Although skin tags are entirely benign, they can be a cosmetic nuisance. Many people who have skin tags would like to remove them, since they feel they are unsightly. In addition, skin tags may appear in areas where they may get caught in razors, jewelry or clothing. They may be injured through cutting or being ripped off of the skin, which can be painful and can lead to skin infections that can progress into serious illnesses.
There are several ways of removing skin tags, whether in a doctor’s office for safe excision or at home with various home remedies. Since skin tags do not lead to serious complications such as cancer, unlike some moles, a person’s insurance may not cover a doctor’s visit to remove them, as they are typically a cosmetic concern. While removal in a doctor’s office in a controlled, sterile environment is ideal, home removal can also be safe and effective. Skin tags are small, fleshy outgrowths of skin that are made up of connective tissue and blood vessels encased in normal skin tissue of various thicknesses.
The fleshy part of the skin tag is attached to the rest of the skin by a small stalk of skin called a peduncle, which is made up of normal skin tissue, also called epithelial tissue. The fleshy part of the skin tag often does not have nerves and does not hurt when it is squeezed or cut. However, the peduncle may have some nerve tissue and becomes more sensitive with proximity to the rest of the skin, which has normal amounts of nerve tissue. The part of the peduncle that is closest to the skin has the most nerve tissue. Unfortunately, this is the part of the skin tag that needs to be cut to remove the skin tag. However, skin tag removal is typically only painful for a few moments, and the pain that is felt is mild.
Skin tag removal – Excision
There are two types of skin tag removal that are typically performed in a doctor’s office: excision and ligation. Excision is when the skin tag is removed by simply cutting it off, often with a scalpel but occasionally with a pair of nippers that look similar to some types of fingernail clippers. Ligation is the other type of skin tag removal that may be performed by a doctor.
Skin tag removal – Ligation
Ligation involves tightly tying a thin length of thread, plastic wire or floss around the base of the skin tag after the skin has been disinfected. By tying around the base of the skin tag, the blood flow to the skin tag is interrupted, and the tissues in the skin tag die. Ligation takes a few days to completely kill the tissues in the skin tag, but it is much less painful, since the part of the skin tag that the thread is tied around often has no nerve tissue. Within two to three days, the skin tag usually falls off. This method may be preferable when the patient is very young or otherwise unable to cope with pain, since it is minimally invasive and involves no blood, thus minimizing the risk of infection as well.
It is inadvisable to cut off skin tags at home, since the types of instruments available at home are not sterilized the same way that surgical instruments in a doctor’s office are sterilized. Although skin tags are harmless, removing them with instruments that have not been sterilized can lead to severe skin infections, including Staphylococcus infection, which can be life-threatening. Since there are alternatives to excision that are just as effective at removing skin tags, it is best to use another method when performing skin tag removal at home. Ligation is easy to perform, and does not involve cutting.
To perform ligation, disinfect the skin and the skin tag with rubbing alcohol. Let the alcohol dry, and then simply wrap a length of thin thread or dental floss around the base of the skin tag and tie a knot, ensuring that the thread will not unravel. Within a few days, the skin tag will blacken and eventually fall off. Ligation works best with skin tags with a long peduncle. Smaller skin tags or skin tags with short peduncles may not respond to ligation, since the stalk of flesh may simply not be long enough to tie a substantial length of thread around. In the case of these shorter skin tags, excision may be the only surgical removal option available, and this should be performed in a doctor’s office. You can use this tool at the American Academy of Dermatology’s website to find a dermatologist in your area.
Over-the-Counter Skin tag removal Products
Over-the-counter products may assist in the removal of skin tags. Some products that are available for skin tags also remove warts; some products that are specifically intended for at-home wart removal may also work on skin tags. For instance, products that freeze warts off with a liquid nitrogen applicator will also often work to remove skin tags. At-home cryotherapy kits work to freeze the cells in the skin tag and the peduncle, rendering them unable to function. Eventually the skin tag will fall off, similar to the way a skin tag subjected to ligation removal will fall off.
However, cryotherapy tends to work much more quickly, and after cryotherapy the skin tag may fall off in as little time as a few hours to one day. The disadvantage of using cryotherapy kits is that they are typically relatively expensive since they work much more quickly than other therapies do.
In addition, extreme care must be taken to avoid applying the applicator to healthy skin. Since skin tags are not usually an urgent matter, removing them quickly has no other benefits than the shorter amount of time involved in getting rid of the skin tag, so people interested in removing their skin tags may need to consider the advantages and disadvantages of ligation and cryotherapy.
Home skin tag removal at home methods can be as safe and effective as visiting a doctor to remove the skin tags. It takes more time to remove skin tags with at-home methods; the time involved is usually a few hours to a few days, but the reduced cost may be enough of an incentive to perform skin tag removal at home.