Skin tags can pop up on your body when you least expect it — and if you're freaked out by them, you're not alone. Many folks worry about whether they are a sign of a more serious health issue. Rest assured, skin tags are non-cancerous and super common. It's estimated that at least 25 percent of all people will get a skin tag at some point.
A skin tag is a narrow stalk of skin that bulges at the end, according to the Cleveland Clinic, creating a benign, flesh-colored growth. Skin tags typically appear in areas of the skin that rub together a lot, such as the neck and armpit and are more likely to pop up as people age. They're very common in folks 60 and older, according to Harvard Medical School, but can appear in anyone of any age.
Their exact cause is unknown, but there are several theories according to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. Some experts think friction to the skin — which often happens in body folds — plays a role in its formation. Others suspect the tendency to develop skin tags is genetic, while others believe they are simply normal a part of the aging process.
But whatever the reason for a skin tag, it's worth keeping in mind that they're totally harmless. They can still be quite annoying though, especially if you have one that keeps getting caught on jewelry or one that gets irritated by rubbing up against clothing. They can even be a bit painful if they get twisted on themselves.
Currently, there is no known way to prevent skin tags. Unless you choose to have them removed by a dermatologist, you're pretty much stuck with them. Note: Dermatologists do not recommend treating skin tags at home, whether by squeezing, slicing, or even over-the-counter creams.
"Trying to take care of it on your own means you’re self-diagnosing," says dermatologist Pamela Ng, MD, in an interview with Cleveland Clinic Health Essentials. You might be treating something inappropriate, like a skin cancer or a mole. Let a doctor diagnose it before you try anything at home."
If you do choose to get your skin tag professionally removed, you have a few choices on how to go about it. More often than not, dermatologists will simply numb the area and snip off the tag. But some dermatologists offer a freezing treatment, which will cause the skin tag to fall off in about two weeks' time. An alternate option is a surgical procedure of drying out the tissue. Have a chat with your dermatologist about the best choice for you before moving forward.
And as always, talk to your doctor ASAP if a suspected skin tag changes color, causes you pain unexpectedly, or seems suspicious in any other way.