The Difference Between a Skin Tag and a Wart

In rare cases, the difference between a skin tag and a wart can be so slight that doctors have been known to misdiagnose them. They sometimes appear to be virtually identical. There is, however, a significant difference between a skin tag and a wart, although most of the time both cutaneous and genital warts are confused for a skin tag. 

What is a skin tag?

Acrochordons, commonly known as skin tags are one of the most frequently occurring skin conditions. Although they are not contagious, almost half of the world’s population is affected by these benign outgrowths, which are not harmful but just more irritating than anything. The chance of developing skin tags increases with age, although adolescents and teenagers can also develop them, especially if they are active. Most people’s concern with skin tags is cosmetic. They may feel they are unattractive or embarrassing, especially when they are in a relatively visible spot.

What is a wart?

A wart is a small bumpy growth on the skin caused by a type of virus called the Human Papillomavirus (HPV). It has a rough texture with a tiny cauliflower or small blister-like appearance. There are more than 100 types of HPV and most of them cause relatively harmless warts. However, there are a few that cause warts in the genital area which can be more dangerous.  HPV usually enters the body through an area where the skin is broken such as areas scratched by shaving or picked hangnails. 

It may take months to notice a wart after it has actually appeared as it slowly grows beneath the skin. The appearance of a wart is dependent on the thickness of the skin and its location on the body. A wart can grow anywhere on the body. While a common wart may appear either on the fingers or toes, while others may develop on the rectal or genital regions. Although a wart is usually harmless it is unsightly, potentially embarrassing, contagious and can be painful.

Black dots on a wart are indications of blood vessels that may lead to bleeding. While most warts tend to disappear within 1 to 5 years without any treatment, medical help must be sought when the wart is large and present in sensitive areas. Children are more prone to getting warts than adults as their immune system is not yet fully developed to defend against the different types of HPV.

Where do skin tags appear?

Skin tags mostly develop in areas that experience regular friction such as the armpits, the groin area, and the neck. They are also commonly found on eyelids and the underside of the breast in women. People experiencing weight gain and obesity may develop skin tags on the skin folds of the belly or the back.

Where do people get warts?

Warts can occur in any area, but specific types of warts tend to develop in particular sites. Common warts are usually seen on the fingers, hand, arms and the legs. While plantar warts are seen developing on the feet and ankle areas. Flat and filiform warts are commonly found on the face. Subungual or periungual warts are found underneath the nails.

What causes skin tags?

The difference between a skin tag and a wart can also be seen in their causes. Skin tags can develop at any time, especially if you have a genetic predisposition. However, they are quite common in middle-aged people. Besides aging, there are other factors that trigger the occurrence of skin tags such as diabetes, obesity, and pregnancy. Skin tags are not contagious, so they are caused due to internal functionings of the body and friction on the skin.

What causes warts?

Warts are mainly a result of HPV. This virus spreads through human contact.  Since this virus is contagious, it is better to remove them as soon as you notice them.

How to tell the difference between skin tags and warts?

  • Skin tags are tiny flesh-colored or brown outgrowths that hang from the skin surface. Skin tags connect to the surface of the skin by a thin stalk that makes them prone to irritation or bleeding. They generally have a soft texture and are smaller than a quarter of an inch. It is quite common to find multiple skin tags in one area, although solitary growths are more typical.
  • A wart is a bumpy skin protrusion.  HPV triggers excessive skin cell growth leading to the wart forming. They come in different colors ranging from light to dark. The appearance of warts is very much dependent on the location of the wart on the body and the type of HPV responsible. They are typically dome-shaped with a rough surface, sometimes containing tiny black spots. The size of these firm outgrowths range from a quarter to half an inch

A major difference between a skin tag and a wart is that the base of a wart is thicker than a skin tag and is rarely found dangling from the surface of the skin.

Are warts contagious?

HPV is a group of different types of viruses. They affect the human skin and the mucous membrane. HPV is actually very common, especially in sexually active adults. Many people don’t even know they have it. Certain types of HPV are known to be more dangerous than others. Some HPVs cause genital warts and cervical cancer, while other types of HPV will cause the common wart which is found all over your body. HPV and thereby warts are spread through close contact, touch and sexual intercourse.

The common wart found on your body is not considered high risk and can easily be removed at home. If you suspect a genital wart, it is best to speak to your doctor. Warts are considered very contagious and even if they are not harmful, should be removed to lower the risk of further spreading.

Are skin tags contagious?

Skin tags are not caused by any virus. They are benign, rootless growths that do not seed, so their ability to spread through touch is nonexistent.  Skin tags can grow in clusters, which can give the impression that a single skin tag may have spread. This will usually be in an area that has a lot of friction or folds, like under the arm, groin, and neck.  As it may have been the friction that causes the first skin tag to appear, that same friction will create a good environment for more skin tags to grow.

Other factors that cause skin tags such as pregnancy or diabetes may result in hormones or insulin causing multiple skin tags to grow in a certain area. Here again, it appears that the skin tags are spreading, but they are really just new skin tags forming in clusters.  

How to remove warts and skin tags

Aside from being contagious, common warts are mostly harmless. However, many people choose to remove them for cosmetic reasons and to avoid further spreading.

Since skin tags are benign outgrowths with no symptoms and bear no contagion, they don’t require urgent removal. However, in certain situations, they can be unsightly or create irritation or even start bleeding.

There are a few options for removing warts and skin tags. Most people choose to remove them at home to avoid paying doctors fees and to avoid some of the possibly painful removal methods.

The most well-known methods to try, include:

Cauterization – You can purchase a cauterization pen fairly inexpensively. They are great for removing skin tags and warts. If you find that you are quite susceptible to these growths, this may be a great option for you to keep at home.

Salicylic acid – Salicylic acid comes in many forms. This is one of the most popular chemicals used in home removal products. It comes in creams and band-aids and requires a couple applications to remove the wart or skin tag layer by layer.

Freezing – Another great option for removing your warts and skin tags at home is to freeze them off. There are some really effective products available that allow you to freeze the growth without damaging the surrounding skin.