Though it’s been decades, we still laugh when we remember the Friends episode about Chandler’s “third nipple,” the skin tag inconveniently located on his chest. While the rest of the gang (and one repulsed date) made him feel like he had an abnormality, the truth is that his “nubbin” was perfectly common—and harmless. Still, after an embarrassing sexual encounter, Chandler ultimately decided to have the excess skin growth removed. We encourage you to love the skin you’re in, but we also believe in doing whatever makes you feel your best. If you want to minimize your own "nubbin," we’ve rounded up doctors to give expert advice, ahead.
What are skin tags?
We repeat: Skin tags are completely normal and common. In fact, one in four people are prone to getting them, according to dermatologist Melissa K. Levin, founder of Entiére Dermatology. “Skin tags, also known as 'acrochordons' to dermatologists, are medically harmless and are fleshy, non-cancerous soft growths [that can be]skin-colored or [darker],” she explains. “Most of the time, they are asymptomatic, and people remove them for cosmetic purposes.”
How do you get skin tags?
People can be born with excess skin growths, or they can develop them over time due to factors such as genetics, obesity, and friction. Skin tags are common when folds of skin rub together, for instance at the neck, under breasts, or armpits, or even excessively rubbing your eyes. “These growths often occur where skin rubs against clothing, such as a bra strap,” explains dermatologist Amelia K. Hausauer, Aesthetx's Director of Dermatology. “There may also be an influence from changes in circulating hormones which can occur during pregnancy or with insulin resistance.” Additionally, Image Dermatology's Jeanine Downie points out they can be caused by skin damage and aging.
"Most of the time, [skin tags] are asymptomatic, and people remove them for cosmetic purposes."
When should you remove a skin tag?
“Unfortunately, because they are benign, there is no way to prevent growths,”says Levin. Typically, the decision to remove a skin tag is purely cosmetic. “While the removal of skin tags is usually not medically necessary, they can be aesthetically undesirable and bothersome [if they] become irritated,” says Hausauer. “In rare cases, a skin tag can twist on itself which cuts off the blood supply and causes it to turn black or red, become painful or swollen and even fall off.”
Irritation can occur when the growth is constantly rubbing against clothing or jewelry. “Rarely, they are quite large or have a deep, thicker stalk, so potentially a dermatologic, plastic or general surgeon may need to be consulted,” adds Aesthetx's plastic surgeon Kamakshi R. Zeidler.
Mitchel P. Goldman, Medical Director of West Dermatology, also cautions that “The most important [thing] is to know when the growth is a skin tag and not something else. What one thinks is a skin tag [can turn] out to be a form of cancer. The take-home message is to go to a dermatologist for an accurate diagnosis.”
What are treatment options?Cutting
“If a skin tag is on a stalk, it can be easily snipped off with a sterile pair of scissors,” says dermatologist Anna Guanche. Goldman adds, “We usually do a snip excision, numbing the tag with a drop if 1% lidocaine [beforehand].”
“If the skin tag is flatter and broader at the base,” continues Guanche, “it maybe easier to spray that tag off with liquid nitrogen.” Liquid nitrogen freezes the skin to burn off the excess growth.
“For tiny tags, we use an electrosurgical needle technique with or without topical anesthesia, recommends Goldman. “It is important to go to an expert for this technique since you do not want to be left with a scar.”
Another approach is to essential choke the skin tag by tying a string around the base to cut off blood supply. However, this can cause excessive bleeding and not recommended without doctor supervision (besides, you want to be treated in sterile conditions).
Can you treat skin tags at home?
While all of the experts we talked to did not recommend any DIY treatments, there are at-home freezing kits. For a more holistic approach, applying tea tree oil, apple cider vinegar and/or vitamin E to the skin tag is believed to reduce its appearance. Keep in mind that natural remedies can take much longer to work. For immediate results—and to get an accurate diagnosis, while considering all your options—your best bet is to consult a dermatologist.
Katie Davidson Katie Davidson is a freelance writer based in California.