A skin tag is a noncancerous growth of excess skin. Skin tags that form around the anus or rectum are called anal skin tags.
Anal skin tags are typically small, measuring a few millimeters or less. They may be the same color as the skin or slightly darker. They often go unnoticed or cause no problems and can be left alone.
On the other hand, some people may want them removed for cosmetic reasons, because they get in the way, cause sensitivity, or they itch. But anal skin tags should only be removed by a dermatologist or another qualified medical professional.
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 prevent them from forming.
Trying to remove anal skin tags at home can cause pain and other complications, and at-home removal methods are not proven safe for skin tags in this sensitive area.
Also, not all anal skin tags should be removed, even by a professional. There is sometimes a risk of injury or infection because of the proximity to bacteria in stool.
Before someone undergoes a removal, they should discuss the risks and benefits with a doctor.
Some more dangerous growths, such as skin cancer, can look like anal skin tags, and so it is essential to get any unusual growth checked by a doctor.
Tags may crop up almost anywhere on the skin. Often the cause is unclear, 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 the area is more frequently being wiped 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.
- 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, forming a skin tag.
- Crohn's disease. This is marked by inflammation of the intestines, which can lead to diarrhea and constipation, among other symptoms. A clinical review published in 2008 confirms the higher occurrence of anal skin tags among people with the disease.
When a tag is easily visible, a doctor can diagnose it with a physical exam and, if necessary, discuss removal options.
A doctor may need to perform a digital rectal exam to determine whether there are any growths in less visible areas.
The doctor will insert a lubricated, gloved finger inside the rectum.
It may be necessary to examine the inside of the rectum visually for growths.
This is done in a procedure called an anoscopy, where a doctor places a small scope just inside the anus and uses 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 a camera to view inside the rectum and the lower portion of the colon.
A sigmoidoscopy is not always required after diagnosing a 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.
Some small skin tags can be removed without any incision.
A doctor may freeze off skin tags by applying liquid nitrogen. Most tags fall off within a few days. This procedure is known as cryotherapy.
Or, a doctor may use a laser to kill the tissue, causing the skin tag to drop away slowly.
Certain skin tags can be carefully cut off with surgical scissors, but larger tags may require more intricate removal and stitches. Doctors tend not to recommend this, however, because bacteria from stool can easily infect a healing incision.
If an anal skin tag is removed with liquid nitrogen, a laser, or scissors, most people can return home the same day and resume light activity the next day. The doctor may advise against strenuous exercise for several days.
As the skin heals, it may be necessary to clean the anal area thoroughly after each bowel movement. A doctor may recommend using medical wipes or cleansers, as well as creams that promote healing and prevent infection.
A person is often advised to take stool softeners and drink plenty of fluids, so that bowel movements are easy to pass. Sitz baths can also be soothing and help the skin to heal.
People should not try to remove an anal skin tag at home. This can lead to bleeding, pain, and infection.
If a person suspects that they have an anal skin tag, they should see a doctor, who can rule out the presence of cancer or another condition.
It is not always possible to prevent skin tags from developing.
However, the following tips may help to reduce their occurrence:
- Wear breathable, properly fitting underwear. Fabric should be soft and absorbent, causing minimal friction and reducing skin irritation. The fit of any garment should cause no discomfort while a person is moving or sitting.
- Keep bowels regular. Eat plenty of fiber to avoid becoming constipated or stretching and 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. While increasing the risk of developing skin tags, ongoing diarrhea or constipation can indicate an underlying condition that needs treatment.
- Work toward a healthy weight. People who are overweight may be more prone to skin tags. Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein, 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 not usually a cause for concern, and some can be removed. People should consult a doctor for a correct diagnosis.
If an anal skin tag is causing discomfort, a doctor can discuss appropriate removal options.