Is this cause for concern?
Skin tags are small, soft skin growths. They resemble tiny deflated balloons or pillows, and they typically grow on a “stalk.” This gives them a raised appearance.
Although they’re more common with age, you can develop them at any time.
Skin tags typically develop on or near:
- the neck
- the folds of the buttocks
- under breasts
- in the groin
They’re typically harmless. But depending on their location, skin tags can get caught in jewelry or clothing. This may irritate the growth, leading to bleeding or infection.
Sometimes vaginal skin tags may cause STD-like symptoms, so knowing how to identify them is important. Here’s what you need to know.
Tips for identification
Vaginal skin tags look like the head of a pin or a deflated balloon. They sit on a stalk, which is also called a peduncle. The tag’s skin color may be the same as surrounding skin, or it may be darker.
All skin tags are typically very small — only 2 to 10 millimeters. That’s about half the size of a pencil eraser. However, at times they can grow to be quite large. Some may be as big as a grape.
Occasionally, vaginal skin tags can appear to be flat. When they’re flatter in appearance, they may be confused with genital warts. But unlike genital warts, skin tags most often occur by themselves. With time, genital warts may grow and develop into a cluster.
Vaginal skin tags and genital warts are easily mistaken for each other, so if you’re concerned, it’s a good idea to see a doctor. Vaginal skin tags may or may not be contagious, depending on the cause. Genital warts, however, are known to be caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) and can be passed to a sexual partner.
What causes vaginal skin tags and who’s at risk?
It’s not completely clear why vaginal skin tags develop or what causes them. Researchers have identified six risk factors many people with vaginal skin tags share:
Friction. Doctors accept skin-against-skin friction and skin-against-clothing friction as a common cause for vaginal skin tags. Skin tags can be found in areas of the body where a lot of friction occurs, such as around the neck, under breasts, and in between or just below your buttock folds. Over time, friction in the genital area may lead to these benign growths.
Pregnancy. Hormonal changes that occur in pregnancy may increase a woman’s chances for developing vaginal skin tags. In addition, changes to the body may increase friction with skin and clothes.
HPV. This STD is known for causing genital warts, but it may also cause skin tags. A 2008 study found that almost half of skin tags tested from the 37 patients in the study were positive for HPV DNA.
Obesity. People who are obese are more likely to develop skin tags. Because of the larger body size, people who are obese or overweight may experience more skin-on-skin friction, which could explain the additional skin tags.
Insulin resistance. A 2010 study found that people with multiple skin tags were more likely to be insulin resistant. Researchers also found that people with multiple skin tags were also more likely to have a high body mass index and high triglycerides level.
Genes. If you have a family member with skin tags, you may be more likely to develop them.
What to expect from diagnosis
If you think you have vaginal skin tags, consider visiting your doctor for confirmation. Because skin tags can be confused with symptoms of other conditions, a diagnosis might help you feel assured the growths are benign and harmless.
Conditions that may be confused for skin tags include:
Polyps. These are similar in appearance to vaginal skin tags, and it’s thought that estrogen and inflammation can lead to or cause polyps. These polyps may be bigger than skin tags, and they may cause more pain because of their size.
Genital warts. HPV causes genital warts. Warts tend to be harder and have a rough surface. They may also grow in an irregular shape, and they are typically flatter in appearance.
Other STDs. Other STDs can cause growths that may resemble vaginal skin tags.
In order to diagnose vaginal skin tags, your doctor may perform a pelvic exam. During this exam, they may take a biopsy or culture of the tissue if they’re concerned the skin growths may be caused by something else.
Is removal necessary?
Treatment for vaginal skin tags may not be necessary. Sometimes, skin tags will fall off on their own. If the tiny skin growths aren’t causing you any pain or discomfort, you can choose to leave them alone.
However, some skin tags can also interfere with sexual intercourse. For some women, vaginal skin tags are also a cosmetic concern. If any of these situations apply to you, you can talk with your doctor about removing them.
Four treatment options are used for removing vaginal skin tags. These include:
- Cryotherapy. Your doctor freezes the skin tags with liquid nitrogen.
- Ligation. Your doctor cuts off blood flow to the skin tag with surgical thread.
- Cauterization. Your doctor burns off the skin tag and seals the blood vessel supply with an electrical-charged device.
- Surgical removal. Your doctor will cut or excise the skin tag with a sharp scalpel or scissors.
If you want to have the vaginal skin tags removed, talk with your doctor. You shouldn’t attempt to remove the skin tags on your own. You could cause bleeding, inflammation, and a higher risk of infection.
Most skin tags are common and usually pose no harm to your overall health. Although they may fall off on their own in time, some prevail, and others may develop in the same area.
Skin tag removal is considered a cosmetic procedure, so it usually isn’t covered by health insurance. If you have vaginal skin tags and are unsure if you want to remove them, you can try living with them for a period of time. If they’re causing discomfort, talk with your doctor about what your options for removal may cost.