Skin tags are small growths that protrude from the skin surface. It is also known as an acrochordon, skin tab, squamous papilloma or fibroepithelial polyp. A skin tag is a loose, hanging, skin colored protrusion that is attached to the skin by a small stalk (pedunculated). Skin tags are benign growths and therefore not associated with cancer, however, many other types of skin lesions including warts can be related to cancer or are precancerous growths. It is therefore important to have it checked by a medical professional in order to verify that it is a skin tag and not a more serious type of skin growth. Some tags are flat (sessile) and commonly referred to as barnacles, especially if it is dark colored, but these tags need to be monitored closely.
Skin tags have a fibrovascular core covered by the same squamous epithelium as the skin epidermis. Since it has its own blood supply, twisting it or tying the base as is done in certain home removal techniques, can cause the tissue to die. Apart from pain, the area can become infected and medical intervention is needed immediately. Therefore it is best not to remove a skin tag in the home environment but rather consult with a dermatologist about removal options.
Causes of Skin Tags
Skin tags are not contagious and do not arise from an infection. Therefore it cannot be passed from person to person or spread from one area of the body to another. It is sporadic and the exact cause of a skin tag is unknown. It is an overgrowth of tissue with no clear cause but has been associated with certain conditions and diseases, including :
When seen in pregnancy, other similar skin condition like a melanocytic nevi or hemangioma need to be excluded. A rare occurrence is when skin tags occur with small growths of the hair bulb as is seen in Birt-Hogg-Dubé syndrome.
Location of Skin Tags
Skin tags are small and the exact shape and structure is difficult to see with the naked eye. Very large skin tags may be due to the accumulation of fat tissue within the growth. A skin tag is smooth or rough, skin colored or slightly darker. It tends to arise more frequently on the face, neck, trunk and folds of the body (intertriginous areas – where two skin surfaces make contact) like the armpits (axillae), under the breast and groin area. This has given rise to the belief that a skin tag may be an overgrowth from excessive rubbing of the two skin surfaces (chaffing) but this has not been conclusively established.
Growths on the genitals, like the labia (women) and penis (men) should always be examined for the possibility of sexually transmitted infections like HPV (human papillomavirus). Read more on STD symptoms in men and STD symptoms in women.
Photographs of Skin Tags
The following pictures are magnified pictures of skin tags. It may not be as visible to the naked eye and should ideally be examined by a dermatologist.
Skin Tag on the Cheek (Picture from Wikimedia Commons)
Magnified Image of a Large Acrochordon (Picture from Dermatology Atlas, Courtesy Samuel Freire da Silva, M.D.)
Article reviewed by Dr. Greg. Last updated on April 19, 2011