When Should You Worry About Skin Tags, Moles, and Birthmarks?
Sometimes the skin can do unexpected things, right?
As if we don’t have enough to deal with in our modern lives, these surprise, quirky little “skin issues” can pop up demanding our attention.
Kind of like UFO’s, I think of these as USO’s – Unidentified Skin Objects.
In case you’re dealing with skin tags, moles, or birthmarks and finding them harder to ignore lately, I feel you!
And I want you to know that’s sort of a good thing. Why?
Because research is showing how critical it is to detect skin cancer early by monitoring your skin for any changes or any new USO’s that pop up.
Know the marks and moles on your body, and watch for changes, beauties.
Ultimately, I find that the more we know about our skin and its changes, the less likely those changes are to trigger undue fears and worries about our health.
In the interest of worry-free summer days, I’ll tackle the issue head-on today and give you the lowdown on what causes birthmarks, moles, and skin tags, how to safely remove them, or how to cover them up on the days when you want them gone.
I’ll also address how to stay safe and answer the most common questions I hear:
- Why do they happen?
- Who is susceptible?
- Should I be worried?
- What does it mean when they show up?
Let’s give it a go!
What are they?
Skin tags are also known as fibromas, polyps, or papillomas.
They’re non-dangerous types of tumors or growths on the skin that usually form in a place where constant friction occurs, such as in the folds of the body.
Common areas include the eyelids, underarms, neck, and breast area (think of where your underwire meets your skin).
Skin tags are irregular areas of skin, raised on a peduncle or stalk, and at times may be darker in color than the surrounding skin.
They can contain nerve and fat cells, and they vary in size.
What causes them?
Some people are more susceptible to skin tags, and that includes those affected by diabetes.
The research suggests that skin tags may be related to an excess of insulin in the blood.
This is not the only possible cause, however, as skin tags may also happen during pregnancy or in people who suffer from obesity.
You may also have a genetic predisposition to developing them.
As I mentioned above, they can simply be caused by friction (like your clothes rubbing against your skin, or from shaving a certain area repeatedly).
If you have skin tags, though, it’s no need for panic.
According to the National Institute of Health, over 45% of the population does, too!
So, they’re extremely common.
Warning signs to look out for
For the most part, skin tags are harmless, but an increased presence of them could signal an underlying health issue such as insulin resistance.
To understand the connection, you must understand how they develop.
A skin tag can be caused by increased cell turnover in the skin.
Increased cell turnover can be caused by inflammation in the body.
Inflammation in the body can be caused by the body’s inability to regulate blood sugar levels, which occurs when prediabetes or diabetes is present.
Of course, other issues can cause inflammation, but skin tags can be an important red flag at a time when, according to the CDC, over 30 million people have diabetes, and 1 in 4 of them don’t realise they have it.
If a skin tag becomes irritated or inflamed, appears red or changes color, that would be an indication to have it checked.
You’ll want to rule out skin cancer in that case.
So, here’s the long and short of it:
Are skin tags always a warning sign?
Can they be a sign of a health issue?
Possibly, and if you have any concerns about them, it’s well worth checking in with your doctor and having them looked at (and possible checking blood-sugar levels as well).
When it comes to the body’s little warning signs, I like to (try to) be thankful for them and take them seriously.
Ultimately, you know your body better than anyone.
What are they?
Birthmarks – marks on the skin that we’re born with – come in two types: pigmented or vascular.
Pigmented birthmarks have two main variations:
- Café au lait spots, which are so named because they resemble a coffee stain, appear light brown on light skin and dark brown to black on dark skin.
- Mongolian spots, which resemble a bruise and appear bluish-gray in color.
Vascular birthmarks have several variations:
- Salmon patches are named after their reddish-pink color and are common in newborns. Around 35% of newborns have these patches on the face or head at birth, and they often fade within a few months.
- Hemangiomas are vascular lesions that may be flat or raised and appear strawberry-like. They can be superficial or deep, sometimes require treatment, but normally shrink and disappear as a child grows.
- Port wine stains are pink to dark-red patches often found on the face and made up of capillaries. These birthmarks can grow and darken over time and may be treated with laser therapy.
A mole, which we’ll cover in detail below, can be a mark we’re born with at birth, but it’s in a category of its own.
Above is an example of a port wine stain.
What causes them?
Pigmented birthmarks are caused by an abundance of melanin, a protective substance.
These birthmarks usually fade over time and may disappear entirely around adolescence, though not always.
Vascular birthmarks are caused by stretched blood vessels or blood vessels that clump together or otherwise form differently.
These often occur on the faces of babies and fade away in the first year of life.
However, vascular birthmarks can vary greatly in size and can be permanent.
Since birthmarks are present in babies, they will usually be thoroughly examined in the baby’s first days and weeks of life and most pose no threat or problem.
As we grow older, they need to be treated like any other area of skin and monitored for changes.
We’ll cover the risks related to moles below, but for most pigmented or vascular birthmarks, there is no increased risk of skin cancer involved.
What are they?
Moles are another type of growth on the skin made up of clusters of pigmented cells.
As such, they are normally darker in color than the surrounding skin.
They differ from freckles in that freckles are an area of increased pigment, but not a growth.
What causes them?
Moles form when cells called melanocytes grow together in a cluster.
Melanocytes are specialized skin cells that produce melanin.
Normally, they transfer the protective pigment to adjacent epidermal cells and are spread out to do their job.
Melanocytes have many fascinating functions, and the melanin they produce serves to protect our DNA from UV radiation.
An important job, right?
Any mole or freckle with a diameter larger than a pencil eraser should be treated as potential skin cancer just to be safe.
This means keeping an eye on it and monitoring for changes using the ABCDE’s of skin-cancer prevention.
Anytime a mole (or any area of skin) shows one of the ABCDE’s listed below, it’s time to have it checked by a dermatologist:
This is one of the most common questions I hear in my practice related to skin tags, moles, and other USO’s: Should I have it removed?
And my answer is always the same – let a qualified dermatologist answer that question.
My best advice is to seek the objective medical opinion of a trusted dermatologist, and then go from there.
If you decide based on good medical advice to have one of these removed, you’ll have several options.
Notice that one of those options is not and should never be to try and remove it yourself.
(See home remedies that some have tried below.)
Cutting away at your skin is never a good idea and can bring so much risk for infection and disease.
I value your health, beauties.
Just. Don’t. Do it.
If you get anything from this post, I hope it’s these two things:
- Information to empower your decisions, and
- We all have these unexpected skin issues, irregularities, and imperfections.
I know I do. And some days I’m more okay with that than others.
Let’s be imperfect together, shall we?
Don’t ever be ashamed of your imperfections or too embarrassed to seek medical advice or intervention when needed.
Sometimes I think we try to handle things ourselves because, at the very heart of it, we feel ashamed.
Social media highlight reels, highly edited images online, and external pressures to measure up can all play into our insecurities.
That’s life. But let’s not let it be life-threatening and keep us from seeking medical help or just setting our minds at ease.
In every issue I’ve covered here today, your dermatologist should be your trusted advisor who stands at the front lines to help you stay healthy.
If you know that removing a skin tag or mole for cosmetic reasons will help you feel your best, that’s okay, as long as you seek the best advice and treat the removal like the medical procedure it is (even if a minor one).
Here are some of the common medical options:
- Cauterization – For skin tags. The dermatologist will apply an electric current and essentially burn the growth. Cauterization will leave a scab that will fall off eventually.
- Cryotherapy – For skin tags. The dermatologist will apply liquid nitrogen to freeze the skin tag. This destroys the targeted cells and may require more than one treatment to remove the growth. The skin tag will fall off in a few days to weeks.
- Laser removal – For skin tags. The dermatologist will use a radiofrequency laser to burn the skin tag off. Typically does not result in scarring.
- Surgery – For Moles. The dermatologist will excise the mole, cutting out all of it down to the subcutaneous level, and sew the skin back together. Requires stitches.
- Shave excision – For Moles. The dermatologist will use a flat scalpel or razor and shave the mole flat. No stitches are required, and it is possible but rare for the mole to come back. Normally produces good cosmetic results.
At the time of removal, your doctor will let you know if a biopsy is warranted.
If they don’t, be sure to ask.
There are a few home-remedy-type options that some people have reported success with.
Please note, however, that I’m purely providing these as an informative stance.
I always recommend seeing your physician to receive safe, proper care.
All of these options involve treating skin tags or moles with substances available over-the-counter with the intention of having them shrink, dry up and fall off, or otherwise disappear.
With all the remedies below, the treatment involves massaging the area with a substance, placing a bandage over it for one to several hours (sometimes overnight), and repeating daily.
The most common home remedies include:
- Apple cider vinegar
- Vitamin E
- Tea tree oil
I can’t report any personal experience with this, as I haven’t tried it.
So, if you’ve had success with any of these, I would be interested to read in the comments!
Of course, another option you have is to use makeup to cover up moles, skin tags, or birthmarks that really bother you.
This I have experience with!
What works for me may not work for you, so the thing to do is experiment with a combination of concealer, powder, and foundation until you’re satisfied with the results.
I’ve found that a good colour-correcting primer has also been effective for me, and then experimenting with the right colour foundation to disguise the area is key.