Skin tags – your early warning sign of insulin resistance

skin tags may warn of insulin resistance
on Tue 10 Apr


Skin tags - soft and fleshy protrusions – typically occur in folds where the skin rubs against itself.  So around the neck, within the armpits, around the groin, under the breast. They can also occur on eyelids or under the folds of the buttocks.


Skin tags vary from person to person, they can be smooth or irregular; flesh-coloured or darker than the surrounding skin; they can be attached by a short thin stalk known as a peduncle or can sit squat on the surface of the skin (sessile)


Skin tags are made up of loose collagen fibres and blood vessels encased in skin and can develop equally in men and women but seldom in children.  They tend to occur in


  • older people - in 46% of people over 40, growing to 59% by 70
  • obese people -where excess folds of skin chafe against each other
  • pregnant women due to hormonal changes


They grow singly or in groups and are typically sized between 2mm and 10mm.In themselves they are harmless and merely unsightly only causing problems if jewellery or clothing rubs against them and for that reason their removal is regarded as cosmetic surgery




…it is becoming increasingly clear that skin tags may have medical significance in that they occur more frequently in patients with insulin resistance which means that whilst one or two skin tags is not unusual,  a sudden outbreak of many could be indicating a health problem.


In fact some studies have shown that as few as three skin tags are linked to an increased risk of diabetes. Research also shows that those with skin tags have higher cholesterol, higher blood sugar and a higher level of fat in the blood (triglycerides) all of which are risk factors for both diabetes and coronary disease.


What is insulin resistance?

IR occurs when the body does not react normally to the amount of insulin produced. This prompts the pancreas to compensate by producing increasing levels of insulin until it becomes exhausted and simply cannot keep up with the demands of the body and so blood sugar begins to rise. 


If you would like to read about this condition in more detail please read my previous blog post on the subject.


Acanthosis nigricans

Skin tags that are insulin-related are sometimes accompanied by a dark thickening of the skin in skin folds which is called acanthosis nigricans -  so you may also want to watch out for this. Frequently appearing around the back of the neck,  it often looks as if the skin has been stained by a necklace.



It is important not to ignore these crucial warning signs. IR is a growing metabolic abnormality worldwide and plays a significant part in increased mortality rates. As a 2010 Brazilian study concluded

“Bearing in mind that IR develops prior to the appearance of associated diseases, at which time they are still impossible to detect, the early identification and treatment of these patients may play an important role in primary prevention, encouraging lifestyle changes and permitting specific treatments to be implemented”


If you would like to read more about research on this subject details of that study can be found here and this study was presented at the 70th annual meeting of the American Academy of Dermotology in 2012.


If you believe you may have a problem, please do go to your GP who is likely to order some blood tests to check your blood sugar levels and HbA1c which is a long-term marker of your recent sugar levels.


In order to lower your risk of prediabetes and type 2 diabetes you might like to read my at a glance advice sheet


I hope this has been helpful.



Although every effort is made to ensure that all health advice on this website is accurate and up to date it is for information purposes and should not replace a visit to your doctor or health care professional.


As the advice is general in nature rather than specific to individuals Dr Vanderpump cannot accept any liability for actions arising from its use nor can he be held responsible for the content of any pages referenced by an external link 



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