What Do Skin Tags Really Mean?
Written By Kobi Nathan, Pharm.D., M.Ed., CDP, BCGP, AGSF
Sleep Disorders
April 6, 2022

 

The body goes through millions of changes in a typical day and fights through many different problems to let it stay in a state of homeostasis (balance).

Every day, the body grows through a million metabolic processes in which many harmful substances are created and cleared out of the system very efficiently. Many things could be going wrong in your body that you may be unaware of.

Almost half of all people in the United States have skin tags. They seem to be prevalent in older adults at least 60 years of age, especially if they have certain medical conditions.

The following blog post will discuss skin tags, how they are formed, and what they tell you about what is happening inside your body.

 

The Relationship Between Skin Tags And Harmony Of Bodily Processes

 

You might be surprised to discover that every day there are cells with the potential to become cancerous, but before they can take that route, the immune system identifies them in advance and destroys them before they can harm.

All these reactions and procedures work harmoniously until the pathology becomes too big for the immune system to fight off.

This is when the body starts sending signals to help you discover the problem at hand that you could very well be unaware of all this time.

These signs should always be taken seriously and not waved off, as they can later pose serious threats to your health.

One example is when the body raises its body temperature to indicate something is wrong with it (an inflammatory process).

Hence, the immune system needs to be activated to get rid of it. The high temperature can counter any foreign antigen as well as help in the activation of other aspects of the immune system.

The same is the case with skin tags!

 

What Are Skin Tags?

 

Skin tags are an overgrowth on the surface of the skin consisting of fibrous tissue, comprising blood vessels and loose collagen fibers. The medical name for them is Acrochordon.

They occur on the skin from time to time. They are not like the usual pimples that appear on the skin’s surface and go away after some time; in fact, they are rather stubborn pieces of skin that cannot be removed by conventional methods [1].

The good news is that, unlike many other masses and lesions, these are benign growths and do not have the potential to progress to skin cancer at any point in time.

However, if the underlying medical problems are not managed, the individual could see new growths.

Skin tags are typically found in the skin folds of the face, armpits, groin area, and neck.

Most of the upper area that these skin tags occupy can be seen by the naked eye and constantly rub with the fabric of the clothes, causing skin friction and irritation.

For these reasons, many people choose to remove skin tags for cosmetic reasons.

It is important to note that many other skin conditions look like skin tags, ranging from benign moles, warts, and seborrheic keratoses, to skin cancers such as melanomas. It is always a good idea to consult a qualified medical professional such as a dermatologist to receive a proper diagnosis.

 

How Do Skin Tags Develop?

 

Well, no one really knows. There are theories, but nothing definitive. That said, a few potential factors can influence their development.

These factors include genetic causes, viral infections (e.g., human papillomavirus), weight gain, and Metabolic Syndrome.

In rare cases, multiple skin tags may develop. The most common reasons are underlying hormonal imbalances, such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

However, the discovery of the association between skin tags and metabolic syndrome is fairly new, and not many people know it.

 

Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), Genetics, And Skin Tags

 

Evidence suggests that having a strong family history of having skin tags predisposes an individual to develop them as well.

Additionally, there is a strong association between the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) and skin tags.

 

Metabolic Syndrome and The Development Of Skin Tags

 

Researchers investigating the cause of skin tags found a very close association with metabolic syndromes.

These syndromes included hyperglycemia (increased glucose in the blood), hypercholesterolemia (high levels of LDL in the blood), as well as increased incidence of insulin resistance and hyperinsulinemia [3, 4].

Many people who have diabetes also have an accompanying velvety, dark discoloration of the skin, called acanthosis nigricans.

People who were obese were also seen to be affected by skin tags more frequently than those who weren’t obese [5].

 

The Evidence: Metabolic Syndromes and Skin Tags

 

Research looking into this association dates back to the 1900s. The following are the surveys that were published in renowned journals:

  • One study published in 2016 in the ‘Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research did find that 126 out of 171 participants who were obese and had high cholesterol levels did have a higher number of skin tags [6].
  • In another study, 58 out of 110 patients with skin tags had Type 2 diabetes. This survey was published in the International Journal of Dermatology in the year 2007 [7].

High amounts of blood sugar can directly influence insulin levels in the body through a positive feedback mechanism; apart from suffering from hyperglycemia, such individuals also suffer from hyperinsulinemia [8].

Given the evidence, it is highly probable that there is a strong relationship between uncontrolled metabolic syndromes and the development of skin tags.

 

Removal of skin tags

 

Surgical or Medical Solutions For Skin Tag Removal

 

Skin tags are removed permanently from the body through minor surgical procedures such as scissor excision, cauterization (burning off), or cryosurgery (freezing with liquid nitrogen).

However, these skin tags cannot be prevented from recurring again.

That said, the evidence indicates that the appearance of skin tags can be reduced by controlling any existing metabolic syndromes. Staying on top of your blood sugar and cholesterol levels can be a very effective tool in your fight against skin tags.

This means keeping your follow-up doctor appointments and blood work, adhering to prescribed non-drug and drug therapies, maintaining a healthy mix of exercise, diet, and lifestyle, and most importantly, staying the course and not slipping in your self-care.

 

Home And Over-The-Counter Solutions For Skin Tag Removal

 

Over-the-counter (OTC) treatment options can easily be found in any grocery store or community pharmacy. These include common items such as apple cider vinegar, tea tree oil, freezing kits, and removal creams.

However, please remember that these products can cause irritation and allergic reactions.

Additionally, they can take a long time to produce the desired results compared to a surgical procedure in your doctor’s office.

Alternatively, you can purchase skin tag removal bands that are tied around the base of the skin tag to cut off the blood supply, resulting in the death of the skin tag cells. Gradually, the tags fall away.

A good alternative to the skin tag removal bands is dental floss. You would use it, in the same manner to tie off and remove the skin tags.

The table below describes commonly used home remedies:

 

Home Remedies To Remove Skin Tags

OTC TreatmentRemoval Instructions
*Tea Tree OilWash affected area, gently massage affected area with Q-tip dipped in tea tree oil; place bandage over area overnight; repeat treatment until tag dries and falls off
Banana PeelPlace peel over skin tag and cover with bandage; repeat nightly until tag falls off
Apple Cider VinegarPlace cotton swab soaked in apple cider vinegar over skin tag; bandage and cover for 15 to 30 minutes, and then wash the skin. Repeat daily for a couple of weeks until skin tag falls off
Vitamin EApply liquid Vitamin E to skin tag and surrounding skin; repeat until it falls off (no need to cover with bandage)
GarlicApply crushed garlic over skin tag, cover with bandage overnight, wash area in the morning; repeat until skin tag falls off

Important: Never, ever attempt to cut off a skin tag by yourself – this can result in infection and profuse bleeding! Please trust your medical provider to do this! 

Fast facts on skin tags

  • Overgrowth of benign fibrotic skin
  • Occur commonly in folds of the skin or where there is constant friction
  • Controlling high cholesterol and blood sugar can possibly reduce the appearance of skin tags
  • Home and OTC removal options are available
  • NEVER attempt to cut off a skin tag yourself – Trust your doctor to do this!

 

**Updated July 29, 2022.

References:

  1. Pandey A, Sonthalia S. Skin Tags. Vikram University: StatPearls Publishing, Treasure Island (FL); 2021.
  2. Ramachandrareddy D, Prathap R. Human papilloma virus (HPV) causing skin tags. J Evol Med Dent Sci 2013;2:7357+.
  3. Sari R, Akman A, Alpsoy E, Balci MK. The metabolic profile in patients with skin tags. Clin Exp Med 2010;10:193–7. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10238-009-0086-5.
  4. Twomey P, Crook M. Skin tags and the atherogenic lipid profile. J Clin Pathol 2002;55:639. https://doi.org/10.1136/jcp.55.8.639.
  5. Babu VA, Hameed GMS. Dermatological Manifestations in People with Obesity. J Evol Med Dent Sci 2019;8:3549–53. https://doi.org/10.14260/jemds/2019/767.
  6. Wali V, Wali V V. Assessment of Various Biochemical Parameters and BMI in Patients with Skin Tags. J Clin Diagn Res 2016;10:BC09-BC11. https://doi.org/10.7860/JCDR/2016/15994.7062.
  7. Rasi A, Soltani-Arabshahi R, Shahbazi N. Skin tag as a cutaneous marker for impaired carbohydrate metabolism: a case–control study. Int J Dermatol 2007;46:1155–9. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-4632.2007.03287.x.
  8. Platsidaki E, Vasalou V, Gerodimou M, Markantoni V, Kouris A, Vryzaki E, et al. The Association of Various Metabolic Parameters with Multiple Skin Tags. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol 2018;11:40–3.
  9. Maluki AH, Abdullah AA, Maluki AH. Metabolic Associations with Skin Tags. Int J Dermatology Clin Res 2016;2:003–11. https://doi.org/10.17352/2455-8605.000013.
  10. El Safoury OS, Abdel Hay RM, Fawzy MM, Kadry D, Amin IM, Abu Zeid OM, et al. Skin tags, leptin, metabolic syndrome and change of the life style. Indian J Dermatol Venereol Leprol 2011;77:577–81. https://doi.org/10.4103/0378-6323.84061.

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