Why Do People Get Skin Tags: A Generally Harmless Nuisance

If you have small growths on your skin that seem to have appeared out of nowhere, you may have skin tags. This dermatological condition isn’t really an issue, in general, more an inconvenience that usually appears in multiple areas of the skin. Skin tags aren’t dangerous and rarely cause complications. None the less, they may cause discomfort, may hurt when accidentally scratched, may become irritated, and are widely considered unattractive.

What Do They Look Like?

First and foremost, it is important to know whether or not you have skin tags in the first place. They are easy to distinguish and can often be self-diagnosed. It is also important to note that self-diagnosis is never the answer or a good idea. It is much better to visit your GP than discover that you’ve had warts all this time, months later.

So, how do you know that you have skin tags? Well, skin tags are small, skin-colored (may be darker) growths, ranging in size from a few millimeters wide, up to as much as two inches.

Skin tags may look like warts in certain instances but are usually knobbly (they tend to hang off the skin, unlike warts, which are either raised or flat). Skin tags also tend to be soft and smooth to the touch (unlike warts, which are generally rough). Finally, skin tags, unlike warts, aren’t contagious. In contrast, warts are spread easily, even if papillomas may be etiological by origin, they aren’t contagious.

Where Are They Found?

Skin tags are frequently found on patients’ armpits, necks, the general groin area, as well as under the breasts. In certain instances, they can be found in the folds under the buttocks and on eyelids. As a rule of thumb, skin tags tend to appear on skin folds.

Factors and Causes

Known in medicine as Acrochorda or papillomas, skin tags are extremely common in humans. In fact, it’s estimated that at least 50% of the population will develop skin tags at a certain point in life. So, what are they, exactly and why do people get skin tags?

Well, skin tags are small cutaneous lesions that aren’t congenital (meaning present at birth). However, young children, as well as toddlers have been known to develop skin tags, most commonly in underarm and neck areas. Nonetheless, skin tags generally occur during adulthood and throughout middle age.


These skin lesions are often found in overweight and obese people. In these cases, papillomas tend to appear around areas that are frequently exposed to friction. As is the case with non-obese patients, the popular area of this affliction is the underarm area.

In obese patients, however, skin tags tend to appear around the chin, the neck, even near the chest and stomach area. As mentioned, these lesions are predominant near skin folds, more typical in overweight people.


Papillomas aren’t uncommon in pregnant women, either. As is the case with obese people, the new skin folds that develop during pregnancies are often exposed to friction, which may lead to skin tags. In pregnant women, however, papillomas have been known to appear owing to elevated hormone levels, a well-known consequence that occurs throughout the gestation period.

Insulin and Blood Glucose

Although it has yet to be discovered why this is the case, skin tags are a common occurrence when there are increased levels of insulin and glucose present. In fact, papillomas are used as markers for persons who are tested for Type-2 diabetes mellitus. As mentioned above, despite the clear correlation between insulin/blood glucose levels and skin tags, there is no obvious reason apparent.


According to some research, Human Papilloma Viruses 6 and 11 were found in skin tags. These viruses are of low risk, meaning that they aren’t dangerous, but this does support the claim that the skin tags may be etiological in origin.


Some studies have found evidence that suggests that skin tags may be genetic in nature. That is to say, that some people may be more genetically susceptible to develop papillomas  than others.

Yet neither of these studies have proved conclusive thus far.

Although there are many proposals as to why these small skin lesions tend to appear, they most likely result from a majority of the mentioned factors. Chances are that there is a correlation between the above-mentioned causes. These factors cause the skin to behave in a certain manner, therefore resulting in skin tags.

When Do They Become Problematic?

By default, skin tags do not cause any discomfort or pain and are harmless. However, they are very unappealing aesthetically and may cause mental anguish, especially if the affected area is apparent and sizeable. Additionally, if they appear in areas of the skin that are frequently exposed to jewelry and the like, skin tags may bleed, which is never a good thing.

Unfortunately, papilloma removal is considered cosmetic surgery, meaning that you are probably going to have to pay for the removal procedure yourself. This type of surgery is most likely not covered by the NHS, unless it is proven that papillomas are causing harm to your mental or physical health.

Do Not Remove Papillomas by Yourself

In some cases, skin tags may fall off on their own. This is usually the result of a lack of blood supply distributed to the tissue. However, under no circumstances should you try to remove skin tags by yourself. In addition to being a very painful experience, you could cause unnecessary complications that may become more serious.

Similarly to wart removal, papillomas are burnt or frozen off. In some instances, especially in cases of larger tags, surgical procedures are performed using local anesthetic.

Burning or freezing papillomas off may cause skin discoloration and irritation. In fact, the skin tag may not end up falling off at all, which means extended treatment. On the other hand, removing these lesions surgically has the benefit of removing the skin tag completely, with a risk of only minor bleeding.

Skin Tags

So, why do people get skin tags? Well, there is a variety of reasons and no 100% conclusive answer. Skin tags are most likely a skin reaction to certain afflictions and diseases, but can be associated with genetic predispositions, and may even be etiological in nature. Whatever the case, don’t try to get rid of them by yourself and be sure to consult with your GP before doing anything rash.