At-Home Skin Tag & Mole Removers: Are they Safe?

October 6, 2020

Man with skin tags on neck

Spoiler alert – at-home skin tag and mole removers are not recommended by dermatologists. Dr. Imran Aslam of U.S. Dermatology Partners affiliate office, Dermatology Associates of Northern Virginia, in Centreville and Sterling, Virginia, says, “Using skin tag and mole removal products available at the pharmacy or DIY treatment options can expose you to unnecessary health risks. Removing these skin growths on your own may lead to infection, uncontrolled bleeding, scarring, and numerous other issues. We know it’s tempting just to deal with it on your own, but please let our team help.” Read our blog to learn more about skin tags, moles, and treatment options for these conditions from Dr. Aslam.

What are Skin Tags?

According to Dr. Aslam, “Medically, skin tags are called acrochordons or fibroepithelial polyps. These benign skin lesions are very common. They occur when healthy skin cells grow in excessive amounts in one location. In most cases, they are cosmetically unappealing or a little annoying, but they are not harmful or dangerous.” If you’re not sure that you’re looking at a skin tag, consider some of the following common characteristics:

  • The growth is soft and often movable
  • The growth protrudes from the surface of the skin
  • The growth appears in an area where it is subject to friction (underarms, along the neck where seatbelts or necklaces regularly rest, bra line beneath breasts)
  • The growth develops in an area with thin or sensitive skin (eyelids, groin)
  • The growth is close to natural skin tone but it may have darker areas at the base or tip
  • The growth has a larger base with a stalk-like growth
  • The growth is typically very small, but it can grow larger

Why Would I Develop a Skin Tag?

Anyone of any age or skin type can develop skin tags, but these growths are most common in adults. Friction is one of the main causes of skin tags, so areas where repetitive rubbing occurs like the armpits or inner thighs are likely locations for skin tags. Additionally, areas where the skin is more sensitive, like the face, neck, and genitalia, may be prone to skin tag development.

While anyone can develop skin tags, certain factors significantly increase the risk for an individual to develop a skin tag:

  • Genetics – A family history of skin tags makes you much more likely to develop these growths, so ask your parents and other family members if they have skin tags.
  • Weight gain – Severely overweight and obese individuals may experience increased friction or irritation leading to more frequent skin tag formation.
  • Pregnancy – Hormonal shifts coupled with the changing body can lead to the development of skin tags.
  • Diabetes – Research is needed to understand the underlying reason for this, but dermatologists have significant anecdotal evidence that those with diabetes are more likely to develop skin tags, indicating insulin resistance may be a factor.
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) – Research indicates that about 49% of people with skin tags also have HPV, but like diabetes, the link between the conditions is anecdotal.
  • Irritation – Friction from jewelry or specific clothing items can cause skin tags to develop.
  • Age – Anyone can develop skin tags, but they are most common between the ages of 20 and 70.
  • Birt-Hogg-Dube Syndrome – This chronic skin condition and others have been linked to skin tag development.

Can I Prevent Skin Tags?

Unfortunately, there’s no way to stop skin tags from developing, but if you have any of the pre-existing conditions described above, you can take some steps to reduce your risk for developing skin tags, including:

  • Limiting jewelry wear – Don’t wear the same jewelry several days in a row, avoid very heavy or irritating jewelry items, and stop wearing specific jewelry if you notice skin tags developing where the jewelry falls against the skin.
  • Choose soft fabrics – Wear loose clothing made of fabrics that are lightweight and less likely to cause friction.
  • Maintain health – Manage the symptoms of skin and whole-body health conditions (especially those mentioned in the previous section) and eat healthy foods, exercise, and maintain good hygiene to reduce the risk of obesity and other health factors that may contribute to skin tag development.
  • Practice good hygiene – Make sure to clean your skin regularly, using dermatologist-recommended products.

Do Skin Tags Need to be Removed?

In most cases, skin tags do not need to be removed for any health reasons. However, if the skin tag grows too long, it can be twisted, which can be painful or cause blood clots. When this happens, you may need to have the skin tag removed. Additionally, skin tags on the eyes can impede vision and will need to be removed to prevent eye irritation or vision impairment.

Why Can’t I Remove Skin Tags At Home?

According to Dr. Aslam, “It can be tempting to try removing a skin tag on your own. They’re irritating and they can get caught on your clothes and jewelry. Dermatologists understand the frustration of dealing with skin tags, but removing them on your own can be painful and lead to other complications. Plus, there are other skin conditions, possibly more serious, that may resemble a skin tag, so before you remove anything, you need to be sure of exactly what you’re dealing with. Additionally, most of the DIY removal methods are not effective. Applying apple cider vinegar or witch hazel to your skin just isn’t going to do anything for you. No matter how much you apply.”

Some reasons to avoid at-home skin tag removal include:

  • Bleeding – Dr. Aslam says, “Skin tags often develop in areas with very thin, sensitive skin. Removing a skin tag without appropriate medical attention can lead to uncontrolled bleeding.”
  • Infection – Improperly removing skin tags followed by inadequate care can cause sores and infection that may be difficult to heal.
  • Incomplete removal – Partially removing a skin tag may leave individuals with part of the skin tag still in place. This can cause inflammation, sensitivity, and severe pain.
  • Scarring – When correctly removed by a dermatologist, skin tags are unlikely to leave scars, but DIY removals may lead to scarring.

How do Dermatologists Remove Skin Tags?

Dr. Aslam says, “We don’t generally recommend skin tag removal at all. For the most part, these growths are benign and don’t cause any issues, but if you have a cluster of skin tags, skin tags around the eyes, or other concerns stemming from developing skin tags, we will recommend either cryosurgery (removal using cold), or removing with surgical scissors or scalpel.”

For small skin tags, dermatologists often recommend cryosurgery, which uses liquid nitrogen to freeze the growth. After a few days, the frozen skin cells will fall off on their own. This treatment option is often recommended because the procedure is fast and causes minimal discomfort apart from some mild redness and inflammation, and patients experience little to no adverse side effects following treatment.

We typically use surgical scissors or a scalpel for larger skin tags or skin tag clusters. Before performing this treatment, your dermatologist will numb the area. Then, they quickly snip away the skin tag and apply the electrocautery tool. Cauterization is an important part of the treatment process since it cuts off the skin tag’s blood flow and stops bleeding right away, minimizing risk for infection and scarring.

As a final note, Dr. Aslam added, “If you do try to remove a skin tag at home and it goes wrong, don’t hesitate to call our office. We are happy to help you stop any pain and receive the necessary care to prevent any further issues.”

What are Moles?

According to Dr. Aslam, “Patients are often surprised to hear that there are several different kinds of skin conditions that we refer to as moles. Whichever type of mole we’re looking at, the spots are actually just parts of the skin where melanocytes, the skin cells that create the skin’s tone, grow in a clump. This little cluster of cells is usually several shades darker than natural skin tone because it’s all pigment.” Most moles develop during childhood and adolescence and will remain on the skin throughout a person’s life, but they can evolve as the person grows and goes through bodily changes. For instance, pregnant women may see moles darkening or growing larger during gestation. The shift in hormone levels can cause this, but in most cases, the moles will lighten again after delivery. The majority of people have some moles, but those with numerous moles or who have new moles that develop after adolescence may be at risk for melanoma, a dangerous form of skin cancer. For this reason, individuals should monitor their moles periodically and consider having their skin checked at least once a year by a dermatologist.

The following are the most common types of moles:

  • Common moles – Small, darkened areas of the skin that may appear at birth or in childhood often in areas that are exposed to the sun.
  • Birthmarks – Also called congenital nevi, birthmarks are actually a type of mole that develops at or just after birth.
  • Spitz nevus – Often mistaken for melanoma, these noncancerous growths are common in people with fair skin under the age of 20. Because it’s so difficult to differentiate between spitz nevus and melanoma, these moles are often removed preventively.
  • Atypical moles – Sometimes called uncommon moles, or by their diagnostic name dysplastic nevi, can be concerning due to the risk of developing into skin cancer. All atypical moles need to be checked by a dermatologist, especially if they are asymmetrical, have irregular borders, unusual color, are larger than a pencil eraser, or they are otherwise growing or changing.

Why Would I Develop Moles?

According to Dr. Aslam, “There’s no one cause of moles. Sun exposure and genetics seem to be the two most common factors, but anyone can develop moles on any part of their body.”

Can I Prevent Moles?

While you can’t entirely predict or prevent the development of moles, protecting skin from sun exposure can reduce your risk for developing new moles and prevent existing moles from becoming darker. Additionally, taking appropriate sun protection measures will decrease the risk of skin cancer.

Do Moles Need to be Removed?

Dr. Aslam says, “We don’t usually recommend the removal of benign moles. These skin growths are typically harmless. We may remove a mole if we suspect it is cancerous, if it is damaged by injury or repetitive movement, or the size or location causes concern for cosmetic or functional reasons.”

Why Can’t I Remove Moles at Home?

About removing moles at home, Dr. Aslam says, “In addition to safety risks related to the DIY removal process, moles may not be JUST moles. Skin cancers and other health concerns can present as moles, so when you take removing these lesions into your own hands, you may be increasing risk for serious health concerns.”

In addition to the potential risk of home removal associated with undiagnosed skin cancer, there are other concerns related to attempting at-home mole removal, including:

  • Uncontrolled bleeding
  • Sores that don’t heal leading to infection
  • Scarring due to improper removal

How do Dermatologists Remove Moles?

Like skin tags, there are different methods for removing moles depending on the size and location, including shave removal or surgical excision. If a mole is determined to be cancerous, Mohs Surgery may be recommended. This approach to mole removal is geared toward minimizing the amount of tissue removed while ensuring all cancerous cells are excised.

Contact U.S. Dermatology Partners to Get Started Today

When you’re ready to get started finding out more about your skin tags, moles, or other skin conditions, the U.S. Dermatology Partners team would love to hear from you. Simply complete our online appointment request form to schedule a consultation session with one of our knowledgeable dermatologists. Once we receive your appointment request, a member of our team will be back in touch to discuss your appointment details.

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