Skin tags are common, harmless growths. Some of the many home removal techniques are more effective than others. Doctors often warn against their use, however.
Almost half of all adults have skin tags. They cause no medical complications, but they can be bothersome.
While skin tags require no treatment and may fall away on their own, a doctor may recommend a simple medical procedure to remove any that catch on clothing or cause pain.
People may also want to remove skin tags for cosmetic reasons, especially when they are on visible areas, such as the face.
In this article, Medical News Today spoke with skin expert Kemunto Mokaya, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist, to learn about the safest and most effective ways to remove skin tags at home.
Some techniques for removing skin tags at home are more effective and safe than others. There are also plenty of products on the market for this purpose.
Check with a doctor before trying any of the following:
Skin tag removal bands and patches
A skin tag removal band cuts off the supply of blood to the base of the skin tag. Without a supply of blood, the cells die, and the tag falls away. This process is known as ligation.
Removal patches contain medications. If a person leaves a patch on a tag for several days or weeks, the tag may come off.
However, Dr. Mokaya says: “I’m honestly not a fan of over-the-counter skin tag removal devices, and especially removal patches. They are not regulated by the [Food and Drug Administration (FDA)]. Many simply don’t work.”
Instead, she strongly recommends having skin tags removed in a medical setting.
These creams can be effective in some cases. Dr. Mokaya recommends avoiding products that contain salicylic acid and tea tree oil because these ingredients can irritate the skin or cause contact dermatitis.
The instructions for using some of these creams recommend cleaning the skin with an alcohol wipe and filing down the tag before applying the cream to ensure that the skin fully absorbs it.
According to the labeling on some of these products, the skin tag should fall off within 2–3 weeks.
In a clinical setting, healthcare professionals use liquid nitrogen to destroy unwanted skin tissue. This is known as cryotherapy.
Cryotherapy may involve temperatures of −320.8°F (-195°C), says Dr. Mokaya. Benign lesions such as skin tags require temperatures of −4°F to −58°F.
Dr. Mokaya recommends doing research and selecting the over-the-counter kit that can reach the lowest temperature when used appropriately.
As always, follow the instructions. People may need to apply the product several times before the growth falls away.
When using home freezing kits, avoid letting the spray touch the surrounding skin. Applying petroleum jelly to the area around the tag beforehand can help protect the skin.
Tea tree oil
Tea tree oil is an essential oil that may help treat several skin conditions. Anecdotal evidence suggests that it may help get rid of skin tags.
People who try it apply a few drops of the oil to a cotton ball, which they affix to the skin tag with a bandage. They leave the cotton ball on the skin tag for 10 minutes, three times a day. It may take several days or weeks for the tag to fall off.
However, a person should exercise caution, as tea tree oil can irritate sensitive skin. Do not use this oil on tags in the eye area.
Apple cider vinegar
Little research has looked into whether apple cider vinegar can remove skin tags.
People who try this often soak a cotton ball in the vinegar and affix it to the tag with a bandage for 10 minutes, two or three times a day, until the tag falls away.
However, watch for skin irritation and stop using it if any signs of a reaction occur. Apple cider vinegar is very acidic and can cause chemical burns. Do not use it near the eyes.
Anecdotal reports suggest that people can use liquid iodine to remove skin tags. There is little scientific evidence of this, however.
Anyone who wants to try should first protect the skin surrounding the tag by applying petroleum jelly or coconut oil to it. Next, soak a Q-tip in iodine and spread the liquid across the tag. Cover the area with a bandage until the iodine has dried.
Repeat this treatment twice a day until the tag drops off.
Cutting or clipping
It can be tempting to cut or clip off a skin tag with a sharp blade, nail clippers, or scissors. Only do this with the approval of a healthcare professional, and cleanse the skin and the tool thoroughly to prevent infection.
While this provides the immediate gratification of removal, it is painful, says Dr. Mokaya. People who use blood thinners or have bleeding disorders should avoid this method, she adds.
Also, do not cut or clip off medium or large tags — doing so can cause bleeding. Tags usually measure anywhere from a few millimeters to 2 inches in width.
In addition, do not try this method on tags around the eyes or genitals.
The American Academy of Dermatology caution that trying to remove a mole or skin tag at home can cause a deep-seated infection. Also, it can be easy to inadvertently nick a blood vessel or vein, leading to significant bleeding.
Do not try home removal techniques on skin tags that are:
- located around the eyes
- located around the genitals
- very large or long
- causing pain, bleeding, or itching
Seek medical treatment in these cases. The following are medical methods of skin tag removal:
- Cauterization: This involves burning off the skin tag. Most tags drop away after a couple of treatments.
- Cryotherapy: This involves applying liquid nitrogen to freeze off the tag. Usually, one or two treatments are sufficient.
- Ligation: This involves a healthcare provider tying surgical thread around the tag to reduce blood flow, causing it to eventually drop off.
- Excision: This involves using a blade to cut off the tag.
Skin tag removal is usually considered cosmetic, and it is unlikely to be covered by health insurance.
Health experts advise people to contact a dermatologist before attempting to remove any skin tag.
It is safest for an experienced professional to remove a tag in a medical setting — especially if the tag is large, painful, or located in a sensitive area.
Seek prompt medical attention if a skin tag or mole changes. In some cases, this can indicate skin cancer.
Skin tags are not typically a cause for medical concern. Once a doctor confirms that the growth is benign, no further action is usually necessary.
For small tags that are not located in sensitive areas, a person may consider a home removal technique. However, it is safest to see a healthcare provider for removal in a medical setting.
Also, contact a doctor if any skin tag changes or starts causing issues, such as pain or bleeding.