Skin tags are small, soft, skin-coloured growths that hang off the skin and look a bit like warts.
They're very common, harmless, and can vary in colour and size – from a few millimetres up to 5cm (about 2 inches) wide.
Skin tags are usually found on the neck, armpits, around the groin, or under the breasts. They can also grow on the eyelids or under the folds of the buttocks.
Why skin tags occur
Skin tags are made of loose collagen fibres and blood vessels surrounded by skin. Collagen is a type of protein found throughout the body.
Pregnant women may also be more likely to develop skin tags as a result of changes in their hormone levels. Some people develop them for no apparent reason.
Skin tags tend to grow in the skin folds, where the skin rubs against itself, such as on the neck, armpits or groin. This is why they tend to affect overweight people who have excess folds of skin and skin chafing.
When skin tags can be a problem
Skin tags are harmless and don't usually cause pain or discomfort.
However, you may consider having skin tags removed if they're affecting your self-esteem, or if they snag on clothing or jewellery and bleed. You'll usually need to pay to have this done privately.
This is because skin tag removal is regarded as cosmetic surgery ↗, which is rarely available through the NHS. Cosmetic surgery is usually only available on the NHS if the problem is affecting your physical or mental health.
Sometimes, skin tags fall off on their own if the tissue has twisted and died from a lack of blood supply.
Removing skin tags
Don't try to remove a skin tag without speaking to your GP first. If you have a skin tag that's causing problems, consider making an appointment with a privately practising GP to have it removed.
Freezing or burning skin tags can cause irritation and temporary skin discoloration, and the skin tag may not fall off and further treatment may be needed.
Surgical removal has the advantage of removing the skin tag completely, but there is a risk of minor bleeding.
If your skin tag is small with a narrow base, your GP may suggest that you try to remove it yourself by:
- tying off the base of the skin tag with dental floss or cotton to cut off its blood supply and make it drop off (ligation)
- cutting it off with fine sterile scissors
Never attempt to remove large skin tags yourself because they'll bleed heavily.
Skin tag or wart?
Compared with warts, skin tags are:
- smooth and soft (warts tend to be rougher with an irregular surface)
- knobbly and hang off the skin (warts are usually slightly raised or flat)
- not contagious (warts spread very easily, so a sudden outbreak or cluster of growths is more likely to be warts)
Read more about warts ↗.