Skin tags are fairly small flaps of skin that protrude from the surrounding skin on the body. They vary widely in their color and shape — some are smooth, while others are irregular and bumpy. Some are flesh colored, while others contain pigment that differs from that of the rest of the skin.
A skin tag can grow anywhere on the body, although they are quite common on the eyelids, in the crook of the elbow, in the armpits, and on the neck. Skin tags can appear either as a flap attached to the skin or on a stalk-like structure of skin called a peduncle. When attached to the skin by peduncle, they look like little mushrooms with a firm stalk and a bulbous tip.
These flaps of skin are considered by dermatologists to be small tumors, but they are benign, or harmless. Normally, skin tags grow very slowly to a specific size, up to 0.5 inch long (1.27 cm), and then cease growing. A tumor that appears to be a skin tag, but grows rapidly and consistently, may be another kind of tumor that is malignant and possibly cancerous.
Although unattractive, skin tags are harmless growths that appear mostly on adults beginning in middle age. They are formed when an area of the outer layer of skin begins to overgrow and envelops collagen fibers, a type of skin cell that is firm and lacks elasticity. Women get skin tags more often than men.
Skin tags are not a source of medical problems for most people, and they are most often painless. In some instances, however, they grow on areas of the body where they may become irritated through friction with clothing, jewelry, and other materials, causing scrapes and infections. Some are located in areas that are bothersome, such as when they are attached to an eyelid, or are simply unwanted for cosmetic reasons.
A medical professional can remove a skin tag safely and painlessly. Some methods of removal include freezing it off with liquid nitrogen or removing it with a scalpel or surgical scissors. Cauterizing or burning skin tags off is also effective. Once removed, they do not grow back, although they may continue to appear on other parts of the body.