Skin tags, or acrochordons, are benign, flesh-colored growths that most commonly occur in creased areas of skin, such as the neck, under the arms and breasts, in the groin and on eyelids. Skin tags often grow on a small stalk (peduncle) and range from 2 mm to 5 cm in size. They are common in people with diabetes, and incidence increases with age and pregnancy. According to J.A. Neville and G. Yosipovitch in "Manual of Dermatologic Therapeutics," a study of skin tags showed that 80 percent were associated with human papillomavirus.
While skin tags are rarely malignant, you might decide to have them removed for cosmetic reasons or to reduce irritation if they are in an area where clothes or body parts rub against them. Everyday Health (Harvard Health Publications) outlines different removal procedures. Once properly removed, skin tags rarely recur in the same site, but others might develop elsewhere.
Skin tags are often very small, especially on the neck and under arms and breasts; these often can be snipped off with sterile scissors. A small dressing may be sufficient to stop any bleeding. However, if the lesion is larger, you might receive a local anesthetic before removal, and the doctor may cauterize, or burn, the open area to seal it. Slight scars may remain after removal of larger lesions.
Small skin tags with stalks may be tied off with suture material or copper wire. This cuts off circulation so that the skin tag dies and eventually falls off. This works well with very small skin tags and leaves little scarring but is painful for larger lesions.
Cryosurgery also successfully removes skin tags and may be used for slightly larger lesions. You may receive a local anesthetic before the procedure. The doctor sprays the skin tag with liquid nitrogen for 30 seconds, waits 2 to 5 minutes and then sprays again, sometimes repeating the procedure a third time. Cryosurgery freezes the tissue, which dies over about 24 hours and then begins to slough off. The area usually heals completely in four to six weeks.
Curettage with Cauterization
The doctor may use a special curved curette to scoop out and/or scrape away a skin tag. Then, an electrodessication tool cauterizes and seals the open areas. This method is particularly useful for multiple lesions of various sizes. Healing occurs in two to four weeks. Currettage with cauterization is usually used on areas of the body that are not exposed, because it may result in scarring.
Very large (2 cm to 5 cm) skin tags may require excision. The doctor administers a local anesthetic and cuts away the lesion with a scalpel and sutures the wound, leaving a scar after healing is complete.
You should not attempt to remove skin tags yourself because of the danger of infection and bleeding. Also, if the skin tag is not completely removed, it may recur.