Skin tags, also called acrochordons, are non-cancerous skin growths that typically develop in skin folds, like the genitals, groin, neck, eyelids, and armpits. They are made of loose collagen fibers—which are a protein in the skin—and sometimes contain blood vessels.
Skin tags are common, appearing in 25 to 50% or more of adults. They are especially prevalent in those more than 60 years old and may run in families. Although they are relatively harmless, they can cause pain, itching, and irritation. Genital skin tags can often be removed by a medical professional.
Genital Skin Tag Symptoms
Genital skin tags do not usually cause symptoms, but if they do, symptoms can include:
- Pain and irritation from rubbing on clothing
- Soreness from being scratched
- Bleeding from being scratched
- Pain from being twisted
If a skin tag becomes twisted, it may develop a blood clot beneath it that is painful. Skin tags develop as early as in your 20s and rarely increase after age 70.
Skin Tag vs. Wart
It can be fairly simple to distinguish skin tags from warts.
- Appear as a small soft bump on the skin at first but develop into an extended piece of skin rooted to the skin’s surface by a thin stalk of skin
- Are fast-growing and average 2 to 5mm in size but can grow larger, up to a few centimeters.
- Do not tend to change over time once they reach their maximum size
- Start as skin-colored but may change to a darker brown color
- Are usually skin-colored, brown, or pink
- Sit flush against your skin
- Are flat or bumpy
Warts are not cancerous, but they can signal an infection or virus, such as human papillomavirus (HPV). These warts can crop up and disappear over time, reappearing in another spot. Sometimes clusters will form of several warts grouped together. Some people describe them as visually similar to cauliflower.
Although researchers are not exactly sure of the causes of skin tags, they’re more likely to occur where the skin folds. Since your skin folds in your genital area, they can appear there.
They aren’t contagious and cannot be transmitted through sexual contact. Some conditions may increase your chances of getting skin tags, such as:
- Family history of skin tags
- Insulin resistance
- Acromegaly (excess growth hormone disorder)
- Type 2 diabetes
- Skin chafing
- Aging and loss of elastic skin tissue
- Birt-Hogg-Dube syndrome
Anything out of the ordinary in your genital area should be addressed by a doctor as soon as possible. Getting effective treatment requires a proper diagnosis. Skin tags generally grow in dry, folded areas surrounding the vagina and penis and where underwear or other clothing rubs against the skin.
Your doctor will take a history—including a family history of skin tags—and they’ll likely ask questions about your sexual activity. They may ask if you’d like a blood test to check for STIs. Then they’ll have you get undressed so that they can examine the skin.
Skin Cancer or Skin Tag?
Some cancers can look similar to a skin tag, but doctors can generally determine whether your growth is a genital skin tag or not by appearance.
Speak to your doctor if you notice the skin tag:
- Is firm and can’t be moved easily
- Changes color or is multicolored
- Contains any areas that are raw or bleeding
If your doctor can’t tell whether your skin growth is a skin tag, a biopsy might be ordered, which means a small piece of the skin will be removed and examined in a laboratory.
Skin tags on the genitals are benign, but if you want them removed due to appearance or discomfort, it’s something you should trust a professional to do. At-home treatment or removal of skin tags in the genital area is risky since the skin is so sensitive, and it could cause infection, pain, and scarring.
There are options to have genital skin tags professionally removed, including:
- Cryotherapy uses liquid nitrogen to freeze the growth. A small blister might form where the nitrogen was applied, but scarring is rare.
- Excision uses a scalpel or surgical scissors for removal. You will receive a local anesthetic for this procedure, which may burn or sting for a moment.
- Cauterization uses an electric current passing through a wire to burn off the skin tag at the stem. The heat of the wire helps to limit bleeding of the area.
All three of these options are outpatient procedures, meaning you can have them done in a medical office and leave afterward. You may be able to get multiple skin tags removed at once, but you should ask your doctor about this in advance.
Does Insurance Cover Skin Tag Removal?
Insurance rarely covers the removal of skin tags since they are considered a cosmetic issue and not a health risk.
Having skin tags isn’t something you need to worry about, medically. If you do opt to get them removed, keep in mind that removal doesn’t prevent future skin tags from forming, and you should have a professional check any changes to your skin in the genital area.
A Word From Verywell
Any skin growth can cause concern, and genital skin growths may be embarrassing or cause anxiety over potential infections. However, genital skin tags are relatively harmless and can be removed by a professional. They aren’t contagious or sexually transmitted, but it is still worth having any changes to your skin in your genital area checked, to be sure.