Anyone can develop skin tags, but if you are obese or middle-aged, you may be more likely to get them. These soft, fleshy growths often appear on the neck, underarms, eyelids and the groin area. While the development of skin tags is far from unusual, a sudden outbreak may indicate an insulin problem.
What Is a Skin Tag?
Skin tags, or acrochordons, are common skin growths that are harmless in nature. Skin tags often grow within skin folds and do not change size, shape and color over time. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, the small flap of skin or "tag" extends from a short, narrow skin stalk that attaches to the surface of the skin. Skin tags are usually painless, but may show signs of irritation if clothing or jewelry rubs against them.
The Insulin Connection
Insulin resistance and skin tags appear to go hand in hand. If you have insulin resistance, it means that your pancreas is producing insulin, but your cells are not allowing it to function as it should. In healthy individuals, insulin acts as a pathway for glucose to enter cells. If the cells are resistant to the insulin, glucose cannot enter. Instead, the glucose builds up in your blood -- a precursor to diabetes type 2. Although the exact cause of skin tags is unknown, researchers do believe that insulin resistance may have a direct correlation to their development, according to the UC Davis Dermatology Online Journal.
Skin tags that are insulin-related sometimes accompany a skin condition known as acanthosis nigricans. The UC Davis Dermatology Online Journal explains that like skin tags, acanthosis nigricans occurs in the skin folds, manifesting as thick, hyperpigmented plaques of skin. Resolving acanthosis nigricans is highly dependent on treating the underlying causes of insulin resistance. If obesity is also an issue, weight loss and dietary changes are also important to the successful treatment of acanthosis nigricans.
Treatment of acrochordons is rarely necessary, but unlike acanthosis nigricans, resolving the underlying insulin condition will not reduce the amount of skin tags that appear on your skin. Surgical removal of skin tags is the usual protocol, often pursued if friction causes the skin tags to become sore or inflamed, according to the Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine. The removal of skin tags involves the administration of a local anesthetic before snipping the acrochordons from the surface of the skin.
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Cutaneous skin tags – Overview
- University of California, Davis Campus; Dermatology Online Journal; New Mechanical Device…; Carina H. Fredriksson, et al; February 2009
- University of California, Davis Campus; Dermatology Online Journal; Acanthosis Nigricans:…; Steven P. Higgins, M.D., et al; September 2008
- Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine; Skin Tags Harmless, Need Diagnosis by Physician for Treatment; Martha A. Simpson, D.O., M.B.A.