By Dr. Mercola
Your skin is the largest and fastest growing organ. It essentially protects your body from the outside. It regulates your temperature and allows you to experience your environment through your senses. Many people care for the skin on their face by regularly exfoliating, cleansing and moisturizing. However, the skin on the rest of the body is often overlooked.
The appearance of your skin has a lot to do with your environment, irritation and nutrition. Healthy fats help to promote beautiful and healthy skin. Getting enough high-quality omega-3 fat helps prevent rough dry skin and vitamins provide protection against skin damage, including acne. Acne and moles are not the only lumps and bumps you may find on your skin, however. Some suffer from skin tags; little fleshy growths you may be tempted to pick at.
What Are Skin Tags?
These raised bumps are known as acrochordons or cutaneous tags by dermatologists.1 While completely harmless, they can be especially annoying when they occur on your face or in areas of your body under consistent friction from clothing, such as around the neck, under the arms and near the groin.
Approximately 1 in 4 people will have skin tags at some point and they are especially common after age 50. These benign skin tumors may be removed for aesthetic or cosmetic reasons. There are a number of different over-the-counter methods that can be used, as well as a visit to the dermatologist. However, there are methods you should not use to remove skin tags at home.
Skin tags are connected to your skin by a thin stalk called a peduncle.2 They are commonly found in both men and women and are likely the single most common bump found on an adult skin. An individual may have anywhere from one to hundreds of skin tags, although middle-aged, obese adults are most prone.
There are several common misconceptions or myths about skin tags, including that they only occur on people who don’t practice good hygiene, that they’re precancerous or contagious, and that removing them will cause more to grow. Dermatologists do warn that not all growths sticking out from your skin are skin tags,3 and having large and numerous skin tags may be an indication of an increased amount of insulin and Type 2 diabetes.4
As noted by dermatologist Dr. Avnee Shah,5 “One skin tag has nothing to do with another. Though removing one does not mean that you will never get another — as a doctor cannot prevent them from coming — it also does not equate to causing more to grow.”
Factors That Increase Your Risk of Skin Tags
Although the exact cause of skin tags is unknown, they usually develop in skin folds. Some believe the friction of skin against skin, or clothing against skin, increases the potential for them to develop. However, there have been studies demonstrating an association between the human papillomavirus (HPV) and skin tags.6 Additionally, the appearance of these growths do appear in families, so there may also be a genetic link.
Further, there is speculation the tags may increase in number with changes in hormonal levels, pregnancy, increasing age, hypertension and elevated levels of C-reactive protein.7 Those who suffer high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, Type-2 diabetes, hypertension and elevated C-reactive proteins, which are all markers for cardiovascular disease, have a higher potential risk of developing skin tags.8
The tags may twist at the base, cutting off the blood supply and become painful. They may get snagged on your clothing and bleed, or become unsightly. There are a number of options to remove them safely at home. If you choose to see your physician, remember your insurance company may not cover the expense if removal is done for cosmetic reasons.9
Mechanical Means of Removal
There are mechanical methods you may consider to remove skin tags. It’s critical to remember you should not just use scissors and cut them off. Skin tags have a blood supply and the larger the tag, the larger the blood vessel supplying oxygen. If done incorrectly, cutting may result in excessive bleeding and an increased potential for infection. Before using any of these techniques, it’s important to remember to wash your hands thoroughly to prevent infection.
There are skin tag removal kits available at the drugstore. These come with a device allowing you to tie the tag off at the base, thereby cutting off the blood supply.10 Tying off the tag is referred to as ligation. Without oxygen, the cells die and the tag drops off. However, this process may also be painful. You can achieve the same results using a piece of dental floss at home. However, depending on the site of the skin tag, you may need another individual to achieve good results without the device.
Liquid nitrogen freezing kits are also available, sold for wart removal and use on smaller skin tags. It’s important to follow the instructions. Several applications may be necessary, but the tag will often fall away within 10 days.11 Anything the liquid nitrogen touches will die, so be sure it doesn’t come in contact with surrounding skin. The application of petroleum jelly to the area around the tag for protection may help reduce damage to the surrounding area.
Remove Your Skin Tags With Essential Oils
Essential oils are often used in aromatherapy and topically. Produced by distilling a plant or through mechanical methods, such as cold pressing, they are combined with a carrier oil. The term essential oil is actually a misnomer as technically the oils are highly concentrated plant compounds which are lipid soluble but contain no fatty acids. The compound molecules are unique as they penetrate cell membranes and have the ability to travel throughout the body within minutes whether applied to the skin or inhaled.
The oils work by gradually drying out the skin tag and causing it to fall off. Unlike tying off the skin, it is not painful. However, you may find some oils sting slightly or trigger itching. Simply apply the oil of your choice to the area several times per day for a few days to a month or two, depending on the size of the skin tag and the oil you’re using. The following essential oils can be helpful for skin tag removal:
• Tea tree oil is sourced from the Melaleuca alternifolia tree found in Australia.12 It has also been used to treat acne, burns, ringworm, head lice and to stop insect bites from itching. The application may sting or burn slightly. Avoid using it in or near your mouth as it is hazardous when swallowed and even small doses may result in confusion and delirium.13
If you choose tea tree oil for your skin tags, ensure you’re getting the real thing as counterfeiters are producing oils to meet high demand using a cheaper brand of tree.14 Do not apply tea tree oil to sensitive areas around your eyes, eyelids or genital areas. Dilute tea tree oil by mixing 1 to 2 drops of essential oil with 1 teaspoon of a base oil before applying.15
• Oregano oil has a familiar scent used in many favorite Italian foods. The plant has been used in the Mediterranean countries for centuries to flavor foods and the oil has been popular for almost as long as an herbal treatment for urinary tract infections and as a folk remedy for gastrointestinal problems.
Oregano is in the same family as mint, basil, sage, marjoram and thyme.16 If you have an allergy to any of these you’ll likely have an allergy to oregano. While not as effective as tea tree oil, it does work by drying the skin tag and making it drop off. Apply the oil up to three times daily, allowing it to air dry before putting a bandage over the tag.17
• Lemon oil is produced from the zest and peel of lemons. Traditional uses of lemon oil have been as a natural insecticide and as a relaxant by aromatherapists.18 Lemon oil is also a cleaning agent and has been used in skin care products. Likely the most pleasant smelling of all the essential oils used to remove skin tags, the oil is also applied with a carrier oil.
In rare cases, citrus oils may cause phototoxicity through chemically inducing skin irritation exacerbated by exposure to the sunlight resulting in severe burns.19 It’s critical you do a patch test before using lemon oil if you are applying it to an area of skin exposed to the sun. Some people report lemon oil may work in a matter of days, depending on the size of the skin tag. Lemon oil should not be used as a long-term solution as it often irritates your skin, even in diluted applications.
• Oil of clove20 is less common than lemon oil and tea tree oil. It has a very strong spicy scent. Traditionally it has been used to spice drinks, like mulled wine and as a traditional cure for toothaches. The smell is unique and very strong, which may put you off from using it. The oil is a well-known skin irritant, like lemon oil. It’s necessary to dilute the mixture if you use clove olive oil and important it not be ingested as it may cause nausea, vomiting, difficulty breathing and even seizures.
• Frankincense oil is normally used in incense and is the product of Boswellia genus trees. The majority of Frankincense is produced in Somalia, Southern Arabia and Ethiopia.21 It is traditionally used in religious holy rites, and as an ingredient in perfumes and skin care products. Frankincense is manufactured through steam distillation and may be one of the better essential oils to remove skin tags if used consistently.
The oil has a very pleasant smell, not too different from pine, with a slightly floral and fruity fragrance. It does have the potential to irritate your skin if not diluted with carrier oil. As essential oils are readily absorbed, frankincense may cause rashes, nausea and stomach pain so it is recommended you do a patch test first.22
Using Frankincense Essential Oil at Home
Frankincense oil has many health benefits attributed to the anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, digestive, diuretic and expectorant properties. The oil is considered a tonic as it benefits all symptoms in your body, including your digestive, respiratory, nervous and excretory systems. It aids in the absorption of nutrients and strengthens your immune system.23 Frankincense oil has been found useful for health conditions such as:
• Arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis Research by Cardiff University scientists found frankincense can inhibit production of key inflammatory molecules, helping prevent the breakdown of the cartilage tissue triggering the symptoms of these conditions.24 Indian frankincense or boswellin, also a member of the Boswellia genus, has also been found to significantly reduce inflammation in animal studies.25
• Colds and respiratory disorders Frankincense oil can help break up phlegm deposits in your respiratory tract and lungs, and can potentially relieve bronchitis-related congestion.26
• Oral health problems The antiseptic qualities of this oil can help prevent bad breath, cavities, toothaches, mouth sores and other infections.27
• Digestive disorders Frankincense oil can help speed up the secretion of gastric juices, bile and acids, and help stimulate peristaltic motion, encouraging food to move properly through your intestines.28
• Uterine health Frankincense oil regulates estrogen production in women and helps reduce the risk of postmenopausal tumor or cyst formation in the uterus. It also regulates the menstrual cycle in premenopausal women.29
More Home Remedies for Skin Tags
Your options to remove skin tags are not limited to mechanical methods and essential oils. Here are a few other home remedies that can be helpful.
Apple cider vinegar
You may have significant results using apple cider vinegar.30 While little research has been conducted, case studies reveal positive results when apple cider vinegar is soaked in a cotton ball and affixed to the skin tag for 10 minutes, two to three times a day. It is important to watch for skin irritation and discontinue use if irritation develops. Never use vinegar around the eyes.
There is anecdotal evidence to suggest liquid iodine may help remove skin tags.31 Protect the surrounding skill skin using petroleum jelly or coconut oil. Apply the iodine across the skin tag using a cotton swab, taking care to put it only on the skin tag. Cover the area until the iodine is dried and repeat this twice a day until the tag drops off.
Coconut oil contains lauric acid, a powerful antimicrobial, which may be helpful in removing your skin tags. Rub the tags every night before bed with coconut oil.32
Dandelion juice may also be an effective method of removing skin tags.33 Harvest fresh dandelions which have not been treated by pesticides by pulling them from the ground and squeezing the root gently to extract the sap. Store in a sterile glass jar and apply three drops to the skin tag three times per day.
Garlic or bananas
Oil from fresh garlic cloves has antimicrobial and antifungal properties. Crush three or four cloves and apply the paste over your skin tag before bed. Cover with a bandage. Remove the bandage in the morning and wash it off. Repeat this process each day until the tags fall off.34
The same can be done with a small piece of banana peel against the skin tag, yellow side up. Secure it with a bandage or first aid tape overnight and remove the next morning. Repeat this each night until the tag falls off.35
These Tags Need Medical Attention
There are some instances when home remedies are not suitable for treatment of your skin tags. If the tag bleeds, itches or is especially large or long or is causing you pain, it is important to seek medical help. Warts and moles may resemble skin tags. Your physician will do a visual examination, and if in doubt will likely perform a biopsy.36
Skin tags located near your eyes or around your genitals should be treated by your physician as essential oils or mechanical methods may permanently damage tender tissue. In these cases, your physician may use cauterization to burn the tag or cryotherapy to freeze the skin. Small skin tags on your eyelids or around your eyes may be excised by a dermatologist using a surgical blade.