Most people have some type of skin issue, be it something minor like moles and freckles, or something major like severe acne or eczema. It makes sense because our skin is our first line of defense against the elements, UV radiation, dirt, bacteria and other external threats. Clothing, sunscreen, and moisturizers offer some measure of protection, but our skin still takes quite a beating on a regular basis. Over time, the wear and tear on skin can cause it to wrinkle and sag; it can also cause areas of hyperpigmentation, or age spots.

Skin tags are, perhaps, one of the more annoying consequences of wear and tear on the skin.

What are Skin Tags?

The technical name for skin tags is acrochordons, and approximately 46 percent of people have them. They are tiny outgrowths of skin that appear in and around areas where the skin folds or rubs together, such as the eyelids, the neck, beneath the breasts, and at the armpits. Overweight people, and people who have experienced sudden weight loss with sagging skin, can also get them in areas where rolls of fat or layers of sagging skin meet.

They can occur in people of all ages and genders, but they are most common in people over age 60.

Skin tags are usually very small. They may not even be noticeable from a distance, but you can usually feel them as tiny bumps on the surface of your skin. If you have a lot of them in close proximity, they can give your skin a sandpapery texture.

Some skin tags can grow larger, and be visible to others. Jewelry and certain clothing can often irritate the larger tags.

Although tags can be annoying, they are usually harmless.

What Causes Skin Tags?

The prevailing theory is that skin tags are caused by skin rubbing against skin, but that genetics, hormone levels, insulin resistance, and even the human papilloma virus can all be factors. Age is another factor and 59 percent of people over age 70 have them.

There is also a theory that illegal steroids can cause skin tags in some people because they cause skin fibers to bond together, forming small outgrowths.

How to Remove Them

Because skin tags are almost always benign, the only reason to remove them would be for cosmetic purposes, or because they are located in an area that’s easily irritated by clothing or jewelry.

Skin tags are fairly easy to remove and one common removal method is to tie a string around the tag to cut off its blood supply until it falls off naturally. In areas where you have multiple tags, or the tags are too small to tie off, you can use a skin tag remover.

If do-it-yourself (DIY) is not your thing, there are also professional cosmetic options such as laser surgery, freezing with liquid nitrogen, cauterization, and removal by surgical scalpel. These methods are especially effective on large skin tags, and are faster than the DIY methods, but they can also be much more expensive.

Attempting to cut the tags yourself is not recommended because it can lead to bleeding, scarring, and infection.

Once a skin tag is removed it will not grow back, but it is possible to form new tags in other areas.

Preventing Skin Tags

One way to reduce your risk of developing skin tags is to avoid chafing your skin. Wearing loose, non-irritating clothing and losing weight to reduce the number of skin folds you have can help. However, rapid weight loss can actually make skin folds worse and increase your risk of skin tags. Applying products that reduce the friction between skin folds, such as body powders, can also help reduce your risk.

While reducing chafing can reduce some of your risk, it does not address the other factors that can cause skin tags – especially heredity. If your close relatives have skin tags, then you are more likely to develop them yourself and your best bet is to be aware of your risk and take steps to treat them as they arise.

If your skin tags are the result of insulin resistance or a hormonal imbalance, correcting the underlying issue could prevent you from developing more skin tags.

If you already have skin tags, the methods for reducing chafing can help prevent them from getting larger.

Consult your doctor if you are concerned about your skin tags, or if you believe they could be a sign of insulin resistance or a hormonal problem.