Also known as soft fibromas, skin tags are small protrusions of flash that extend from your skin. While some are small and hidden in places that do not cause embarrassment, others may reach 0.5 CM in diameter. While that may seem like a small number, its significance depends on the area where the skin tags present. For example, if you have skin tags around your ears or on your face, that small number suddenly becomes a big problem. Skin tags can range in colour from fleshy and pink to dark and purple.
Although skin tags are not aesthetically pleasing, you shouldn’t worry that they’re a sign of anything more worrying. Around half of the UK’s population has at least one. However, some people are more prone to them than others. Contributing factors may include your age, your race, and even the clothes you wear.
If you have several skin tags and they are leaving you feeling distressed, there are ways to tackle them. Usually, this means opting for minor surgery. However, there are ways to prevent more skin tags appearing. Before we move onto what skin tags are and how you can treat them, we would like to recommend that you don’t try to tie one off by yourself. While some people successfully remove skin tags this way, doing so is more likely to lead to an unsightly scar than a smooth success. As such, seeking professional advice is essential.
WHAT CAUSES SKIN TAGS?
Both men and women experience skin tags, with neither sex having a higher prevalence. However, the incidence does increase with age. As such, the older you are, the more likely you are to have a skin tag.
Interestingly, they are more likely to occur during pregnancy. This may suggest that sudden hormonal fluctuations play a role. Similarly, you are more likely to develop them if you have a condition such as Type II Diabetes. Metabolically, Type II Diabetes has an adverse effect on your hormones, especially if you don’t control it well. Similarly, obesity increases your risk of developing one.
There is some evidence to suggest that skin tags are more likely to appear if your clothes cause chafing. For example, if you wear clothes that are too tight, or if your clothes don’t act as a barrier between areas of skin that are likely to chafe. One theory behind this is that as skin tags form a mixture of disrupted collagen and new blood vessels, building to support their presence, they’re more likely to occur in areas of pressure. Such areas can include:
• The neck
• The armpits
• The groin
• Or anywhere else where skin has an opportunity to rub up against more skin
There is also a suggestion that Human Papillomavirus/HPV increases your risk. HPV is the same virus that can lead to genital warts and some types of cancer. However, there are dozens of HPV types, which means you still shouldn’t worry that having skin tags means you are at risk of something more sinister.
Finally, if you are insulin resistant in any way, your risk increases too. In addition to those with diabetes, there are other metabolic syndromes, gestational diabetes, and pre-diabetic states. All of this suggests that controlling your blood sugar levels may reduce the prevalence of skin tags.
PREVENTING SKIN TAGS
Whether or not you can prevent skin tags depends on the cause. For example, there isn’t much you can do about ageing. While you can combat the cosmetic signs, you can’t prevent the process itself from happening.
It’s worth noting that while they’re not dangerous, you may find that skin tags become uncomfortable. This is especially the case if you have one in an area where your clothes or skin may rub against them. For example, if you have a few on your groin, you may feel your clothes rubbing against them throughout the day. As they have their own vascular supply, they are more prone to inflammation. The body’s inflammatory pathway involves pain.
There are some instances, however, where you can prevent skin tags. For example, if you are overweight, you are more likely to develop folds of skin that rub against each other. As such, losing weight at a deliberate pace will reduce the risk of developing more.
Wearing clothes that fit properly
If your clothes rub against your skin, they may cause the collagen beneath to become deranged. As a result, it grows outwards rather than in a set order, causing a tag to develop. Areas you might want to consider include:
• Tight shirt necks, which rub against the delicate skin in the area
• Trousers that are too small, which may make skin tags in the groin more prevalent
• Tops that are also right, which can exacerbate skin tags developing beneath the breasts or around the armpits
If your clothes are too tight, aim for roomier alternatives. Otherwise, losing weight is an option.
If you have diabetes, keep blood sugar under control
How you control your blood sugar will depend on the type of diabetes you have, as well as the medications your doctor administers. Overall, though, having a sound understanding of the role each food’s glycaemic index plays and adapting your diet accordingly is essential whether you are taking metformin, injecting insulin, or benefiting from one of the many other diabetes medications out there.
If you are unfamiliar with the glycemic index, arrange to chat with a diabetes nurse at your local doctor’s surgery. Learning more about it can help you plan your meals accordingly and bring your blood sugar levels under control. Also, losing weight decreases insulin resistance, which in turn reduces your risk of developing skin tags. If you don’t have a diabetes diagnosis, but you suspect you have signs of the disease, ask your GP about undergoing a test.
TREATING SKIN TAGS
Before you proceed with a skin tag treatment plan, you need a medical professional to make sure you are not confusing yours with other conditions. For example, there are certain types of warts called Filiform Warts that look like skin tags, but will feel a lot firmer on palpation.
Similarly, some children go through phases of developing growths called molluscum contagiosum. As the name suggests, they are contagious, but not dangerous. Children tend to share them amongst each other, but some adults can catch them too.
Minor surgery for skin tags
Depending on the size and appearance of your skin tag, your doctor may opt for a ligature that causes it to die and fall off. Or, they can cut it off using surgical scissors. The route they choose will depend on whether they feel as though your skin tag contains lots of small blood vessels. While none of them has the potential to cause a significant bleed that will send you into haemorrhagic shock, some will act as an entry for infection once they are left open.
If your doctor does choose to cut your skin tag away using scissors, they will do so in a sterile environment. This means that they prepare the area around the skin tag to free it from bacteria and use the right protective equipment. Similarly, they will apply dressings and provide aftercare advice that allows you to keep the area clean and free from infection.
Another option is for your doctor to use a ligature. This merely involves tying the skin tag at the base, cutting off the blood supply, and waiting for it to die and fall away. While it may sound as though you can do this alone at home, it’s advisable to avoid doing so. Without the right approach, skin tag ligatures can cause necrosis. Although it is rare for the necrosing skin to spread to other areas, the risk is still there. As such, you should seek advice from a medically qualified doctor who will provide a thorough assessment to ensure you are safe.
Larger skin tags may require a local anaesthetic, followed by a procedure called ‘shave and cautery.’ As the name suggests, this involves shaving away the area of skin affected and cauterising it so that a skin tag does not reappear. As a local anaesthetic is a prescription drug, this is a procedure that only a doctor or an advanced trained practitioner such as a nurse or surgical assistant can perform.
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