It may be tempting to yank them off, but resist that urge.
These raised bumps and flaps are known as “acrochordons” or “cutaneous tags” by dermatologists. Fortunately, they’re completely harmless—but they can be annoying if you don’t like the way they look.
“They often occur in areas of friction like around the neck, under arms and by the groin and are thought to be caused by irritation from skin rubbing on skin or on clothing,” says Bruce Katz, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City.
You can probably blame them on your parents—skin tags are usually genetic. Obese people have a higher instance of them since there is more flesh likely to rub against itself to provoke more tags. You may have just one or a couple skin tags, or they can sprout up as a small, isolated group of bumps.
And if you have skin tags, you’re definitely not alone. About one in four people will grow skin tags at some point, and it’s especially common after the age of 50 to start seeing more of them. While harmless, skin tags can become irritated and inflamed and even bleed if you scratch at them or catch the skin on something like a zipper.
While there are a plethora of DIY methods on the Internet that claim to remove skin tags at home—like tying the base of the tag with thread—Dr. Katz warns that this is something you absolutely shouldn’t do yourself. “You’re opening yourself up to risk of scarring and infection,” he says.
The good news is that skin tags are easily removed if you’d rather do without them. At the dermatologist’s office, a local anesthetic and quick snip of a doctor’s scissors will nix it, says Dr. Katz. (Find out the scariest things dermatologists have seen on the job.) Super freezing as well as heating (known as cauterizing) skin tags are other common options.
Discomfort is minimal with any method, and you can immediately return to your normal activities. There should be no mark left behind after skin tags are removed. The same one shouldn’t grow back, but there’s always a chance that new skin tags may form in other areas.
If your skin tags don’t bother you, it’s totally fine to forget about them. But as with any skin growths, if there’s a noticeable change in the appearance, you should have it looked at by your dermatologist. (Here are 6 other reasons to see a dermatologist.)