A skin tag, also known as an acrochordon, cutaneous papilloma, cutaneous tag, fibroepithelial polyp, fibroma molluscum, fibroma pendulum, papilloma colli, soft fibroma, and Templeton skin tag, is a small tag of skin which may have a peduncle (stalk) – they look like a small piece of soft, hanging skin.
They can appear on any part of the surface of the body (skin), but most typically exist in areas where skin may rub against skin, such as the:
- Axillae (armpits)
- Under the breasts
- Upper chest
Skin tags are invariably benign – non cancerous – tumors of the skin which cause no symptoms, unless it is repeatedly rubbed or scratched, as may happen with clothing, jewelry, or when shaving. Very large skin tags may burst under pressure.
Skin tags are composed of a core of fibers and ducts, nerve cells, fat cells, and a covering or epidermis.
Some people are more susceptible to tags, either because of their overweight, partly due to heredity, and often for unknown reasons. People with diabetes and pregnant women tend to be more prone to skin tags. Dermatologists say that skin tags affect males and females equally.
Some people may have had skin tags and never noticed them – they would have rubbed or fallen off painlessly. In most cases, however, they do not fall off.
According to Medilexicon’s medical dictionary:
A skin tag is
1. a polypoid outgrowth of both epidermis and dermal fibrovascular tissue
2. embryology a skin-covered projection that may or may not contain cartilage; typically located in a line between the tragus of the ear and the corner of the mouth and associated with external ear anomalies.
The surface of skin tags may be smooth or irregular in appearance, they are often raised from the surface of the skin on fleshy peduncles (stalks). They are usually flesh-colored or slightly brownish.
Initially they are quite small, flattened like a pinhead bump. Skin tags can range in diameter from 2mm to 1cm; some may even reach 5cm.
As skin tags more commonly occur in skin creases or fold, it is believed they are mainly caused by skin rubbing against skin.
What causes skin tags?
Skin tags are very common and generally occur after midlife. They are said to be caused by bunches of collagen and blood vessels which are trapped inside thicker bits of skin.
They are believed to be the result of skin rubbing against skin. That is why they are generally found in skin creases and folds.
Risk factors – a risk factor is something which increases the likelihood of developing a condition or disease. For example, obesity significantly raises the risk of developing diabetes type 2. Therefore, obesity is a risk factor for diabetes type 2. Skin tags are more common in:
- People who are overweight and obese, probably because they have more skin folds and creases.
- Pregnant women – most likely because of the hormones secreted.
- Individuals with diabetes.
- People with the human papilloma virus (low-risk HPV 6 and 11).
- Illegal steroid use – they interfere with the body and muscles, causing the collagen fibers in the skin to bond, allowing skin tags to be formed.
According to the NIH (National Institutes of Health), USA, approximately 46% of people have skin tags.
A causal genetic component is thought to exist, i.e. susceptibility may be genetic. People with close family members who have skin tags are more likely to develop them themselves.
Skin tags are rarely associated with:
- Birt-Hogg-Dubé syndrome
- Polycystic ovary syndrome
A skin tag is also known as acrochordon, cutaneous papilloma, cutaneous tag, fibroepithelial polyp, fibroma molluscum, fibroma pendulum, papilloma colli, soft fibroma, and Templeton skin tag.