Skin Tags Vs. Moles-How to Tell the Difference (2022)

Your skin is an amazing thing-not only is it the largest organ of the body, but it also helps you regulate body temperature and keeps out harmful microbes and other elements, among other tasks. It's also one major thing that makes all of us unique-and that includes different skin growths.

Skin tags and moles are two major growths can can pop up on the surface of your skin, and luckily, they're usually benign (though sometimes annoying). And while the two types of spots have similarities, they're also quite different.

Here's what you need to know about the differences between skin tags and moles, including when they should be removed and how it's typically done.

Skin Tags Vs. Moles-How to Tell the Difference (1)

Skin tags are technically known as acrochordons, and they're small, benign skin growths, according to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology (AOCD). "Skin tags are harmless," fleshy overgrowths that typically occur along the neck and the armpits," Joshua Zeichner, MD, associate director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital, tells Health. "They are called tags because they typically have a narrow base and stick out from the skin like a tag."

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Skin Tags Vs. Moles-How to Tell the Difference (2)

It's estimated that about half of all adults have at least one skin tag, but that they more often occur on overweight bodies or on people who are diabetic, per the AOCD. That's because skin tags "often occur in areas of friction, like armpits, under the breast, and neck," Mary L. Stevenson, MD, a dermatologic surgeon based in New York City, tells Health. So, with larger bodies, skin tags can grow between folds of skin. "However, skin tags are [also] determined by your genetics, and in some cases, people who are very slender still develop them," Dr. Zeichner adds.

What are moles?

Moles, also called nevi, are common spots or bumps that grow on your skin, according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AADA). "Most are flat and darkly colored, although others may be raised and pink or light in color. These are harmless overgrowths of skin cells," says Dr. Zeichner. (Those cells are called melanocytes, melanin-producing cells in skin's epidermis, which give skin its color.)

Moles can either be congenital, meaning you're born with them, or acquired, meaning they show up throughout life. "People usually start developing moles around the age of 3 or 4, and it is considered normal to continue to get new moles until the age of 30," says Dr. Zeichner.

You can also have common moles, which are smaller and more uniform, or atypical moles (known as dysplastic nevi) which means they're larger than common moles and have some irregularities, like varied colors and irregular edges. Also important: Moles can be cancerous too, known as melanoma-it's the most dangerous form of skin cancer and can (rarely) pop up in an existing mole or from a patch of previously clear skin.

(Video) Skin Tags Vs. Moles-How to Tell the Difference

Moles, as with skin tags, can be the result of genetics, says Dr. Stevenson. "Many families have lots of moles or tend to make tags," she says. But moles specifically can also be the result of sun exposure.

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"Skin tags are totally benign," Debra Jaliman, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, tells Health. "They are flesh colored and small in size and do not cause any pain, but sometimes can be irritated by clothing [or jewelry]."

In some cases, because skin tags are closely associated with larger bodies, it's also possible that many skin tags on one person could be a sign of diabetes or other medical conditions associated with higher weights, says Dr. Zeichner. If that's a concern to you, it's important to bring it up to your doctor.

Moles, too, are typically harmless for the most part, but new or changing moles can be a concern. If you've had a mole-either common or atypical-for a while and haven't seen any changes in is appearance, it's not a concern. But when moles begin to change color, size, shape, or show asymmetry of any kind, a doctor will need to give you the once-over. The same goes for if you see a brand-new mole pop up on your skin later in life. "I typically advise patients to have moles checked out in the office if currently existing ones are changing. Or if they get any new spots after age of 30, they should be evaluated," says Dr. Zeichner.

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A good rule of thumb when inspecting moles is to keep the "ABCDE method" in mind-that means checking for asymmetry, border, color, diameter, and evolutions or changes in the mole, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Any of those changes in a mole could mean the presence of skin cancer, and so the mole in question would need to be removed and examined.

How are skin tags and moles removed?

To be clear, skin tags don't need to be removed unless they are causing discomfort to the patient, and moles only need removal if a dermatologist finds them concerning.

Skin tags specifically can be removed in one of three ways: snipping it off with small surgical scissors, burning it (electrocautery), or freezing it (cryosurgery), according to Dr. Jaliman and the AOCD. Unfortunately, because skin tag removal is considered cosmetic, "this procedure is not covered by insurance," says Dr. Zeichner.

That doesn't mean that you should take a DIY approach. "I do not recommend attempting to remove skin tags at home, because they tend to bleed significantly which is difficult to be treated at home," he says. "Plus, it should be done under the right conditions to minimize the risk of an infection."

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Regarding new or changing moles, your dermatologist may first take a biopsy of it in the office. "This may either involve a surface scrape or a small cut in the skin followed by a stitch," says Dr. Zeichner. That specimen will then get sent to a lab to get results, and if the cells come back as atypical, more of the mole (or the mole in its entirety) may be removed, says Dr. Zeichner.

Three options for mole removal include: punch biopsies, shave biopsies, and surgical excisions, Ata Moshiri, MD, a board certified dermatologist specializing in skin cancer treatment at University of Washington Medicine, previously told Health. In mole removals where skin cancer is detected, more than just the mole is removed. "A larger piece of skin is removed to ensure that a clear margin can be obtained so none of the atypical cells are left behind," says Dr. Zeichner. "When skin cancers or atypical moles are detected early, they can be completely removed."

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There's really no surefire way to prevent against these growths or spots on your skin. Skin tags are often genetic, and tend to grow without a specific cause, but given their benign nature, you shouldn't worry about prevention, as they won't affect your health.

Moles are similar, because they "are determined by your genetics, so there's no way to prevent them," says Dr. Zeichner. "However, we recommend wearing sunscreen regularly because we know that UV light exposure can be harmful to the skin and is the biggest risk factor for the development of skin cancer such as melanoma. In some cases, the interaction between UV light and the pigment producing cells within the moles can lead to a cancerous change," he says. In addition to sunscreen, you could consider protective clothing like hats and long-sleeve shirts when spending an excess of time in the sun.

(Video) Is It a Mole, a Wart, or a Skin Tag?

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FAQs

Skin Tags Vs. Moles-How to Tell the Difference? ›

Skin tags form on the skin surface, whereas moles tend to be rooted deeper within the skin. Hair can grow inside moles but not skin tags. What truly sets apart moles from skin tags is that some moles are precancerous and can turn into melanoma. Skin tags are almost always benign (noncanerous).

Can a skin tag look like a mole? ›

Skin tags (acrochordons) are small, noncancerous growths that tend to be the same color as your skin. They often look like a cluster of skin tissue extending out from a tiny stem. They're sometimes darker and may resemble a raised mole. Most skin tags are between 1-5 mm, but some can grow as large as a few centimeters.

How do you identify skin tags? ›

Skin tags
  1. smooth and soft (warts tend to be rougher with an irregular surface)
  2. knobbly and hang off the skin (warts are usually slightly raised or flat)
  3. not contagious (warts spread very easily, so a sudden outbreak or cluster of growths is more likely to be warts)

What does a skin tag look like when it first forms? ›

Skin tags start small, flattened like a pinhead bump. Some stay small, and some grow bigger. They can range in diameter from 2 millimeters (mm) to 1 centimeter (cm), and some may reach 5cm.

How do you tell if something is a mole or not? ›

A normal mole is usually an evenly colored brown, tan, or black spot on the skin. It can be either flat or raised. It can be round or oval. Moles are generally less than 6 millimeters (about ¼ inch) across (about the width of a pencil eraser).

Why am I suddenly developing skin tags? ›

Skin tags occur when extra cells grow in the top layers of the skin. They tend to develop when the skin rubs against itself, so are more common in people who are overweight and therefore have folds of skin. They grow both in men and women and are more common in older people and people living with type 2 diabetes.

Can you remove a mole like a skin tag? ›

Skin tags may be snipped off with a scalpel or surgical scissors. Some moles can be "shaved" off flush with the skin. Other moles may have cells that go underneath the skin, so your doctor might make a deeper cut to remove the entire mole and prevent it from growing back. This cut may require stitches.

What does a cancerous skin tag look like? ›

They can vary in appearance but they are typically: skin colored or brown (or pink or red, especially after irritation) oval shaped. soft.

What happens if you pick a mole off? ›

Cutting off any growth increases your risk of infection, especially if the tool you use is not properly sanitized. You can also create a permanent scar where the mole once was. Another risk of removing a mole yourself is that you can't tell if a mole is cancerous. A mole could be melanoma.

Do skin tags fall off? ›

Skin tags usually don't fall off on their own. The only way to completely remove skin tags is via professional procedures done by a dermatologist. Options for removal include: Surgery.

Can you cut a skin tag off with nail clippers? ›

It can be tempting to cut or clip off a skin tag with a sharp blade, nail clippers, or scissors. Only do this with the approval of a healthcare professional, and cleanse the skin and the tool thoroughly to prevent infection. Also, do not cut or clip off medium or large tags — doing so can cause bleeding.

Can tea tree oil remove skin tags? ›

Soak a cotton ball in tea tree oil. Use a bandage or a piece of tape to secure the cotton ball to your skin tag. Let it sit overnight. Repeat nightly until the skin tag falls off.

When should I be worried about a skin tag? ›

Most of the time, skin tags are just an annoyance. “If it's truly a skin tag, then it's of no concern,” Dr. Ng says. “However, when skin tags are twisted, irritated, or bleeding, this might be a good reason to see a doctor.”

What to look out for with moles? ›

What Should I Look for When Examining My Moles?
  • Asymmetry: One half of the mole does not match the other half.
  • Border: The border or edges of the mole are ragged, blurred, or irregular.
  • Color: The mole has different colors or it has shades of tan, brown, black, blue, white, or red.
Sep 22, 2021

Is melanoma flat or raised? ›

Melanomas can start flat but become raised as they grow. 3 If you can feel it, it's likely abnormal. Sometimes in melanoma assessment, the "E" in ABCDE stands for "evolving." That's because melanomas change in size, shape, and color over time.

Can a doctor tell if a mole is cancerous just by looking at it? ›

A visual check of your skin only finds moles that may be cancer. It can't tell you for sure that you have it. The only way to diagnose the condition is with a test called a biopsy. If your doctor thinks a mole is a problem, they will give you a shot of numbing medicine, then scrape off as much of the mole as possible.

Do skin tags mean diabetes? ›

Many people have skin tags—skin growths that hang from a stalk. While harmless, having numerous skin tags may be a sign that you have too much insulin in your blood or type 2 diabetes.

Does apple cider vinegar remove skin tags? ›

Soak a cotton swab in apple cider vinegar and place the cotton swab over the skin tag. Wrap the section in a bandage for 15 to 30 minutes, and then wash the skin. Repeat daily for a couple of weeks. The acidity of apple cider vinegar breaks down the tissue surrounding the skin tag, causing it to fall off.

What virus causes skin tags? ›

Some studies show an association between skin tags and low-risk forms of of human papilloma virus (HPV), so those viruses may help cause the growths. Additionally, the condition seems to run in families, so doctors suspect a genetic component. Skin tags appear commonly, affecting about 45 percent of the population.

How does Colgate toothpaste remove skin tags? ›

People use toothpaste for all sorts of health-related purposes, from shrinking pimples to treating bug bites. There's no scientific evidence, however, that toothpaste effectively or safely removes skin tags. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that you consult a physician to have a skin tag removed.

Can you safely remove skin tags yourself? ›

The bottom line: If you're wondering how to cut off skin tags painlessly or how to remove skin tags at home, there are no entirely safe steps or methods to try, and DIY'ing it could, again, lead to bleeding, scarring, and/or an infection. “I don't recommend anything at home,” Dr. Evans says.

Can skin tags become cancerous? ›

Can skin tags be cancerous? It is extremely rare that a skin tag becomes precancerous or cancerous – however, if your skin tag, as with any skin lesions, changes color or shape, it is recommended that you contact your dermatologist. A dermatologist examining a patient.

What does Stage 1 melanoma look like? ›

Stage IA Melanoma: The melanoma tumor is less than 1.0 millimeter thick (less than the size of a sharpened pencil point) with or without ulceration (broken skin) when viewed under the microscope. Stage IB Melanoma: The melanoma tumor is more than 1.0 millimeter and less than 2.0 millimeters thick without ulceration.

What does early signs of melanoma look like? ›

Often the first sign of melanoma is a change in the shape, color, size, or feel of an existing mole. However, melanoma may also appear as a new mole. People should tell their doctor if they notice any changes on the skin. The only way to diagnose melanoma is to remove tissue and check it for cancer cells.

What happens if you scratch off a cancerous mole? ›

Scratching a mole does not cause skin cancer to develop. Scratching can cause bleeding and infection, microscopic injuries, or an outright wound. There are no documented cases where a person scratching a mole later developed cancer as a result. It's a common misconception that all skin cancers begin as moles.

Does apple cider vinegar get rid of moles? ›

Apple cider vinegar is great for weight loss, but did you know it is one of the most common product used for mole removal. The acids in the apple cider vinegar such as malic acid and tartaric acid will work together to dissolve the mole on your skin and completely remove it from the surface.

Can moles fall off naturally? ›

Some moles will slowly disappear, seeming to fade away. Others will become raised far from the skin. They may develop a small “stalk” and eventually fall off or be rubbed off. Recent studies have shown that certain types of moles have a higher-than-average risk of becoming cancerous.

What does it mean if a skin tag turns black? ›

At times, a skin tag may turn purple or black. This is known as a clotted skin tag, or thrombosed skin tag. This occurs when the blood supply to the skin tag is inadequate. In most cases, these skin tags will fall off on their own within 3 to 10 days time.

Is Vaseline good for skin tags? ›

If you have a skin tag removed, clean the area with soap and water two times a day unless your doctor gives you different instructions. Don't use hydrogen peroxide or alcohol, which can slow healing. You may cover the wound with a thin layer of petroleum jelly, such as Vaseline, and a non-stick bandage.

Will clear nail polish remove a skin tag? ›

Clear nail polish is a home remedy that some people say can remove skin tags. Clear nail polish might work to get rid of skin tags by essentially suffocating the skin cells. If you want to get rid of a skin tag or mole for cosmetic reasons, clear nail polish might be effective — but that doesn't mean that it's safe.

What is the best skin tag removal? ›

Which methods work the best? Snipping and freezing are the best options. Over the counter liquid products may simply irritate the skin and not lead to the resolution of tags, as can do-it-yourself "strangulation" at home with dental floss or string.

Do skin tags have roots? ›

Keratoses are usually very superficial with no underlying “roots,” almost like warts. Some keratoses are caused by sun damage and they are considered pre-cancers. Skin tags (“acrochordons”) are usually small, but can grow steadily and tend to occur in skin folds.

How long does it take to remove skin tags with apple cider vinegar? ›

Apple cider vinegar

Place a bandage over the cotton ball to keep it in place for 15-30 minutes. Remove and wash the area. Do this daily until the skin tag falls off. It may take a couple weeks for the acid in the vinegar to break down the skin tag tissue.

Why do I have so many skin tags on neck? ›

Friction can play a role in the development of skin tags. Commonly, they are located where skin rubs against skin or clothing. Frequently, they develop on the neck, underarms and eyelids, as well as within body folds, such as under the breasts or in the groin area.

How do you get rid of skin tags overnight? ›

After washing the area affected by skin tags thoroughly, carefully spread some tea tree oil on the swollen parts, using a cotton swab. Cover it with a clean cloth and leave it on overnight. The intrinsic antibacterial and antifungal properties of tea tree oil help to promptly remove skin tags.

What do cancerous skin tags look like? ›

Types of Malignant Skin Growths

They may have areas with different colors and may spread quickly. Basal cell carcinoma: The most common form of skin cancer, appears as raised translucent, shiny, pink, red, or pearly bumps, and may have blue, black, or brown areas.

Can tag moles be cancerous? ›

Unlike certain types of moles that may appear on your body, skin tags are not cancerous. However, it's possible to mistake skin tags for other lesions that may be cancerous. Your dermatologist will ultimately determine whether this is the case.

Can skin tags turn cancerous? ›

Skin tags are not cancerous and do not have the potential to become cancerous. Nearly half of all adults in the United States have one or more skin tags. Skin tags contain loosely arranged collagen fibers and blood vessels encased in a thicker or thinner surface layer of the skin, or the epidermis.

How can you tell the difference between a skin tag and a wart? ›

Skin tags are smooth, while warts are rough with an irregular surface. Skin tags are more raised from the skin by a thin stalk whilst warts are only slightly raised or entirely flat. Warts are caused by a virus while skin tags have a variety of causes, including ageing, weight, hormones and friction.

When should you get a skin tag checked? ›

Usually they're nothing to worry about and don't need to be removed unless they're bothering you. But if one becomes inflamed, infected, or painful, Dr. Ng recommends getting it checked out by a doctor, as there are various tumors that can occur as lumps underneath the skin.

What does Stage 1 melanoma look like? ›

Stage IA Melanoma: The melanoma tumor is less than 1.0 millimeter thick (less than the size of a sharpened pencil point) with or without ulceration (broken skin) when viewed under the microscope. Stage IB Melanoma: The melanoma tumor is more than 1.0 millimeter and less than 2.0 millimeters thick without ulceration.

Is melanoma raised or flat? ›

The most common type of melanoma usually appears as a flat or barely raised lesion with irregular edges and different colours. Fifty per cent of these melanomas occur in preexisting moles.

Why am I suddenly getting lots of moles? ›

Experts think new moles might suddenly appear due to genetic factors, hormonal changes, and sun damage, but they don't know for sure. Most moles are also benign (aka noncancerous), but new moles that emerge in adulthood are more likely to become cancerous than ones you've had for life.

What happens if you pick a mole off? ›

Cutting off any growth increases your risk of infection, especially if the tool you use is not properly sanitized. You can also create a permanent scar where the mole once was. Another risk of removing a mole yourself is that you can't tell if a mole is cancerous. A mole could be melanoma.

Will a black skin tag fall off on its own? ›

At times, a skin tag may turn purple or black. This is known as a clotted skin tag, or thrombosed skin tag. This occurs when the blood supply to the skin tag is inadequate. In most cases, these skin tags will fall off on their own within 3 to 10 days time.

Can you cut a skin tag off with nail clippers? ›

It can be tempting to cut or clip off a skin tag with a sharp blade, nail clippers, or scissors. Only do this with the approval of a healthcare professional, and cleanse the skin and the tool thoroughly to prevent infection. Also, do not cut or clip off medium or large tags — doing so can cause bleeding.

Can you safely remove skin tags yourself? ›

The bottom line: If you're wondering how to cut off skin tags painlessly or how to remove skin tags at home, there are no entirely safe steps or methods to try, and DIY'ing it could, again, lead to bleeding, scarring, and/or an infection. “I don't recommend anything at home,” Dr. Evans says.

Videos

1. Skin Tags, Seborrheic Keratosis & Warts | What's the difference? - Dr Chiam CT
(Ensoul Medical Clinic)
2. What Causes Skin Tags and Moles? – Dr.Berg
(Dr. Eric Berg DC)
3. Skin Cancer Screening | Symptoms, Types & Warning Signs
(U.S. Dermatology Partners)
4. What Causes Skin Tags And Warts? | Get Rid of Warts & Skin Tags- Dr. Renuka Shetty | Doctors' Circle
(Doctors' Circle World's Largest Health Platform)
5. I REMOVED MY SKIN GROWTH & HERE'S THE RESULT!
(Peach Phillips)
6. Mole Removal By Apple Cider Vinegar || Effective Ways to Remove Skin Tags Naturally
(Yellow Purple)

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