What is a skin tag?
Mole and Skin tags are common, acquired benign skin-colored growths that resemble a small, soft balloon suspended on a slender stalk. Skin tags are harmless growths that can vary in number from one to hundreds. Males and females are equally prone to developing skin tags. Obesity seems to be associated with skin tag development. Although some skin tags may fall off spontaneously, most persist once formed. The medical name for the skin tag is acrochordon. Some people call them “skin tabs.”
Early on, skin tags may be as small as a flattened pinhead-sized bump. While most tags typically are small (2 mm-5 mm in diameter) at approximately one-third to one-half the size of a pencil eraser, some skin tags may become as large as a big grape (1 cm in diameter) or a fig (5 cm in diameter).
Where do skin tags occur?
Skin tags can occur almost anywhere on the body covered by skin. However, the two most common areas for skin tags are the neck and armpits. Other common body areas for the development of skin tags include the eyelids, upper chest (particularly under the female breasts), buttock folds, and groin folds. Tags are typically thought to occur where skin rubs against itself or clothing. Babies who are plump may also develop skin tags in areas where skin rubs against skin, like the sides of the neck. Younger children may develop tags at the upper eyelid areas, often in areas where they may rub their eyes. Older children and preteens may develop tags in the underarm area from friction and repetitive skin rubbing from sports.
Skin tags typically occur in the following characteristic locations:
- The base of the neck
- Groin folds
- Buttock folds
- Under the breasts
Although tags are generally acquired (not present at birth) and may occur in anyone, more often they arise in adulthood.Source: Bigstock.
Who tends to get skin tags?
More than half if not all of the general population has been reported to have skin tags at some time in their lives. Although tags are generally acquired (not present at birth) and may occur in anyone, more often they arise in adulthood. They are much more common in middle age, and they tend to increase in prevalence up to age 60. Children and toddlers may also develop skin tags, particularly in the underarm and neck areas. Skin tags are more common in overweight people.
Hormone elevations, such as those seen during pregnancy, may cause an increase in the formation of skin tags, as skin tags are more frequent in pregnant women. Tags are essentially harmless and do not have to be treated unless they are bothersome. Skin tags that are bothersome may be easily removed during or after pregnancy, typically by a dermatologist.
Although skin tags are generally not associated with any other diseases, there seems to be a group of obese individuals who, along with many skin tags, develop a condition called acanthosis nigricans on the skin of their neck and armpits and are predisposed to have high blood fats and sugar.
Certain structures resemble skin tags but are not. Accessory tragus and an accessory digit occasionally can be confused with skin tags. Pathological examination with a biopsy of the tissue will help distinguish skin tags if there is any question as to the diagnosis.
removing a skin tag cause more to grow?
- Share Your Story
There is no evidence that removing a skin tag will cause more tags to grow. There is no expectation of causing skin tags to “seed” or spread by removing them. In reality, some people are simply more prone to developing skin tags and may have new growths periodically. Some individuals request periodic removal of tags at annual or even quarterly intervals.
Other skin growths that may look similar to a skin tag but not tag include moles (dermal nevus), nerve and fiber-type moles (neurofibromas), warts, and “barnacles” or the so-called “Rice Krispies” (seborrheic keratoses).Source: iStock.
Are skin tags contagious?
No. There is no evidence to suggest that common skin tags are contagious.
What else could it be?
While classic skin tags are typically very characteristic in appearance and occur in specific locations such as the underarms, necks, under breasts, eyelids and groin folds, there are tags that may occur in less obvious locations.
Other skin growths that may look similar to a skin tag but are not tags include moles (dermal nevus), nerve and fiber-type moles (neurofibromas), warts, and “barnacles” or the so-called “Rice Krispies” (seborrheic keratoses).
Warts tend to have a “warty” irregular surface whereas skin tags are usually smooth. Warts tend to be flat whereas tags are more like bumps hanging from thin stalk. While warts are almost entirely caused by human papilloma virus (HPV), tags are rarely associated with HPV.
Groin and genital skin lesions resembling skin tags may actually be genital warts or condyloma. A biopsy would help diagnose which of these growths are not skin tags. Very rarely, a basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, or malignant melanoma may mimic a skin tag, but this is very uncommon.
Skin tag vs. wart
While warts are caused by a virus called human papillomavirus (HPV) and are known to be very contagious, skin tags are not thought to be caused by HPV.
See pictures of skin tags and other viral skin diseasesSee Images
Under the microscope, there is a colored spherical tissue attached to a small stalk.Source: iStock, LWozniak & KWZielinski
What does a skin tag look like under a microscope?
Laboratory preparation of the tissue is required before looking at the skin tag under the microscope. The skin is stained with a stain called hematoxylin and eosin (“H&E”). Under the microscope, there is a colored spherical tissue attached to a small stalk. The purple outer layer (epidermis) overlies a pink core (dermis).
The outer layer of the skin (the epidermis) shows overgrowth of normal skin (hyperplasia), and it encloses an underlying layer of skin (the dermis) in which the normally present collagen fibers appear abnormally loose and swollen. Usually there are no hairs, moles, or other skin structures present in skin tags.
While the majority of skin tags are simply destroyed, sometimes tissue is sent for microscopic exam by a health care specialist known as a pathologist, who will determine the exact diagnosis and determine whether an abnormality such as skin cancer is present. Irregular skin growths that are larger, bleed, or have an unusual presentation may require pathology examination to make sure there are no irregular cells or skin cancers.
Some common skin conditions that can mimic skin tags include seborrheic keratoses, moles, warts, cysts, milia, neurofibromas, and nevus lipomatosus. Rarely, skin cancers like basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and malignant melanoma may mimic skin tags.