Skin tags and moles are different types of skin growths. Skin tags occur on the skin’s surface, while moles tend to have roots and a deeper base.
Skin tags are common skin growths that can develop anywhere on the skin and typically do not require treatment. Moles may also develop anywhere on the skin and can be benign. In some cases, they may develop into skin cancer.
This article considers the differences between skin tags and moles and the diagnosis and treatment for both. It also discusses how to tell if a growth might be cancerous and answers some frequently asked questions.
Skin tags, or acrochordons, can develop anywhere on the skin. The growths consist of fat cells, nerve cells, and collagen fibers.
A skin tag may grow flat against the skin or on a short stalk. The growths can be the same color as the rest of the skin or be pink, red, or darker.
Skin tags typically develop in areas where something repeatedly rubs against the skin, such as clothing or jewelry. They are, therefore, most likely to develop in the following areas:
- creases of the neck
- underneath breasts
Skin tags are usually harmless. However, suddenly developing many of them may indicate an underlying illness.
People may require skin tag removal if the growths cause pain, affect eyesight, or become irritated and bloody.
Moles, or nevi, are benign growths of pigment-forming cells called melanocytes. They can develop anywhere on the skin.
Moles can differ in appearance and may have hair or be different shapes, sizes, or colors.
However, moles typically have the following traits:
- They are flat against the skin or slightly raised.
- They are generally round.
- They are usually one color: brown, pink, red, black, blue, tan, or skin tone.
- They maintain the same appearance from month to month.
People can use the “ABCDE” method to identify whether a mole may be atypical. The following features indicate that a mole may be cancerous:
- Asymmetry: One side of the mole is different from the other.
- Border: The border of the mole is irregular or poorly defined.
- Color: The mole is made up of more than one color or has various shades.
- Diameter: Melanomas are typically larger than 6 millimeters (mm).
- Evolving: The mole is changing in shape, color, or size.
Skin tags are soft growths that may protrude from a stalk or stem. They can be between 2 and 50 mm in size and are typically the same color as the rest of a person’s skin or slightly darker. They may grow alone or in larger groups on the skin.
Atypical moles, which may indicate melanoma, are asymmetrical, have an irregular border, and can be made up of more than one color or shade. They may be larger than 6 mm and change over time.
Skin tags and moles are different types of skin growths. The table below compares the relevant features of the two.
|Appearance||small growths of various shapes, fixed or dangling from a short stalk||flat or slightly raised and rounded in shape, may contain hair|
|Color||skin tone, darker than the skin, pink, or red||brown, black, tan, blue, red, pink, or skin tone|
|Causes||often form in areas where something regularly rubs against the skin||pigment-forming cells called melanocytes can form moles when they grow in clusters|
|Diagnosis||visual examination||visual examination|
|Treatments||removal via surgical shave or surgical incision||removal via snip, cryosurgery, or electrodesiccation|
|Risks||typically harmless||may indicate melanoma if atypical|
A dermatologist can typically diagnose a skin tag or a mole through visual examination. They may ask the person questions about the growth, such as whether it has changed and when it appeared.
Doctors may also use photographic imaging or microscopic tools to examine the growth more closely.
If a doctor suspects skin cancer, they may request a biopsy.
Skin tags and healthy moles do not usually require treatment unless they cause irritation or pain or a person wishes to remove them for aesthetic reasons.
A dermatologist or doctor can usually remove a skin tag in their office. Removal options include:
- Snip: The doctor will numb the area and remove the tag with a sterile blade or surgical scissors.
- Cryosurgery: The doctor will apply a very cold substance, such as liquid nitrogen, to the skin tag, which will freeze it. This destroys the skin tag and may form a scab or blister, which will fall off in time.
- Electrodesiccation: The doctor uses a small needle to pierce and destroy the skin tag.
A dermatologist or doctor can also usually remove a mole in their office. Removal options include:
- Surgical shave: The doctor uses a surgical blade to remove the mole.
- Surgical excision: The doctor cuts out the entire mole, which may require stitching. They may examine the mole under a microscope to check for cancer cells.
Skin tags are not precancerous and are typically harmless.
A person should contact a doctor if they develop new skin growths, notice any changes in an existing mole or skin growth, or notice irregularities according to the ABCDE system.
Below are the answers to some common questions about skin tags and moles.
Can a mole have a skin tag?
Skin tags and moles are separate growths. Sometimes, a person may be unable to differentiate between a mole and a skin tag. A dermatologist or doctor can inform a person of whether a growth is one or the other.
How can you tell if a skin tag is a mole or cancerous?
A skin tag is not precancerous and is generally harmless. The ABCDE system can help people determine whether a growth is irregular. It is important for a person to consult a dermatologist if they notice any changes or unusual features in a mole or growth.
Skin tags and moles are types of skin growths and are typically harmless. In some cases, moles can be cancerous.
The causes of each also differ. Skin tags may form when something repeatedly rubs against the skin, while moles can develop when pigment-forming cells cluster.
Skin tags and moles do not usually require treatment. However, a doctor or dermatologist can remove them if they cause irritation or pain or if a person wishes to remove them for aesthetic reasons.
A doctor may remove a mole if they suspect it is precancerous or cancerous.