Moles and Skin Tags: What Do They Mean?

Submitted by SharpHealth Team on Tuesday 12th October 2010
In this article
  • Why you should watch moles and skin tags.
  • Why and where they grow.
  • Treatment options, precautionary measures and other facts.

Cindy Crawford might have made them a trademark beauty spot for women, but most SharpMen have had it with moles and skin tags. In a world where clear skin and complexion is hip, moles and skin tags are not. And while these skin marks are normal, they demand attention and care. Check out the SharpHealth 411:

What Are Moles and Skin Tags?

Moles and skin tags are non-malignant (non-cancerous) skin growths that tend to be inherited.

Moles. Almost everyone has a few moles. Most people have between 10 and 40 moles on their body. They usually appear in childhood or adolescence and continue to develop into a SharpMan’s 40s.

Moles can small or large; flesh-colored, yellow-brown, or black; flat or raised; smooth, hairy or wart-like.

Many moles begin as small, flat spots and slowly become raised and larger in diameter. The majority are round or oval, no larger than a pencil eraser. Over many years, moles may flatten again, become flesh-colored, or even disappear.

Skin Tags. In the same family of moles are skin tags, soft, small, flesh-colored or other-colored lesions, usually occurring in multiples on the neck, eyelids, armpits and groin. Skin tags are generally harmless but may be irritating, especially if they catch on clothing or rub against your collar.

Years ago, studies linked skin tags with colon cancer, but those studies were later proven to be false. Since then, dermatological researchers haven’t come up with a new reason for why these growths occur, but according to the San Francisco State University Student Health Service, gaining weight can increase and speed up the growth of skin tags.

Caring for Your Moles and Skin Tags

While most moles are harmless, some moles can cause considerable health problems. For this reason it is necessary to properly care for and monitor your moles. For example:

  • Moles that suddenly change in color or size should be evaluated by a physician to ensure that the mole does not indicate melanoma, a serious form of skin cancer. Other warning signs that a mole may be dangerous include itching, crusting, pain and bleeding at the site of the mole.
  • Most SharpMen know that if they expose their skin to the sun, the risk of skin cancer increases. Did you know the same goes for moles? Keep your moles covered and out of the sun.
  • Don't pick at your moles. If a mole is irritating you, speak to a dermatologist about having it removed.

By contrast, skin tags are fairly harmless. Skin tags are not known to "change" into something that requires medical attention or dermatological treatment.

Removing Moles and Skin Tags

"The vast majority of moles do not need to be removed," says Dr. Alexa Boer Kimball, a dermatologist in Greenbelt, Maryland. "However, people do have moles removed for both medical and cosmetic reasons."

Moles and skin tags can be removed in a doctor's office by excision, liquid
nitrogen, or banding. Most people choose to have their moles removed by a plastic surgeon or dermatologist to minimize scarring.

Moles that have developed on the surface of the skin can be shaved off by a doctor in a procedure called a "shave biopsy." The area around the mole is numbed with local anesthesia and the mole is shaved off. Generally the procedure results in no scarring, however, in some cases a whitish discoloration remains.

Moles that grow deeper, into the second layer of the skin, require a "punch biopsy," wherein local anesthesia is applied and a small, cookie cutter-like device is used to remove the mole. As a precautionary measure, each mole removed is sent to a laboratory to ensure that it's benign (non-cancerous).

On the other hand, removal of skin tags is less involved and may be performed by a general physician. Methods of removal include freezing the tag with liquid nitrogen, tying off the tag with a thread or suture so as to cut off the blood supply, or cutting off (excising) the tag with a scalpel or scissors. The procedure generally involves little or no patient discomfort.

Health insurance coverage for mole and skin tag removal varies, so check with your health plan before having the procedure performed. If you do have a biopsy, we recommend paying extra to have a dermapathologist look at the results. These doctors, after studying dermatology or pathology, have received specific training in interpreting skin biopsies. For more information on dermapathologists, check out http://www.asdp.org.

This article last updated on Sunday 12th February 2012
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