Skin tags are sometimes called achrocordons or soft fibromas. While they are uncommon near the vagina, they can develop anywhere.
Some vaginal growths that look like skin tags may actually be genital warts, so it is essential to get a proper diagnosis.
In this article, we list the possible causes of vaginal skin tags and how people can get rid of them. We also discuss how to tell the difference between vaginal skin tags and genital warts.
What is a skin tag?
Skin tags are harmless and do not lead to cancer.
Skin tags are harmless skin growths. According to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology, as many as half of Americans have at least one.
Doctors are unsure what causes skin tags, although they seem to run in families. They are made of loose fibers of collagen, which is a protein that helps make up the skin. They may also contain blood vessels.
Skin tags are usually relatively small and can resemble warts, moles, or a piece of skin that is hanging loose. They may be flesh-colored or slightly lighter or darker than the surrounding skin.
Skin tags do not cause cancer or turn into cancer. However, some forms of cancer can look like skin tags. Moles that resemble skin tags may also turn cancerous, so a person should not assume that a new or rapidly growing bump is a skin tag.
Skin tags do not normally cause symptoms and should not be painful. However, they can get caught on clothing or be scraped when shaving or rubbing the skin. This may pull them off, rip them, or cause skin infections.
Anyone with a painful or bleeding skin tag should speak to a doctor.
Researchers are unsure why some people develop skin tags and others do not. Skin tags are not a sign of any underlying skin disease.
Some research suggests that people with human papillomavirus (HPV) may get more skin tags than others. The type of HPV linked to skin tags is a lower-risk form of the virus than the type linked to cancer, however.
Other risk factors for skin tags include:
Skin tags are more common in areas where the skin is dry, folded, or exposed to a lot of friction. These areas include the underarms and areas that are frequently rubbed by clothing.
Skin tags do not grow inside the vagina, but they may appear near the vagina. Skin tags can grow on or around the vulva. They may also grow near the vulva on the inside of the thighs.
Friction from underwear or other clothing can irritate skin tags in this area, and may even be a risk factor for developing them.
Dermatologists can usually diagnose skin tags with a quick visual examination. When skin tags look unusual — such as when they are very large or dark — it may be necessary to take a sample to test in a lab.
A doctor may also test for HPV, particularly if there is a large group of skin tags near the genitals.
Vaginal skin tags vs. genital warts
The HPV virus typically causes genital warts.
Growths that look like skin tags on the genitals may actually be genital warts. Genital warts are typically caused by the HPV virus.
Some forms of HPV can increase a person's risk of cancer, so a doctor may test the warts to determine the type.
Most genital warts are caused by a strain of HPV that does not cause cancer. However, other strains of HPV are linked to cervical, throat, and other cancers, so proper diagnosis of the type of HPV is important.
Skin tags look different from genital warts. A skin growth is probably a skin tag if:
- it is loose and stalk-like
- it is in an area where the skin folds
- it is located in an area of dry skin, not in or around the vagina
- it is not painful or itchy
- there are only one or two growths together
A growth could be a genital wart or another condition if:
- the growth is flat and round
- there are many skin growths in clusters
- the growth is in or around the vagina or anus
- it causes itching, pain, or bleeding
How to get rid of them
Removing skin tags at home can be dangerous and cause infections, so it is important to see a doctor.
In rare cases, growths that look like skin tags may be a sign of another condition, including cancer. Removing the growth will not get rid of any underlying conditions, so it is essential to see a doctor first for diagnosis.
Even if the growth is definitely a skin tag, home removal is dangerous. Cutting or pulling a skin tag may not remove the whole thing. It may become infected and irritated. A severe skin infection can cause scarring or spread to other parts of the body.
Safely removing a skin tag near the vagina is even more dangerous, since the skin tag can be difficult to see and will be surrounded by sensitive tissues.
Doctors can easily and safely remove skin tags. One option is to freeze the tag off with liquid nitrogen. A doctor may also inject a numbing solution into the skin and cut the skin tag with scissors or a scalpel. These procedures are not painful but the skin may feel tender temporarily.
When to see a doctor
It is recommended to speak to a doctor if a skin growth is causing concern.
If a skin tag is bleeding or gets caught on clothing or a zipper, people should speak to a doctor. Injured skin tags can become painful and infected, or cause scarring and skin damage.
Most skin tags do not require medical treatment. As other skin growths may resemble skin tags, however, it is important to see a doctor who specializes in skin health for a proper diagnosis.
People should also have annual skin checks with a family doctor or a dermatologist to ensure that moles and other skin growths, including those that look like skin tags, have not become cancerous or pre-cancerous.
True skin tags are harmless and can be easily removed in a doctor's office. Some skin tags disappear over time.
People with one skin tag may develop more later on. By the age of 70, most people stop developing new skin tags.
While skin tags can be annoying, they will not cause cancer or other serious medical problems. It is important to prevent them from snagging on clothing or getting ripped, however, as they can get infected.
People should not pick at or pull on skin tags. With time, they may disappear. If they do not go away, treatment is safe, easy, and painless.