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Removing Moles and Skin Tags
Moles are skin growths made up of cells that produce color (pigment). A mole can appear anywhere on the skin, alone or in groups. Most people get a few moles during their first 20 years of life. They are usually brown in color but can be blue, black, or flesh-colored. Most moles are harmless and do not cause pain or other symptoms, unless you rub them or they bump against something.
You usually do not need treatment for moles. But some can turn into cancer. Talk to your doctor if a mole bleeds, itches, burns, or changes size or color. Also let your doctor know if you get a new mole. Make sure to wear sunscreen and other sun protection every day to help prevent skin cancer.
Your doctor may remove a mole in any of these ways:
- Cutting it off. Some moles can be "shaved" off flush with the skin. Other moles may have cells that go underneath the skin. In that case, your doctor might make a deeper cut to remove the entire mole and prevent it from growing back. This cut may require stitches.
- Freezing it with liquid nitrogen. Your doctor will swab or spray a small amount of super-cold liquid nitrogen on the mole. You might have a small blister where the mole was, but it will heal on its own.
- Burning it off. An electric current passes through a wire that becomes hot. The wire is used to burn off the upper layers of the skin. You may need more than one treatment to remove a mole.
The procedure may hurt a little, but your doctor will numb the area with an anesthetic first. If the procedure causes any bleeding, your doctor may apply a medicine that helps stop the bleeding. Then the doctor will put a bandage on the area. These procedures usually leave only small scars or marks.
Skin tags are small, soft pieces of skin that stick out on a stem. They most often appear on the neck, armpits, upper trunk, and body folds. The cause of skin tags isn't known. Skin tags are not moles and usually do not turn into cancer.
Most skin tags don't need to be treated. But sometimes people want to have them removed because they don't like how the skin tags look or because their skin tags cause discomfort. This can happen when skin tags rub against clothing or get caught in jewelry.
Your doctor may remove a skin tag in any of these ways:
- Cutting it off. Skin tags may be removed with a scalpel or surgical scissors.
- Freezing it with liquid nitrogen. Your doctor will swab or spray a small amount of super-cold liquid nitrogen on the skin tag. You might have a small blister where the skin tag was, but it will heal on its own.
- Burning it off. An electric current passes through a wire that becomes hot. The wire is used to burn through the narrow stem that attaches the skin tag to the skin. The heat helps prevent bleeding.
The procedure may hurt a little, but your doctor will numb the area with an anesthetic before starting the procedure. If the procedure causes any bleeding, your doctor may apply a medicine that helps stop the bleeding. Then the doctor will put a bandage on the area. These procedures may leave scars or marks.
Is it safe to remove moles and skin tags at home?
Home remedies, such as using nail clippers to cut off skin tags or using lotions and pastes to remove moles, may cause bleeding, infection, and scarring. It's important that your doctor check moles before they are removed. It's best to have your doctor remove your moles and skin tags for you.
Current as of: November 15, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
Amy McMichael MD - Dermatology
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