Genital warts vs. skin tags

Genital warts are highly contagious skin growths located around the vagina, penis, or anus and are caused by the human papillomavirus virus (HPV). Skin tags are tiny growths that occur in the folds of your skin like your neck, armpits, groin, and eyelids and are not contagious.
Genital warts are highly contagious skin growths located around the vagina, penis, or anus and are caused by the human papillomavirus virus (HPV). Skin tags are tiny growths that occur in the folds of your skin like your neck, armpits, groin, and eyelids and are not contagious.

What are genital warts?

Genital warts are small skin growths located around the vagina, penis, or anus and are usually painless and harmless. Warts are benign (non-cancerous) and caused by a virus called human papillomavirus (HPV), so they are highly contagious.

What are skin tags?

Skin tags are tiny growths that occur in the folds of your skin like your neck, armpits, groin, and eyelids. These fleshy growths are usually very tiny, but stick out. They can appear to be little flaps since they move around when touched. You may not notice skin tags at first because they tend to be the same color as your skin or slightly darker.

What are symptoms and signs of genital warts vs. skin tags?

Signs of genital warts

Patches of rough or smooth bumps that appear around your vagina, penis, or anus are signs of genital warts. Genital warts are a symptom of HPV and not a separate condition. You may carry the HPV virus for months or years before having a breakout of genital warts. 

Signs of skin tags

Skin tags are easy to identify since they are unique. They are very tiny flaps of skin that appear near the folds of your body. In rare cases, they may be confused for other skin conditions like moles or warts.

What are causes of genital warts vs. skin tags?

Causes of genital warts

Genital warts are caused by HPV, a virus that occurs naturally and has more than 40 variations. Anyone can have HPV and most adults will contract some version of the virus during their life. Some strains of the virus cause genital warts. 

Since the virus is highly contagious, you can get it from sexual contact with another person who carries the virus, whether they have an outbreak of genital warts or not.

Causes of skin tags

The exact cause of skin tags is unknown, but genetics may be a factor since they can run in families. The most prevalent theory is that friction to the skin or the skin rubbing together causes skin tags to form. 

Since they are common among people with diabetes, insulin resistance may also be a factor. One study showed that HPV was present in a large number of people with skin tags, which points to the virus as a factor.

How to diagnose genital warts vs. skin tags

Diagnosing genital warts

Your doctor will complete a physical exam to diagnose warts based on their appearance. They may use a small blade to scrape away the top layers of the wart to assess its texture and complete a biopsy.

Diagnosing skin tags

Visual diagnosis is sufficient to diagnose skin tags. The only time your doctor may request additional testing is if he or she suspects a different skin condition. In that case, a biopsy will be completed to test the skin cells. You may also have to go for blood work to rule out anything that could cause harm to your body or be dangerous.

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Treatments for genital warts vs. skin tags

Treating genital warts

Genital warts require a special medication used to treat sexually transmitted diseases. Since they are caused by a virus, the condition can never be cured. Still, medications that contain antivirals may help to shorten your symptoms and prevent future outbreaks. 

Treating skin tags

Your doctor can remove skin tags by:

  • Freezing them off with liquid nitrogen
  • Burning them with a special probe tool
  • Cutting them off with scissors

Home remedies for skin tags include:

  • Applying a topical treatment like tea tree oil or apple cider vinegar 
  • Tying a string or band around the base of the skin tag to cut of circulation

These two skin conditions are easy to tell apart by both appearance and location. Although skin tags may occur in the creases of your legs near your genitals, their texture is very different from genital warts. Genital warts will be much closer to your genitals and have more of a cauliflower-like texture compared to skin tags which are fleshy flaps of skin. 

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Medically Reviewed on 3/22/2021
References
American Osteopathic College of Dermatology: "Skin Tags."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Genital HPV Infection — Fact Sheet."

Harvard Health Publishing: "Skin tag removal: Optional but effective."

Penn Medicine: "The Skinny on Skin Tags: 6 Questions and Answers."

Teens Health: "Genital Warts (HPV)."

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services: "HPV (Human Papillomavirus)."