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best way to remove skin tags

What's the best way to remove skin tags?

The best way to remove skin tags depends on the skin tag including the size and where it is. I also like to use an exfoliating skin care routine in my dermatology practice. My patients and I feel it helps to reduce the number of skin tags that form on the skin. I received a great question about skin tags from a reader and I want to share my answer.

Dear Dr. Bailey,

About twenty years ago (!) when I saw you as a resident at UCSD, I had a raised growth (wart? skin tag?) on my face that disappeared with Retin-A.

Now that I am middle-aged and I am getting skin tags around my decollate area I wonder if Retin-A would help with these and make them go away.  My skin is now more sensitive, and I am only using .025% strength.  Are there any over the counter products that help with skin tags?

Thanks for your help.  It is great to have your website and products available.

Best wishes, Ernestine P.

Hello Ernestine,

Thanks for finding me after all these years!  The web sure makes our world wonderfully small.

I want to give you some general information to help you understand skin tag treatment options.  I also want to tell you a little about how Retin A works for some of the common skin tag-like skin growths.

Of course it's hard for me to say if Retin A would make your specific growths go away because I’m obviously not able to see your skin, and not all "skin tag-like" lesions are true skin tags. This means that tag-like lesions can happen for different reasons.

What are skin tags?

True skin tags are just a bulging-out of the skin for some unknown reason.  The bulged skin of a skin tag includes,

  • the dead cell layer (stratum corneum),
  • top living layer (epidermis),
  • the second living layer (called the dermis).

Retin A exfoliates dead skin but doesn't remove living skin so it can't remove the skin tag.

Typically, these lovely little decorative skin tags hang around forever unless they're actually removed. There are no over-the-counter products that I would recommend for trying to remove them.  There is, however, an old home remedy for removing skin tags by tying a thread around the stalk to strangle the tag's blood supply, though I’ve never actually seen anyone do this successfully.  Occasionally a person will get lucky, and a tag will fall off on its own because it was so severely irritated or twisted by something that damaged the little tags blood supply causing the tag to die and fall off.  Most of the time, however, a dermatologist has to actually take the tags off.

What is really important to remember is that not all lesions that look like skin tags are true skin tags.  I've seen patients who come in to have me remove a skin tag that turns out to be a skin cancer.  I've seen these tag-like cancers grown on areas of the skin where we normally expect to see skin tags, such as the armpit, neck, groin etc.  It's not that common, but it's possible, which means that correct diagnosis is important. 

Changing skin growth should be examined by a dermatologist to determine exactly what they are.

How do dermatologist's remove skin tags?

  • My favorite way to treat true skin tags is to quickly snip them with a really sharp pair of sterile surgical scissors (Ouch!)  Most people cringe when I say that but it really doesn't hurt that much.  Small tags don't have a lot of feeling, thank goodness.  Larger tags can be numbed with a little local anesthesia first and then snipped.  Yes, skin tags will bleed when you snip them. We use a styptic to stop bleeding.
  • Other options include freezing with liquid nitrogen, which works well for some tags. 
  • Another wonderful and quick treatment option is to cauterize the really small tags using electrocautery and a small needle tip. 
  • Lasers can also be used for skin tags, but I actually think our trusty low-tech tools do a better job. 

It's a matter of fitting the removal technique to the size of the tag. We also take into consideration what the tendency is for the person's skin to heal with a scar or leave a discolored mark at the removal site.

What are other common skin growths that look like skin tags?

There are other benign skin growths that can look like tags on the neck and chest.  The most common are seborrheic keratosis, which I like to call barnacles.  These may actually flatten out a little with Retin A because Retin A exfoliates off the top layer of dead skin that is often extra thick on top of a barnacle. 

get rid of skin tags and skin barnacles To help reduce the number and size of seborrheic keratosis that are shaped like skin tags, I have my patients use a combination of physical and AHA exfoliation in my practice. The best treatment is with my Ultra-Fast Triple Action Body Smoothing Kit.  This kit uses strong glycolic acid to loosen the "glue" holding dead cells together in the excessively thick stratum corneum. Then the rough shower cloth helps slough-off the loose dead cells. The kit works beautifully for all types of seborrheic keratosis (a.k.a. barnacles) and I personally use it for my own "barnacle prevention" skin care routine. 

It's interesting that you also mentioned warts because Retin A can help to eradicate some warts. Filiform warts, for example, can look like a skin tag and they occasionally go away with Retin A.

Retin A can be applied to the neck and chest, and I do have some of my patients using it there if their skin can tolerate it. I personally use it on my neck and chest, and at my advanced age, I think it may be helping to prevent barnacles from forming on those areas of my skin.  The neck and chest are tricky areas to treat with Retin A though, because many people find that this part of their skin is just too sensitive and easily irritated by Retin A use. 

There are right and wrong ways to apply Retin A. I wrote about that topic in a previous post, the Retin A use instructions that I give to my patients.  Of course, it's also important to remember that Retin A makes the skin sun sensitive so I always stress the importance of sun protection and sunscreen use on all Retin A treated skin.

I hope this helps you better understand both skin tags and Retin A usage on the neck and chest.  It’s so fun that you found me on the web after all these years and the many miles of distance between us-I just love the internet!

Warm Regards,
Cynthia Bailey MD, Dermatologist

Disclaimer: Please realize that availing yourself of the opportunity to submit and receive answers to your questions from Dr. Bailey does not confer a doctor/patient relationship with Dr. Bailey. The information provided by Dr. Bailey is general health information inspired by your question. It should not be a substitute for obtaining medical advice from your physician and is not intended to diagnose or treat any specific medical problem (and is not an extension of the care Dr. Bailey has provided in her office for existing patients of her practice). Never ignore your own doctor’s advice because of something you read here; this information is for general informational purpose only.