Acrochordons, commonly known as skin tags, are those small, benign skin growths that often appear in areas like the folds of the neck, armpits, breasts, and groin. While genetics and friction have long been recognized as contributing factors to their formation, recent research has uncovered a fascinating link between skin tags and a condition called insulin resistance.
Understanding Insulin Resistance
Insulin resistance is a metabolic condition characterized by reduced responsiveness of target cells or organs to insulin—a hormone produced by the pancreas. Insulin plays a crucial role in regulating blood sugar levels by facilitating the entry of glucose (sugar) into cells. When cells become less receptive to insulin, glucose struggles to enter, leading to elevated blood sugar levels. This condition often serves as a precursor to type 2 diabetes and is associated with various health concerns, including obesity, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease.
Typically, insulin resistance is assessed through measurements of fasting plasma glucose, hemoglobin A1c, and an oral glucose tolerance test. However, what's intriguing is that insulin resistance can manifest itself through skin abnormalities, including skin tags, acanthosis nigricans, alopecia, acne, and hirsutism, providing a reliable, straightforward, and real-time indicator of this metabolic condition. 1
The Intricate Connection: Insulin Resistance and Skin Tags
Insulin and Skin Cell Growth: It may come as a surprise that insulin, beyond its primary role in blood sugar control, also regulates cell growth. When insulin resistance sets in and insulin levels remain consistently high, it can act as a stimulant for the proliferation of skin cells. This excess growth of skin cells is a probable contributor to the formation of skin tags. 1
Hormonal Imbalance: Insulin resistance can disrupt the delicate hormonal balance within the body, leading to elevated levels of insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1). Elevated IGF-1 levels have been identified as a potential driver behind the development of skin tags. IGF-1 receptors are found in fibroblasts and keratinocytes—skin cells that respond to the hormone by increasing their proliferation, potentially resulting in the formation of skin tags. Additionally, hyperinsulinemia and IGF-1 can induce the ovaries to produce excess androgens, contributing to hormonal imbalances.1
Chronic Inflammation: Chronic inflammation is a hallmark of insulin resistance. Interestingly, studies have detected inflammatory markers within the skin tissue of individuals with skin tags. This suggests that inflammation might play a pivotal role in the growth of skin tags. 2
Treatment and Beyond
Because skin tags are typically benign, treatment is not always necessary. However, they can be a source of irritation or a cosmetic concern for some individuals. Common treatment options include cryotherapy and electrosurgery. 1 While these treatments can effectively remove existing skin tags, addressing the root causes—insulin resistance and chronic inflammation—may provide additional benefits by enhancing overall wellness and potentially preventing the growth of future skin tags and associated skin conditions linked to insulin resistance.
The relationship between insulin resistance and skin tags is multifaceted, involving the interplay of insulin's role in cell growth, hormonal shifts, and chronic inflammation. As our understanding of this connection deepens, it becomes increasingly evident that addressing the presence of skin tags may also offer valuable insights into an individual's metabolic health.
If you find yourself grappling with the nuisance of skin tags or suspect you may have insulin resistance, it is crucial to seek guidance from a healthcare professional. They can not only help manage the cosmetic aspects of skin tags but also provide valuable insights into your overall health and well-being. By doing so, you'll be taking proactive steps toward comprehensive health management, addressing issues both on the surface and within the intricate metabolic processes of your body.
González-Saldivar G, Rodríguez-Gutiérrez R, Ocampo-Candiani J, González-González JG, Gómez-Flores M. Skin Manifestations of Insulin Resistance: From a Biochemical Stance to a Clinical Diagnosis and Management. Dermatol Ther (Heidelb). 2017;7(1):37-51. doi:10.1007/s13555-016-0160-3
Can B, Ozluk AY. Giant Fibroepithelial Polyps: Why do they Grow Excessively?. Sisli Etfal Hastan Tip Bul. 2020;54(2):257-260. Published 2020 May 27. doi:10.14744/SEMB.2018.33603
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