD, a dermatologist at the Derm Group, in Rutherford, NJ. “Going to a board-certified dermatologist assures a trained eye is examining the lesion and determining the risk of a more harmful condition masquerading as a skin tag.” To be safe, if any tag is growing, changing color, bleeding, or itching, it’s time to see an expert. Find out 6 surprising signs of disease your skin can reveal.

A woman getting skin tags removed by a dermatologist using a machine.Taras Atamaniv/Shutterstock

You can remove skin tags at home

Although skin tags are primarily a cosmetic problem, that doesn’t mean they’re not significant enough to consult a doctor. For starters, they can still bleed when they come off, so dermatologists stress never trying to cut or pull off a skin tag on your own. One theory on skin tag removal is that tying it off with dental floss will remove it—a bad idea, according to Tanya Kormeili, MD, a clinical professor of dermatology at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine in Los Angeles, CA. “This may remove the small ones, but some of the bigger ones have a larger blood supply and may become very painful as you strangulate the skin tag. They are easily removed in the office by a dermatologist.”

Most important, don’t take it upon yourself to decide that a growth is benign. At your dermatologist’s office, you’ll have a better shot at getting a solid read on what you have—and whether it’s a problem. And if you want the tag removed, most doctors will freeze it with liquid nitrogen (cryosurgery), cauterize it with an electric current (electrosurgery), or cut it with medical scissors (snip excision).

If you’re looking for beauty care you can do on your own, try one of these 9 dermatologist-approved DIY skin-care treatments.

Person's neck with skin tags.PRASAN MAKSAEN/Shutterstock

Removing a skin tag will cause more to grow

Thankfully, this is far from true. While many people worry that removing one will lead to more down the road, that’s not accurate. “One skin tag has nothing to do with another. Though removing one does not mean that you will never get another—as a doctor cannot prevent them from coming—it also does not equate to causing more to grow,” says Dr. Shah.

Man squeezing a dab of cream onto his finger.Dodokat/shutterstock

There are creams and OTC remedies to remove skin tags

As wonderful as it would be to have a Food and Drug Administration-approved magic lotion or potion that would eliminate these pesky spots, it unfortunately doesn’t exist yet. “This must be one of the most frequent myths I encounter,” says Dr. Shah. “There are currently products in the pipeline that may be helpful in topically removing benign growths in the future, but nothing at this moment. So if you’d like to get skin tags removed, it’s highly recommended to see a board-certified dermatologist to have them treated.” Here are 8 natural recipes for great skin.

Woman in a baseball cap walking on a treadmill at the gym.Andrii Kobryn/Shutterstock

There is nothing you can do to prevent skin tags

While the unpredictability of skin tags might give the impression that they’re uncontrollable, this isn’t entirely true. Laura Korb Ferris, MD, a dermatologist and associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh, PA, says that skin tags are more common in overweight or obese people and are also associated with insulin resistance and diabetes. As such, maintaining a healthy weight may help reduce skin tag trouble. Skin tags can be viewed as a barometer of your health. If you live an unhealthy lifestyle, your body could be alerting you to a problem.

White bar of soap with suds on it.sumire8/Shutterstock

Skin tags occur in ‘dirty’ or unfit people

Sure, skin tags can look pretty gross. But while other skin conditions might be triggered by bad hygiene, that’s not true here. Sonam Yadav, MD, a dermatologist in New Delhi, Delhi, India, tells us, “While obesity, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and diabetes (among other conditions) increase risk of tags, these are not related to hygiene and can occur even without these precursors–during pregnancy, in thyroid imbalance, or from wearing tightly fitted clothing.” Here are 8 surprising facts you should know about skin cancer.

Image of a microscope lens.freedarst/Shutterstock

Skin tags are contagious

Nope: There’s no need to stay away from your friends or family affected with skin tags; they pose no threat to you whatsoever. Here are the 37 worst pieces of advice dermatologists have heard.

Person sitting on a couch in a doctor's office as a doctor takes notes.BlurryMe/Shutterstock

All growths that are sticking out are skin tags

Don’t impulsively deem any protruding bump as a skin tag; after all, it could be many different things. Moles and seborrheic keratoses can closely resemble skin tags, for example. Even worse, it could be something that requires medical treatment such as genital warts (a possible indication of a sexually transmitted infection). Some growths could also be an extension of glands on the skin, and they can get infected if you poke at them. As a rule of thumb, if the tag is pigmented, see a dermatologist to get it evaluated. And here are 11 other skin mysteries you should know about.

Sources
  • Indian Journal of Dermatology: "The Evaluation of the Impact of Age, Skin Tags, Metabolic Syndrome, Body Mass Index, and Smoking on Homocysteine, Endothelin-1, High-sensitive C-reactive Protein, and on the Heart."
  • Avnee Shah, MD, dermatologist at the Derm Group, Rutherford, NJ.
  • Tanya Kormeili, MD, clinical professor of dermatology at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine, Los Angeles, CA.
  • Laura Korb Ferris, MD, dermatologist and associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA.
  • Sonam Yadav, MD, dermatologist, New Delhi, Delhi, India.

Medically reviewed by Jessica Wu, MD, on August 14, 2019