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Skin tags. Those random slivers of skin are right up there with acne scars and skin pigmentation, as far as pesky skin imperfections go.

If you have them, you might be wondering what causes them (and, if they’re bothering you, the best way to get rid of them). Here’s everything you need to know about skin tags, including what they are, why they develop and how to remove them…

What are they and where do they commonly occur?

According to dermatologist, Dr Ernest Tan, skin tags can be defined as “soft, pedunculated lesions of skin that appear to hang off the skin.” They vary in colour in size, but commonly occur “in the skin folds” including the armpits, groin and neck. It is normal to have more than one skin tag.

Who do they commonly affect?

As Dr Tan explains, skin tags occur more commonly with age, particularly in those who are overweight or obese, as well as those with type 2 diabetes. Other predisposing factors include “local chafing and irritation” (which is also associated with obesity) and “high levels of growth hormones” (particularly during pregnancy).

Are skin tags bad for your health?

Skin tags may be unsightly, but Dr Tan says they are “of no great health concern, unless they cause irritation.” However, if you have multiple skin tags, the expert advises that the underlying cause should be addressed – for example, weight gain, or acromegaly (a disorder caused by excess growth hormone).

Is skin tag removal an option?

While a skin tag or two is no cause for panic, women are often bothered by them for cosmetics reasons. According to Dr Tan, “Skin tags can be easily removed by several methods.” These include:

Cryotherapy (the application of extreme cold to freeze and destroy abnormal tissue).
Electrodessication or diathermy (a technique that uses a gentle electric current to ‘zap’ away tiny skin lesions). Surgical excision (the removal of tissue using a sharp knife (scalpel) or other cutting instrument).

Ligature (by tying a suture around the base/neck of the skin tag). For the most part, all of the above involve a visit to the doc. Dr Tan also recommends over-the-counter cryotherapy products such as Wart-off freeze ($29.89, priceline.com.au) to help to treat small skin tags.

Are there any risks with removal, and can the same skin tag re-occur?

As Dr Tan explains, “There is usually no risk of scarring after the removal of skin tags.” If the skin tag is removed completely, it rarely recurs. However, if cryotherapy or diathermy is done too vigorously, there is a risk of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation or hypopigmentation changes and, in rare cases, local scars.

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