What’s the best way to remove skin tags?

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 decollete 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, which mean that tag-like lesions can happen for different reasons.

True skin tags are just a bulging out of the skin for some unknown reason.  Retin A exfoliates dead skin but doesn’t remove skin so it can’t remove the skin tag. Typically, these lovely little decorative skin tags hang around forever unless they’re actually removed and there are no over-the-counter products that I would recommend for removing 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 by something that it’s little blood supply was damaged causing the skin of the tag to die and the tag to 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 tag-like lesions 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 like 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.

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.  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 electrocauterie 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 and the tendency of the person’s skin to heal with a scar or leave a discolored mark at the removal site.

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.  My Anti Aging Body Skin Care Kit also works beautifully for barnacles by exfoliating and I personally use it for my ‘barnacle prevention’ skin care.

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 and a while back I described 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.

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