Skin tags a little growths, often found in the eyelids, neck, armpits, groin, under the breasts and in the folds of the buttocks – anywhere, in fact where the skin rubs against itself.
They are composed of loose collagen fibres and blood vessels, surrounded by skin, and they grow in a projectile pattern. They are smooth and soft and, unlike warts, they are not contagious. They may bleed if they are in an exposed area but they are painless, benign and harmless in themselves.
Patients may wish to have skin tags removed because they are affecting their self-esteem. If they are in a cosmetically sensitive area on the face, for example, they may cause embarrassment. And sometimes they are a problem because they get in the way of clothing or jewellery.
However, since they pose no risk to physical health, NHS funding may not be available for their removal and this may have to be arranged privately.
The area is anaesthetised and the skin tag is removed surgically with a sharp knife, scalpel, razor or scissors. Bleeding will follow this procedure and so pressure is placed on the excision site for a moment or two to limit this. The area will then be treated with antiseptic to guard against infection. A small scar will be left but this will not normally require suturing.
Small skin tags less likely to bleed significantly may be removed by a shave excision. Following application of a local anaesthetic, often in the form of a cream, an instrument called a Dermablade is used to shave the growth off.
Healing following surgical and shave excision is usually uneventful, although there may be an element of residual scarring.
Skin tags or warts can be removed by cryotherapy. This involves spraying the area for a number of seconds with liquid nitrogen, which is kept at a subzero temperature in a vacuum container. This blocks the blood supply to the skin tag and causes its cells to die and the growth to drop off. Normally only one cryotherapy session is required but the process can safely be repeated if necessary.
Blistering can occur following this treatment but it soon settles. Mild residual scarring may be present but this should be transitory and should fade with time. There is virtually no risk of infection with this procedure.