Skin tags, also known as acrochordons, are soft skin growths that look similar to a deflated balloon. They form on areas of the skin that rub against other skin or clothing. Although skin tags most commonly develop on the neck, chest, armpits, and eyelids, they can also appear on the penis.
Skin tags are relatively common, with estimates suggesting that they affect up to 60% of the population. They are benign growths that rarely lead to severe complications. However, a skin tag on the penis can cause significant discomfort and dissatisfaction.
In this article, we explain how to identify skin tags. We also cover the causes and treatment of skin tags on the penis.
A skin tag, or acrochordon, is a soft skin growth that hangs from a peduncle or stalk. These benign growths can form anywhere on the body, especially in skin folds and areas where the skin rubs against clothing.
Skin tags usually grow on the neck, chest, armpits, and groin.
Skin tags also vary in appearance. Some have a smooth surface, while others have an irregular, bumpy texture. Most skin tags protrude from the surface of the skin on fleshy stalks. They can be flesh-colored, orange, brown, or dark grey.
People can develop multiple skin tags at a time. Some people may have three to four skin tags, while others can have 10 or more.
A skin tag is not painful or tender to the touch. However, constant friction from rubbing against other skin or clothing may cause it to bleed, swell, or feel itchy. These symptoms can also occur if a person catches a skin tag on jewelry or other objects.
Skin tags on the penis look similar to genital warts, which are soft growths that develop on the genitals. They occur when a person contracts a human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. HPV is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that affects an estimated 79 million people in the United States.
Unlike genital warts and HPV, skin tags are not contagious. A person cannot transmit genital skin tags through sex with another person.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), genital warts are moist, flesh-colored bumps that appear on the tip of the penis. A skin tag can appear on any part of the penis.
The exact cause of genital skin tags is unclear. Numerous possible factors may contribute to the formation of a skin tag on the penis.
Skin tags often develop in parts of the body with loose skin, such as the penis, because areas of this skin frequently rub together. This constant friction may give rise to a skin tag. Skin tags also occur more often in older adults, which may be because the skin loses moisture and elasticity as people age.
Experts believe that the following risk factors may contribute to skin tags:
- wearing ill-fitting underwear or pants, as this can lead to constant friction against the penis
- overweight or obesity
- type 2 diabetes or insulin resistance
- elevated levels of estrogen, progesterone, or human growth hormone
- a family history of skin tags
In one 2018 study involving 88 adults, researchers found a statistically significant association between skin tags and high cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
According to a 2020 article, large skin tags usually develop on the groin and genitals. Large skin tags on the penis may lead to significant discomfort.
A skin tag on the penis is not painful unless a person pulls on it or it becomes irritated. A person may accidentally catch a skin tag on clothing or zippers. A skin tag that constantly rubs against other skin or fabric may bleed or become inflamed.
Treatment is not always necessary for a skin tag. Some skin tags eventually fall off on their own. However, people may wish to consult a doctor or dermatologist about removing a skin tag for cosmetic reasons.
A doctor may recommend removing large or inflamed skin tags that cause significant discomfort.
There are numerous home remedies for removing skin tags. Many of these methods involve weakening the stalk of a skin tag or cutting the blood supply.
Some of these methods include using string, creams, freezing kits, or oils. However, people should speak to a doctor before attempting to remove skin tags on their own. Improper skin tag removal can lead to bleeding, scarring, and infection.
Skin tag removal methods that a doctor may use include:
- Excision: A doctor will cut the skin tag and stalk with a scalpel.
- Cryosurgery: This procedure involves freezing the skin tag with liquid nitrogen.
- Cauterization: A doctor will burn off the skin tag using a small device called a cautery.
- Ligation: Tying a wire around the base of the skin tag restricts its blood supply. Without adequate blood flow, the skin tag will die and fall off.
As skin tags are not harmful, doctors typically see their removal as cosmetic, so health insurance plans are unlikely to cover this procedure.
Skin tags are benign skin growths that pose minimal risk for long lasting or severe complications. However, skin tags can lead to discomfort.
As the exact cause of skin tags is not clear, there are no guaranteed methods for preventing them.
However, the following tips may help minimize the occurrence of skin tags in some people:
- wearing properly fitted clothing and undergarments
- maintaining a moderate body weight
- regulating blood glucose levels
- treating underlying hormonal imbalances
A person should see a doctor for a skin tag that is:
- 2 cm or larger
- located in a sensitive area
- painful or tender to the touch
People should seek medical attention for any type of skin growth that suddenly changes in shape, size, or appearance.
A skin tag on the penis is not a medical emergency. However, these benign growths can lead to discomfort and pain if they have exposure to continual friction.
Although some skin tags fall off on their own without medical treatment, a person may wish to consult a doctor about treatment options for a skin tag larger than 1 cm.
People should not attempt to remove a skin tag at home. Doing so can lead to bleeding, scarring, and even skin infections.