A skin tag is a noncancerous growth of excess skin. Skin tags that form around the anus or rectum are called anal skin tags. They are typically small, measuring a few millimeters or less, and the same color as the skin or slightly darker. They often go unnoticed or cause no problems and can be left alone.

Skin tags, or acrochordons, are common skin growths that most often develop in skin folds, such as the neck, armpits, groin, and anus. A doctor may also refer to them as perianal skin tags, hypertrophied papillae, or fibroepithelial polyps.

Although not typically painful, skin tags can be bothersome. Some people may want them removed for cosmetic reasons or because they get in the way, are sensitive, or are itchy. However, people should not attempt to remove them at home. Only a dermatologist or another qualified medical professional should remove anal skin tags to avoid potential complications.

In this article, we explore why skin tags develop around the anus and how a doctor can diagnose and remove them. We also describe steps a person can take to help prevent them from forming.

As with skin tags on other areas of the body, anal skin tags are usually harmless, and a dermatologist can remove them.

However, it is not advisable to try removing anal skin tags at home, as doing so can cause pain and other complications. Many at-home removal methods are not proven safe for skin tags, especially in this sensitive area. Also, not all anal skin tags should be removed, even by a professional. Occasionally there is a risk of injury or infection because of the proximity to bacteria in stool.

Before someone undergoes the removal process, they should discuss the risks and benefits with a doctor. Some more dangerous growths, such as skin cancer, can look like anal skin tags, so it is essential to get any unusual growth checked by a doctor.

Skin tags may crop up almost anywhere on the skin. Often the cause is unknown, but some people may be genetically prone to them.

When skin tags form around the anus, one or more of the following factors is usually involved:

  • Friction or irritation: Skin tags tend to develop in creases and areas of friction. An anal skin tag may develop due to friction from exercise, prolonged sitting, or tight clothing.
  • Diarrhea: Recurrent loose stools can irritate the skin around the anus, as stool is acidic and a person wipes the area more frequently with rough toilet paper.
  • Constipation: The skin must stretch to accommodate large or hard stool, and straining can put pressure on the area, leading to bulging blood vessels. If the skin does not return to its original shape after straining or stretching, skin tags can develop.
  • Scarring: Anal skin tags can appear following scarring after the anus heals from other conditions, such as anal fissures.
  • Hemorrhoids: These are swollen and inflamed veins in the anus or rectum. Hemorrhoids are common, affecting approximately 1 in 20 Americans. As hemorrhoids heal and the vein shrinks, some stretched-out skin may remain, which can form a skin tag.
  • Crohn’s disease: This condition involves inflammation of the intestines, which can lead to diarrhea and constipation, among other symptoms. Evidence suggests a higher occurrence of anal skin tags among people with Crohn’s disease.

When a skin tag is easily visible, a doctor can diagnose it with a physical exam and, if necessary, discuss removal options. In other cases, a doctor may need to examine the inside of the rectum to check for growths.

A doctor can perform this procedure using an anoscopy, where they place a small scope just inside the anus and use a lighted tube to see inside the rectum. Most people feel little or no discomfort.

When a doctor needs to see further into the lower digestive tract, they may perform a sigmoidoscopy. This involves using a thin, flexible tube with a light and camera to view the rectum and lower portion of the colon. A sigmoidoscopy is not always required after diagnosing an anal skin tag. A doctor will perform this only when they suspect that a person has growths or polyps in the bowel.

It may not be safe or necessary to remove an anal skin tag. A doctor will describe the risks and determine the best course of action. Initially, they may try to treat any underlying causes of the anal skin tags, such as hemorrhoids. Then, similar to with skin tags elsewhere on the body, a doctor may consider surgically removing the anal skin tag.

Techniques a doctor typically uses to remove skin tags include scissor excision, electrocautery, or cryosurgery.

Do they bleed?

Anal skin tags should not cause pain or bleeding. However, a person should not try to remove an anal skin tag at home, as this can lead to bleeding, pain, and infection.

If a person suspects they have an anal skin tag, they should see a doctor to rule out the presence of cancer or another condition.

After the removal procedure, a person should try to relax and avoid strenuous exercise or heavy lifting. Typically, a person can return to work the following day and resume normal activities within a week.

People should follow their doctor’s aftercare advice, as this can speed up recovery and prevent infections. In some cases, a doctor may prescribe antibiotics, antifungal cream, and topical pain medication, which can help promote healing and decrease discomfort.

They may also advise using laxatives or trying a liquid diet to help make passing stools easier. Additionally, they may suggest using medical wipes to clean the anal area thoroughly after bowel movements.

It is not always possible to prevent skin tags from developing. However, the following tips may help reduce their occurrence:

  • Wear breathable, properly fitting underwear: Fabric should be soft and absorbent, causing minimal friction and reducing skin irritation. No garment should cause discomfort while a person is moving or sitting.
  • Keep bowels regular: A person should try to eat plenty of fiber to avoid becoming constipated and stretching or straining when having a bowel movement.
  • Avoid irritation from excessive wiping: Some people may find that using a moist wipe after a bowel movement keeps the area clean without aggravating the skin.
  • Have digestive problems diagnosed: In addition to increasing the risk of skin tags, ongoing diarrhea or constipation can indicate an underlying condition that needs treatment.
  • Work toward a moderate weight: People with obesity may be more prone to skin tags. Therefore, it is advisable to eat a healthy diet and get regular exercise. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend 30 minutes of exercise 5 days per week.

Anal skin tags are relatively common and not usually a cause for concern. They typically do not require removal, but people can have them removed after consulting a doctor. A doctor can correctly diagnose the anal skin tag and discuss removal options if they think it is appropriate.

People can try to prevent anal skin tags by wearing underwear that fits well, maintaining good anal health, and sustaining a moderate weight.