Skin tags are small growths that hang off your skin. They're common and harmless, but can be removed if they're bothering you.
What skin tags look like
Skin tags are small, soft, skin-coloured growths on your skin. They can vary in colour and size – from a few millimetres up to 5cm (about 2 inches) wide.
Skin tags are usually found on the neck, armpits, around the groin, or under the breasts. They can also grow on the eyelids or under the folds of the buttocks.
They can look like warts, but skin tags are usually:
- smooth and soft (warts tend to be rougher with an irregular surface)
- knobbly and hang off the skin (warts are usually slightly raised or flat)
- not contagious (warts spread very easily, so a sudden outbreak or cluster of growths is more likely to be warts)
Skin tags do not usually cause any pain or discomfort.
Why skin tags occur
Skin tags are made of loose collagen fibres and blood vessels surrounded by skin. Collagen is a type of protein found throughout the body.
Pregnant women may also be more likely to develop skin tags as a result of changes in their hormone levels. Some people develop them for no apparent reason.
Skin tags tend to grow in the skin folds, where the skin rubs against itself, such as on the neck, armpits or groin. This is why they tend to affect overweight people who have excess folds of skin and skin chafing.
When skin tags can be a problem
Skin tags are harmless and do not usually cause pain or discomfort.
However, you may consider having skin tags removed if they're affecting your self esteem, or if they snag on clothing or jewellery and bleed. You'll usually need to pay to have this done privately.
This is because skin tag removal is regarded as cosmetic surgery, which is rarely available through the NHS. Cosmetic surgery is usually only available on the NHS if the problem is affecting your physical or mental health.
Sometimes, skin tags fall off on their own if the tissue has twisted and died from a lack of blood supply.
Removing skin tags
Do not try to remove a skin tag without speaking to your GP first. If you have a skin tag that's causing problems, consider making an appointment with a privately practising GP to have it removed.
Freezing or burning skin tags can cause irritation and temporary skin discoloration, and the skin tag may not fall off and further treatment may be needed.
Surgical removal has the advantage of removing the skin tag completely, but there is a risk of minor bleeding.
If your skin tag is small with a narrow base, your GP may suggest that you try to remove it yourself.
For example, they may suggest tying off the base of the skin tag with dental floss or cotton to cut off its blood supply and make it drop off (ligation).
Never attempt to remove large skin tags yourself because they'll bleed heavily.
Page last reviewed: 23/11/2016
Next review due: 23/11/2019