What are those bits of hanging skin on your body? And how do you get rid of them?
Skin tags tend to crop up when you reach your 40s. While relatively harmless, having a lot can indicate problems like diabetes or a hormonal imbalance.
There are a few reminders that you’re getting on with age. Some, like weight gain, can be pretty obvious. But there are other signs that people might easily overlook – like those small pieces of soft, hanging skin on one’s body.
There’s actually a name for them: Skin tags. They tend to crop up when men and women reach their 40s, when the middle-age spread occurs, creating excess skin folds and increased chafing.
“This is why they tend to affect overweight people,” said Dr Lynn Chiam, a dermatologist at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital’s Children & Adult Skin Hair Laser Clinic.
WHAT EXACTLY ARE SKIN TAGS?
These skin tags are attached to the body by stalks called peduncles. They can also be smooth and round, or wrinkly and uneven, added Dr Chiam. “They can be flesh coloured or darker, sometimes dark blue. Some can look like warts.”
Skin tags typically resemble rice grains and are usually less than 2mm in size, but some can grow to 1cm or even 5cm wide. If they do increase in size, that can take many months.
And where are they usually found? Primarily in areas where the skin rubs against itself, including the neck, armpits, groin, under the breasts and folds of the buttocks, and can even grow on the eyelids, she added.
Dr Heng Jun Khee, associate consultant with the National Skin Centre, a member of the National Healthcare Group, agrees that skin irritation or friction may play a part in creating skin tags.
“Studies have also shown an inherited susceptibility. Other factors include high levels of growth hormones and insulin resistance,” she said, which may explain why pregnant women and diabetics are more prone to skin tags.
Another link could be the human papillomavirus or HPV and certain strains can cause cervical cancer. In a study done on 49 patients, 88 per cent of the biopsied skin tags were found to have the virus. However, experts say that the tags are harmless and not contagious, and that there isn’t a need to remove them.
SHOULD YOU PULL THEM OFF?
What these fleshy bits are, are actually clusters of collagen and blood vessels trapped inside thicker pieces of skin, said Dr Chiam. So, it’s probably not a good idea to yank or cut them off yourself.
“It will be painful and will cause bleeding. There is also a risk of infection,” added Dr Heng.
Fortunately, skin tags are benign. However, having numerous skin tags can be an indication of a systemic internal imbalance such as diabetes or hormonal imbalance, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.
It is a good idea to consult your doctor even if you aren’t bothered by them aesthetically, although for some, they can hurt, itch or bleed when caught on accessories or clothes.
What about home remedies such as tying a string around the skin tag and leaving it on until the tag drops off? Or how about applying tea tree oil, apple cider vinegar or even the bizarre – bandaging it with banana peel?
The string method may work but “it is not advisable to do so as there is a risk of treatment failure, infection, bleeding and pain,” said Dr Heng.
As for the other remedies? They are largely “ineffective and may cause scarring and hyperpigmentation instead,” she said. “Skin tags rarely recur on the same spot if properly removed.”
Over-the-counter remedies that can be found online may not be effective either, said Dr Chiam. While the product may remove the tag, it “may not eradicate the stalk completely and the skin tag can grow again”.
“Never attempt to remove large skin tags at home as they may bleed profusely and may get infected,” she said.
Even if your facialist or beautician offers to remove the tags for you, it’s best to let your general practitioner or specialist do the job as there can be a risk of prolonged bleeding and infection, said Dr Chiam.
There are a few treatments available for removing skin tags. According to Dr Heng, they include freezing with liquid nitrogen, surgical removal using scissors and scalpel, and burning with laser or electrocautery.
“Skin tags which are surgically excised or burnt off by the doctor usually do not regrow. Freezing with liquid nitrogen by your doctor may need to be repeated for large skin tags,” said Dr Chiam.