Causes of Skin Tags
Skin tags are small growths of skin and fibroconnective tissue that generally begin to appear on the skin when a person is middle-aged or older. Skin tags are commonly found in adults; as many as half of all adults have them. Younger people may also develop skin tags, although it is not as common for children and young adults to have them. Why skin tags form is unknown. What is known about their formation is that some conditions encourage skin tag growth. If you want to keep new skin tags from forming, knowing the causes may help you make a few changes to your lifestyle.Genetic Factors
Skin tag formation seems to be a largely heritable trait. People who develop skin tags are often born to parents who also have skin tags. Scientific studies have been performed analyzing the family histories of people with skin tags and people without skin tags. People who had skin tags had family members who had skin tags, whereas people who did not have skin tags did not have family members with skin tags. The correlation was true for people with diabetes and overweight or obese people: if their family members had skin tags, so did they. If their family members did not have skin tags, neither did they. This was a bit of a surprise, as overweight people, obese people and people with diabetes are typically told that their conditions are factors that encourage skin tag growth; however, it seems that genetics has an even more prominent role than even body weight or diabetic conditions. Some children who develop skin tags at a young age usually do so as a result of genetic factors.
The fact that genetics is so prominent in whether a person will develop skin tags suggests that preventing skin tags from forming is not truly possible, and all that a person can do is curb the appearance of new skin tags. It is unlikely that a person will be able to completely stop skin tags from forming. Despite that person's best efforts, it is likely that at least a few new skin tags will form. Our article "Skin Tag Prevention" discusses some lifestyle changes that can reduce the number of new skin tags.
However, some factors are under the control of the person who wishes to prevent skin tags. Friction against the skin is the most frequent preventable cause of new skin tags. Areas where the skin rubs against other skin are most likely to form new skin tags. These areas tend to be around the eyes, under the arms, under the breasts and in the groin. These areas are where the skin often folds together; skin folds tend to encourage the growth of new skin tags. Most of these areas are also where clothing tends to be restrictive. The seams of sleeves and bras often settle around the underarms, creating friction. Bras also rest under the breasts, and underwire bras in particular may generate a lot of friction owing to the increased pressure they place on the skin. The elastic parts of underwear may also rub against the skin in the groin area. These areas are susceptible to skin on skin friction and friction generated by clothing. It is thought that skin tags form in response to friction because the skin cells begin replicating in an attempt to lessen the effect of friction on the skin.Medical Conditions
Other factors that are under the control of the person trying to prevent skin tags are medical conditions that encourage the growth of skin tags. While developing these conditions is often out of a person's control, keeping these medical conditions under control can help prevent the appearance of new skin tags, or at least slow down the rate of new skin tag formation. Overweight or obese people are more likely to form new skin tags than thinner people. This may be partly due to the increased amount of skin that rubs together. Overweight or obese people may have more skin folds where skin can rub against skin. This kind of skin on skin friction tends to be the type of friction most likely to produce skin tags, particularly in people with multiple factors that encourage skin tag development.
There is also a correlation between type 2 diabetes and skin tag formation. However, correlation does not imply causation, and whether type 2 diabetes itself encourages new skin tag growth or is merely more likely to be present in people with skin tags is unknown. There are several chemicals and hormones that are present in the body in higher quantities in people who have diabetes that may contribute to the formation of new skin tags. These substances may encourage new skin tags to grow in the areas that experience a lot of friction. Regulating body weight and metabolic conditions such as diabetes may help to decrease the number of new skin tags that form on the body.
Some doctors consider high numbers of skin tags as warning signs for underlying medical conditions, type 2 diabetes in particular. However, other medical conditions such as underactive thyroid or asymptomatic viral infections, such as certain strains of human papillomavirus, may also encourage skin tag growth, so a doctor may look for these as well in people with high numbers of skin tags.
Although it is common to have some skin tags as you grow older, high numbers of skin tags may be a cause for concern, not because the skin tags themselves are harmful but because skin tags form in the presence of other chronic medical conditions. Seeing a doctor regarding new skin tags may be beneficial in order to rule out such medical conditions, which may otherwise go undiagnosed. In addition, before attempting home removal of skin tags, visiting a doctor may help to determine whether it is safe to do so, since certain moles may be mistaken for skin tags and removing moles improperly may lead to complications and may encourage the growth of melanoma. The expertise of a physician is invaluable even for seemingly benign conditions such as skin tags.