You’re putting on your favorite necklace and it gets caught on a tiny, rogue flap of skin that’s popped up right at your neckline. Sound familiar?
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A common occurrence, skin tags are flesh-colored skin growths that usually develop on areas of your body where skin rubs together, like your neck, armpit or groin.
“They don’t discriminate — they affect people of all ages and body types and can occur anywhere, including the face,” says dermatologist Pamela Ng, MD.
Most of the time, skin tags are nothing more than unsightly and annoying, but occasionally, there can be more to them. That’s why it’s important to know when you should have a doctor take a look at one and not attempt to remove it yourself.
Dr. Ng explains the risks involved with at-home treatments and how your doctor can remove skin tags during an office visit.
Can you safely remove skin tags yourself?
With so many skin tag remedies on the market, it can be tempting to try to remove one at home.
But Dr. Ng suggests leaving skin tag removal to the professionals. She says that some home remedies can lead to skin irritation and even skin ulcers from the application of home remedies like apple cider vinegar. And if you try to cut one off, it will only lead to bleeding and possibly, an infection.
At-home options range from removal creams to freeze kits. And while these products may claim to remove skin tags, it’s important that you do your research and speak with your doctor first before trying any at-home treatment.
Removal creams and patches
Whether it’s a cream you apply daily (or in some cases, multiple times a day) or a patch you wear for a week or longer, many options contain plant extracts that can take weeks to work — if at all.
“These remedies can be very irritating, causing redness, burning and even skin ulcers to the lesion itself and surrounding skin,” warns Dr. Ng.
Typically marketed for the removal of warts, these kits use nitrous oxide or a combination of dimethyl ether, propane and isobutane to destroy a skin tag.
Though these chemicals aren’t as powerful as what a doctor uses during an in-office treatment, there are still risks involved. If the solution touches the skin surrounding your skin tag, it can be damaged.
“At-home freeze kits are often not effective,” states Dr. Ng. “They can cause some irritation, burning and skin damage to the surrounding skin.”
Tea tree oil
You may have come across tea tree oil as a possible treatment for skin tags.
This method involves applying one to two drops of tea tree oil to a cotton ball, then placing that cotton ball over your skin tag and securing it with a bandage for 10 minutes, three times each day.
It could take many weeks to see any signs of improvement — and tea tree oil can lead to skin irritation.
“Tea tree oil won’t hurt the skin, but I doubt it would be effective in removing skin tags,” says Dr. Ng. “Some people may develop an allergic contact dermatitis to tea tree oil.”
Apple cider vinegar
Like the idea behind tea tree oil, the thought here is to apply a cotton ball soaked in apple cider vinegar to the skin tag area with a bandage for 10 minutes, three times a day.
Since apple cider vinegar is acidic; it can cause skin irritation or even chemical burns. It can also cause redness and even skin ulcers.
“I have seen skin ulcers develop after the application of apple cider vinegar to the skin,” says Dr. Ng. “It’s ineffective.”
Vitamin E oil
Vitamin E aids in the health of your skin. It’s believed that massaging vitamin E oil over your skin tag can help it shrink in days, though there’s no research supporting this claim.
Like tea tree oil, using vitamin E won’t harm your skin, but some individuals may experience contact dermatitis.
When to see a doctor about skin tag removal
Most of the time, skin tags are just an annoyance.
“If it’s truly a skin tag, then it’s of no concern,” Dr. Ng asserts. “However, when skin tags are twisted, irritated or bleeding, this might be a good reason to see a doctor.”
And it’s never a good idea to self-diagnosis yourself when it comes to any skin issues.
“You certainly don’t want to be using some of these home remedies on a mole or skin cancer,” says Dr. Ng. “It’s best to see a professional to get your skin tags removed.”
How doctors remove skin tags
Your doctor can remove a skin tag during an office visit with one of these available treatments:
A blade or surgical scissors are used to cut off the skin tag.
Dr. Ng prefers to remove skin tags in-office by numbing the area and snipping off the tag with surgical scissors.
“I like the method of snipping best because it’s clean and the skin tags are gone by the time the patient leaves,” she notes.
By using liquid nitrogen, your doctor will freeze the skin tag, which will cause the tag to fall off after about 10 to 14 days.
But freezing can cause greater inflammation to the surrounding skin. And multiple treatments may be necessary, depending on the size and location of the skin tag.
Cauterization is when a skin tag is burned off using a small device. It may take a few treatments before the skin tag is completely removed.
This is a surgical method of drying out tissue by touching it with a needle-like electrode that passes an electric current into the tissue.
Skin tag removal reminders
One thing to keep in mind, Dr. Ng says, is that skin tag removal is considered “cosmetic” by most insurance companies and usually isn’t covered.
And if you have a skin tag on your eyelid, don’t be alarmed. Even though it’s in an awkward place, Dr. Ng says it can be removed.
“Skin tags on the eyelids can be tricky to remove due to the location, but they can be safely removed in most instances as long as patients remain calm during the procedure,” she adds.
If there’s ever any question about what’s going on with your skin, there’s no harm in having a doctor take a look.
“It’s best to have it evaluated by a physician if you are not sure what it is,” says Dr. Ng.