As you get older, little growths called skin tags might start popping up on your body. You’ll recognize them because they’re thinner at the base and get wider at the top. They aren’t painful or dangerous like cancerous moles, but there’s a very good reason you’ll want them removed.
Experts think friction—like from your shirt’s underarms or a necklace—can cause the growths over time, though it’s unclear why some people get more than others, says Anthony Rossi, MD, FAAD, dermatologic surgeon at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and assistant professor of dermatology at Weill Cornell Medical College.
People have used all kinds of crazy methods to try removing skin tags on their own, says Dr. Rossi. He’s heard of people tying strings around them, burning them, trying to pick them off with their fingers, and even slamming books against them. “It’s wild what people will do,” he says. (Check out these 4 Dermatologist Secrets for Youthful Skin.)
A dermatologist, on the other hand, can snip away skin tags quickly and cleanly. Sounds easy enough for you to try it on your own, right? Not so fast. “It’s like when people try to cut their own hair,” says Dr. Rossi. “It never goes the way they want it to.”
For one thing, dermatologists have sterile instruments, but using your own could lead to an infection. Plus, while dermatologists can use local anesthesia and have supplies to stop the blood, you could bleed uncontrollably with at-home methods.
Even over-the-counter medications claiming to dissolve the skin tags could be bad news, says Dr. Rossi. “You could burn the skin or make marks,” he says. “There could be unintended consequences.” If you hate the idea of anyone snipping your skin, ask a doctor to freeze or melt it instead. If you’re also struggling with acne scars, here’s how to get rid of those.
But there’s an even bigger reason you should visit an expert. After dermatologists remove a growth, they’ll look at it under a microscope. “There are things that look like skin tags but are cancerous,” says Dr. Rossi. That doesn’t mean you should freak out if you do find a skin tag. Most will just be benign, but you won’t know for sure until you’ve asked. Plus, checking a skin tag is a “good excuse” to get your doctor to check the rest of your body for skin cancer and atypical or malignant growths, says Dr. Rossi.
Plus: 39 Great Tips for Skin That Naturally Glows
Originally published as This is the Only Way You Should Remove Skin Tags, According to a Dermatologist on ReadersDigest.com.
Let’s face it: moles, skin tags, and warts are irritating. Plus, they can be confusing. Most people just don’t know the difference between them.
The good news: none of them cause a risk to your health. But they’re annoying, and it makes your life more comfortable to get rid of them before they become a problem. So, if you want to know what you’re dealing with before you schedule a spot removal, here’s how to tell the difference between a mole, a wart, and a skin tag.
Warts pop up on your hands, knees, or the bottom of your feet. Unlike moles, they’re hard bumps that lie deep in the skin. Although they may be smooth on top, they’re thick, scaly, and callus-like underneath. Warts start from a virus. And like all viruses, they’re contagious. So, when you see a wart pop up, that means you came into contact with someone else with a wart virus, whether through shaking hands or using the same hand towel.
Although we recommend removing any of these spots, warts especially need to be removed quickly (before you pass the virus along to someone else). But when people try to treat them at home, they never seem to get better. Why? They’re a virus that lives in the skin cells. If you don’t get rid of the virus, you won’t get rid of the wart. So you have to treat it long enough to kill all the skin cells that contain the virus.
Wart treatments are painful. If people start an over-the-counter treatment, they often second-guess themselves when the area starts to hurt. They realize they don’t know what they’re doing, and they can’t stand the pain. So they stop the treatment too soon for it to be effective.
For the fastest wart treatment, ask your dermatologist to freeze the wart. This kills the cells containing the virus so your skin can heal wart-free.
Learn more: Freezing Spots At Home Vs. At The Dermatologist: What’s The Difference?
This little flap of skin forms because of friction. It’s been rubbed by a collar, clothing, or sometimes it comes from skin rubbing against skin, particularly under the arm. It starts as a small bump or gland in the skin. Then, once it starts rubbing, there’s a snowball effect. The little ball of skin cells gets pulled up further and further until it’s hanging by a thread. You end up with a ball of skin attached by a thin pedestal.
You’ll know it’s different from a wart or mole because of its pedestal base. Remember, warts are flat on top and go deeper into the skin, but a little ball of skin dangling from the surface is a skin tag.
The biggest problem with skin tags is the irritation they cause. They can snag, bleed, and hurt. In general, they just bother you. But it’s easily fixed by a dermatologist if you want it removed.
Moles are the most serious of these three skin issues. They form slowly, taking a long time to grow. If they become cancerous, they begin to change.
To see a visual difference between wart and mole bumps, look for pigment and hair. Warts don’t have either, but moles have both. Because of their pigment, they have the rare potential to change from a regular mole into skin cancer.
Did you know? Some people are predisposed to develop moles, and sun exposure stimulates them. So, if you notice these small benign growths pop up easily on your skin, take extra precautions in the sun to prevent more from forming.
Know the ABCs of Melanoma
If you have an atypical mole or another spot that looks suspicious, remember “ABCDE” to check for early features that indicate melanoma.
- Asymmetry: If you drew a line down the middle, the sides would not match.
- Border: The edges of the spot are ragged, notched, or blurred. The pigment appears to fade into the skin.
- Color: The color is not uniform. The spot contains shades of black, brown, and tan (and maybe white, gray, red, pink, or blue).
- Diameter: Melanoma can range in size, but most are larger than six millimeters in diameter.
- Evolving: Look for changes in the spot over several weeks or months.
Should You Try DIY Treatments?
It can be tempting to try to remove these growths yourself. It’s probably bothering you, but maybe you don’t have time to see a professional. Your skin tag, mole, or wart isn’t dangerous — yet you can cause an infection if you try to remove it on your own.
More often than not, people aren’t successful with DIY spot removal treatments. So save yourself the frustration, and let a dermatologist take care of it.
Whether you have a mole, wart, or skin tag, a board-certified dermatologist can give you the most accurate identification and help you decide if the growth should be removed. If you have a problematic spot on your skin, contact us to schedule a consultation and discuss your wart or mole removal options.