Skin Tags: What Are They, and Should You Be Worried if You Have Them?
According to Live Science, a skin tag is basically just a skin growth that can be smooth or irregular. It may attach to the skin by a stalk. But Katy Burris, MD, an assistant professor of dermatology at Columbia University and board- certified dermatologist practicing at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, puts it simply: â€œA skin tag is a soft growth of normal skin that appears like a small tag. They tend to appear in areas of high friction, where skin may rub clothing or other skin.â€
This was exactly what I was experiencing: tiny skin growths that were appearing in an area where, um, skin rubbed against other skin and against clothing. They were flesh colored. They looked like the skin around them, just like little abnormal pouches or tags coming off it.
And I was getting them exactly where I was expected to. Michele Farber, MD, of Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City, says they can happen anywhere, but â€œthey are normally on the neck, underarms, [and] underneath the breasts and the groin folds.â€ Cynthia Abbott, MD, who works with Dermatology Affiliates in Marietta, Georgia, says that while â€œskin tags are an outgrowth of skin most commonly occurring due to constant rubbing and irritation,â€ that they â€œcan form anywhere, but the waistline, underarms, groin, neck, and other areas of friction with necklaces and clothes are the most common locations.â€
What Else You Should Know About Skin Tags
I had all the symptoms of hypothyroidism at the time I noticed my skin tags; I was diagnosed several years later, after the birth of my first son. By that point, my thyroid was quite large and had several nodules. Luckily, none of them were cancerous.
And speaking of cancer, itâ€™s generally not something you need to worry about with regular old skin tags. Dr. Farber says that, â€œIf anything changes quickly, is unusually painful, or concerns you, itâ€™s worth getting it examined to confirm itâ€™s a benign skin tag â€¦. Skin tags tend to grow very slowly. Any growth that changes quickly is a reason to get examined by a dermatologist.â€
Susan Besser, MD, a family medicine specialist with Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, says that if skin tags â€œget large, change color, or become infected or ulcerated, you need to see your doctor. In those cases, it may not be a simple skin tag and further evaluation is needed.â€ By and large, Todd Minars, MD, of MINARS Dermatology in Hollywood, Florida, states, â€œSkin tags are harmless. If they do not bother you, then there is no need to treat them.â€
But that doesnâ€™t mean you should completely ignore skin tags. David Lorschter, MD, founder of Curology and a board-certified dermatologist in San Diego, notes there are exceptions. He says people with a genetic disorder called basal cell nevus system (BCNS) usually exhibit spots of basal cell skin cancer that look like â€” you guessed it â€” skin tags. Therefore, people with BCNS should have their skin tags biopsied and screened for cancer on a regular basis.
Not to mention, your skin tags may not be skin tags at all. They could be genital warts, as their appearance is similar to skin tags, as shown from pictures on the American Academy of Dermatology website. Your best bet? Visit a certified dermatologist, like I did, to determine a diagnosis and find out the best treatment for your condition.
Making Peace With My Skin Tags
My skin tags, of course â€” like the skin tags of millions of people â€” were fine. They didnâ€™t irritate or bother me, though some doctors mentioned them getting twisted in necklace or irritated by rubbing on clothing. When that happens, or for cosmetic reasons, skin tags are easily removed. â€œThere are several methods of removal â€” clip them with sharp scissors; freeze them with liquid nitrogen; or burn them off with heat,â€ meaning cauterize them, Dr. Besser says. (All of this should be performed by a medical professional, not at home.)
But not on my genitals, thank you. Theyâ€™re not bothering me any.
Some doctors said skin tags wouldnâ€™t grow. Some told me they would keep growing. Most of them said they would increase in frequency as a person ages, and sure enough, what did I find over my eyelid the other day â€” a tiny little skin tag, just where the lid rubs against my brow. For cosmetic reasons, Iâ€™d consider getting that one removed, though the thought of liquid nitrogen on that thin skin makes me shudder, as do the aesthetics of a giant Band-Aid on my face for days.
But skin tags are generally benign, so Iâ€™ll probably just live with it. The same way I live with the ones on my genitals â€” a story I can now look back on and laugh at. Skin tags. I thought Iâ€™d contracted some disease as yet unknown to science, but really, I had skin tags. No wonder that poor ob-gyn almost laughed me out of the stirrups. Because if thereâ€™s one things thatâ€™s true, itâ€™s that about half of us have skin tags â€” whether you can see them or not.
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