What are skin tags?

Skin tags are more common with age and occur more frequently in people with a family history of skin tags. People with metabolic disorders like obesity and diabetes are also more likely to develop skin tags.
Skin tags are more common with age and occur more frequently in people with a family history of skin tags. People with metabolic disorders like obesity and diabetes are also more likely to develop skin tags.

Skin tags are common growths that appear on the surface of the skin. Also known as soft fibromas or acrochordons, these benign tags resemble small, soft bumps. Skin tags are usually found in areas of the body where the skin folds frequently, including:

  • Neck
  • Eyelids
  • Groin
  • Underarms

Skin tags are harmless and rarely cause discomfort. However, they can become irritated or itchy when clothing or jewelry rub against them. Constant friction can cause skin tags to bleed or fall off.

Skin tags are a common concern affecting over 50% of adults. They become more common with age and occur more frequently in people with a family history of skin tags. People with metabolic disorders like obesity and diabetes are also more likely to develop skin tags.

It is important to know how to identify skin tags and how they differ from more serious skin growths.

Symptoms of skin tags on the neck

Necks are a location where people often find different types of bumps. To determine if your neck growth is a skin tag, look for the following characteristics:

  • Small, less than 5 millimeters in diameter  
  • Flesh-colored or slightly pigmented
  • Very soft and easily flattened
  • Painless or slight discomfort when irritated
  • May have a discernible stalk which connects the tag to the surface of the skin  

Causes of skin tags on the neck

Doctors aren’t entirely sure what causes skin tags to form, but there are some theories about how they develop.

Lack of elastic tissue in the skin

As the skin ages, it loses its elasticity. Older skin has less collagen and fewer elastic fibers to maintain its texture. In localized areas where the skin folds regularly, like on the neck, this lack of elasticity could cause skin tags.

Hormone imbalances

Skin tags sometimes form during pregnancy on the face, neck, chest, and under the breasts. They typically go away on their own during the postpartum period. Skin tag formation in this case could be due to high estrogen and progesterone levels affecting the integrity of the skin.

Growth factors

Studies have found that people who develop skin tags have higher insulin growth factor (IGF-1) levels and more insulin growth factor receptors. These receptors are found in the skin and could be responsible for skin tag formation on the neck.  

Epidermal growth factor (EGF) and its receptors regulate skin growth, and they are also found in greater amounts in people with skin tags. More research is needed to understand how an excess of these growth factors leads to the development of skin tags.

Human papillomavirus

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is more commonly associated with warts, but research has found it may also be responsible for skin tag growth as well. Several studies have detected HPV in biopsies of skin tags. Researchers have found the virus in up to 88% of skin tag specimens, suggesting that HPV infection could be a factor in skin tag development.

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When to see the doctor for skin tags on the neck

Most neck skin tags are removed for cosmetic reasons. Occasionally, neck skin tags can become irritated, which could lead to an infection. If a skin tag is large and getting caught on jewelry or clothing, you may want to have it removed.

Skin tags are usually benign. However, if you have one changing in size or color or becoming painful, you should make an appointment with your doctor.

Diagnosing skin tags on the neck

Your doctor will be able to diagnose skin tags with a physical exam. Skin tags are very rarely malignant.  However, if your doctor suspects your skin tag is precancerous or cancerous, they may have it biopsied.

Treatments for skin tags on the neck

Doctors have three options for removing skin tags of the neck:

Cryotherapy

Cryotherapy or cryosurgery is removing skin growths by freezing. Your doctor will use liquid nitrogen to freeze the skin tag, after which it will fall off on its own. This procedure may need to be repeated to remove the tag completely.

Scissor excision

Skin tags are typically attached to the neck by a thin stalk. A doctor can use a pair of sterilized scissors to cut through the stalk, removing the tag. This is best for small tags and is generally painless, though it may cause a small amount of bleeding.

Electrocautery

Electrocautery involves burning the skin tag to remove it. The doctor transmits an electric current, which burns the fibroma, causing it to fall off. This method also cauterizes the tag, which prevents bleeding.

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Medically Reviewed on 3/22/2021
References
American Osteopathic College of Dermatology: "Skin Tags."

Anais Brasileros de Dermatologia: "Association of acanthosis nigricans and skin tags with insulin resistance."

Dermatology Practical and Conceptual: "Human papillomavirus in skin tags: a case series."

International Journal of Pathology and Clinical Research: "Reduced and Thinned Elastic Fibers in Skin Tag"

Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care: "Pregnancy and Skin."

Michigan Medicine: "Removing Moles and Skin Tags."

StatPearls: "Acrochordons."

StatPearls: "Skin Tags"