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What Are Skin Tags?

Hate Your Skin Tags? Here's What You Can Do About It

Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography

There are a few beauty woes that are just unavoidable, no matter how sincere your efforts are to bypass them. Rain will ruin your hair at least once. You'll smudge your lipstick. And, at some point, your epidermis will sprout a skin tag. We consulted Manhattan dermatologist Dr. Neal Schultz, host of DermTV.com and creator of BeautyRx by Dr. Schultz. He gave us the scoop on what these bothersome bumps are, what causes them, and (if you must!) how to get rid of them yourself.

When dealing with a complexion issue, it's important to know what you're up against. First, make sure what you're looking at is actually a skin tag. Unlike moles, which are usually pink to brown in colour and feature symmetrical borders, skin tags are more oddly shaped and tend to match your complexion's shade.

"They grow out from your body, but vertically," Dr. Schultz stated. The benign tumours are comprised of epidermis and a little bit of dermis — the two upper layers of skin. "Their height is usually much greater than their width. Sometimes they have a very narrow stalk so they are virtually hanging off by a thread," he explained.

When I asked Dr. Schultz what causes these pesky spots, he told me that this remains unknown. "To a certain extent, they are hereditary and tend to occur in certain characteristic places, where skin folds on skin," he said. Skin tags frequently crop up under the arms and where the legs meet the body. "They seem to occur more often in people that are overweight," the doctor added.

However, if your skin tags are darker than your complexion, you may be dealing with dermatosis papulosa nigra, or DPN, a raised skin lesion that is commonly seen on complexions of those of Hispanic, Asian, or African descent. Dr. Schultz said that these tend to occur around eyes and on the cheekbones. "They look similar [to skin tags] but are not the same." These benign tumours come from keratinocytes, the cells that are responsible for producing skin pigment.

Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Benjamin Stone

If you were concerned that these skin conditions were a sign of cancer or another ailment, relax. Neither DPN nor skin tags are an indication of any health risks. "They're not dangerous," declared Dr. Schultz. "Just annoying and inconvenient."

Despite being innocuous, you might find your skin tags to be unsightly. If that's the case, a dermatologist can remove them fairly easily. Dr. Schultz prefers to use the tip of a very fine pair of scissors to snip a skin tag off at the base. Other options include using an electric needle to cauterise the skin or freezing off the tumour, which he particularly doesn't recommend.

"Freezing is so imprecise that it tends to affect the skin around the skin tag," he explained. And it's this imprecision that disturbs him when patients try to remove these bumps themselves.

"While it doesn't take eight years of medical education to remove a skin tag, there are certain basic principles that have to be observed," Dr. Schultz cautioned, citing using sterile tools and completely disinfecting your skin as essential.

While we don't recommend taking off your own skin tags, if you feel that you must, Dr. Schultz declared that the most sensible method is to use a tight piece of string. We advise consulting with your doctor beforehand, then proceeding with caution!

Use a sterile piece of gauze and isopropyl alcohol to thoroughly cleanse the area and a length of thread. After looping the string around the very base of the skin tag, double knot it so it is very tight, cutting off the blood supply to the skin tag. Finish your DIY dermatological procedure by trimming the ends of the threads with a disinfected pair of scissors, so the string doesn't catch on anything.

Patience is key! Once you've tied the string, do not touch the skin tag except to dab it with a bit of alcohol. After a few days to a week, the tiny tumour should fall off on its own. When this happens, be sure to nourish the small wound with a bit of antibacterial ointment, keeping it covered with a bandage until the area has healed — that way you won't leave a scar.

The doctor is particularly against most of the over-the-counter medications available for removing skin tags. When people apply these caustic formulas at home, many get more of the product on the surrounding area than the actual tumour itself, which can lead to blistering and scarring.

A skin tag is harmless and practically invisible to others, so if you don't think you can remove it safely, don't risk it. In the end, you could make a blemish more noticeable (and painful!) than that tiny little bump.

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