As you get older, little growths called skin tags might start popping up on your body. You’ll recognize them because they’re thinner at the base and get wider at the top. They aren’t painful or dangerous like cancerous moles, but there’s a very good reason you’ll want them removed.
Experts think friction—like from your shirt’s underarms or a necklace—can cause the growths over time, though it’s unclear why some people get more than others, says Anthony Rossi, MD, FAAD, dermatologic surgeon at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and assistant professor of dermatology at Weill Cornell Medical College.
People have used all kinds of crazy methods to try removing skin tags on their own, says Dr. Rossi. He’s heard of people tying strings around them, burning them, trying to pick them off with their fingers, and even slamming books against them. “It’s wild what people will do,” he says. (Check out more terrible skin-care advice dermatologists wish you’d stop following.)
A dermatologist, on the other hand, can snip away skin tags quickly and cleanly. Sounds easy enough for you to try it on your own, right? Not so fast. “It’s like when people try to cut their own hair,” says Dr. Rossi. “It never goes the way they want it to.”
For one thing, dermatologists have sterile instruments, but using your own could lead to an infection. Plus, while derms can use local anesthesia and have supplies to stop the blood, you could bleed uncontrollably with at-home methods.
Even OTC medications claiming to dissolve the skin tags could be bad news, says Dr. Rossi. “You could burn the skin or make marks,” he says. “There could be unintended consequences.” If you hate the idea of anyone snipping your skin, ask a doctor to freeze or melt it instead. If you’re also struggling with acne scars, here’s how to get rid of those.
But there’s an even bigger reason you should visit an expert. After dermatologists remove a growth, they’ll look at it under a microscope. “There are things that look like skin tags but are cancerous,” says Dr. Rossi. That doesn’t mean you should freak out if you do find a skin tag. Most will just be benign, but you won’t know for sure until you’ve asked. Plus, checking a skin tag is a “good excuse” to get your doctor to check the rest of your body for skin cancer and atypical or malignant growths, says Dr. Rossi.