By Viqué-Ocean Kahinju
You probably have seen people with small tumours in areas where the skin forms creases, such as the neck, armpit and groin. They may also occur on the face, usually on the eyelids. These folds, according to Dr. Peter Kyeyune, a skin specialist, are known as skin tags. Medically known as acrochordon, skin tags are benign (non-cancerous) and often occur in overweight people or the elderly.
Confusing skin tags with other conditions
According to skin experts, a skin tag should not change in shape or size and should not bleed or ooze a discharge. While skin tags are not harmful, moles (ensundo) and warts can be indicative of other medical conditions and should not be ignored.
Although unsightly and may affect one’s self-esteem, skin tags are painless and not life-threatening. However, they can be irritated by clothing or shaving, Kyeyune says.
Normally, the skin tags may appear in the same skin tone, lighter among fair-skinned individuals or reddish when inflamed.
Kyeyune says the cause is not specific, but skin tags are believed to occur as a result of friction caused by the skin rubbing against itself — the reason they are common in skin folds. For example, women with large breasts are prone to developing skin tags under their breasts.
The condition is also linked to collagen (a fibrous protein) and blood vessels that are trapped underneath thicker skin, explains Kyeyune.
It can also be genetic. Kyeyune adds that people whose close family members have skin tags are likely to develop them at some point in their life.
Wearing improperly fitting clothing, heavy jewellery, increased stress and poor diet may all play a role in the development of skin tags. HPV, a group of viruses within the papillomavirus, can also actively infect human skin resulting in skin tags.
The condition is common in women than men and occurs after midlife — in the late 30s, 40s and 50s. It is common among women, especially during pregnancy, due to elevated levels of hormones and hormonal imbalance.
Dr. Deepak Roshani, a skin expert at Kim Medical Centre, says about 25% of the adult population in Uganda have skin tags, although children and toddlers may also develop the condition, particularly in the underarm and neck areas.
They develop as a result of weight gain or obesity and because overweight is associated with type 2 diabetes, skin tags are a red flag of bad health, Kyeyune adds.
Additionally, skin tags may affect people who abuse steroids.
When certain treatments such as steroids are used, they interfere with the body, especially the muscles, causing the collagen fibres in the skin to tie.
This results in the formation of different sizes of skin tags.
Very large skin tags may burst under pressure, causing profuse bleeding, Roshani adds. And when skin tags affect the eyelids, they can impact on one’s sight, causing vision impairment, especially if they are many.
Diagnosis is by observation. A specialist will know, usually because skin tags have a very distinctive appearance, Roshani explains.
It is not advisable to remove skin tags by oneself even if they are irritating. If you must get rid of them, consult a dermatologist. This is because they comprise core fibres and ducts, nerve cells and fat cells which can be damaged if wrongly removed, Roshani clarifies.
In more advanced settings, surgical removal, burning, freezing, use of a laser to burn off the skin tag and cutting off blood supply can help remove skin tags.
According to online sources, castor oil can help soften the skin tag tissue and not allow it to continue to grow.
As the skin cells involved gradually die off, and new ones do not grow to replace them, the skin tag will shrink to the point where it is completely gone or the last remaining piece falls off.
How to tell skin tags moles and warts apart