What Causes Genital Skin Tags, According to an Ob-Gyn

Noticing a new bump or growth near the vagina, around the external genital area, or on the groin can be stressful — and understandably so. Instead of falling down the rarely helpful rabbit hole of googling symptoms, consider reaching out to your healthcare provider for an examination.

A bump near the genital region could be a genital skin tag — but only a trained healthcare provider can make that call. To learn more about genital skin tags and why and how they occur, we reached out to Kelly Culwell, MD, a board-certified ob-gyn.

What Are Genital Skin Tags?

You may have heard skin tags near the vagina being referred to as "vaginal skin tags." However, that phrase isn't accurate. According to Dr. Culwell, the vagina, which is an internal organ, is not skin, so it can't have skin tags. "A 'tag' in the vagina that can be seen or felt inside the opening is usually either a hymenal remnant (left over from the hymen) or vaginal rugae or rough texture to the vaginal walls — both of which are completely normal parts of vaginal anatomy," she further explained.

Instead, Dr. Culwell said that the term "genital skin tags" is used to describe skin tags that appear on the vulva (the external genitalia), the groin, or the perineum (the space between the vagina and anus). In terms of appearance, Dr. Culwell said that genital skin tags look like skin-colored bumps. They also tend to be narrower and longer than genital warts. Dr. Culwell explained that genital warts are typically wider at the base and more bumpy.

What Causes Genital Skin Tags?

"Skin tags are outgrowths of normal skin and tend to occur in areas of friction — so underwear that causes rubbing, or rubbing with sitting or seated activities, can cause the growth of genital skin tags," Dr. Culwell said. It turns out skin tags, in general, are very common. According to the Cleveland Clinic, it's estimated that half of adults will experience one skin tag in their lifetime. Apart from the genitals and groin, skin tags are said to frequently occur on other locations of the body, like under the breasts, the armpits, the eyelids, and the neck.

Dr. Culwell noted that genital skin tags are also considered common. If you think you may have a genital skin tag or are experiencing any new bumps in this area, it's important to schedule an appointment with your doctor for an examination. While Dr. Culwell said that growths or bumps could be skin tags, there is the possibility they could also be symptoms of an STI or, in rare cases, precancerous lesions. She also mentioned that skin tags in certain locations can signal other health issues. A trained healthcare provider can help properly diagnose the area of concern.

Do Genital Skin Tags Need to Be Treated?

"If a genital skin tag is not bothering you, there is no reason to get it removed," Dr. Culwell said. However, if the genital skin tag is causing irritation, like if it's rubbing during sex or on your underwear, she mentioned it can be removed. Be sure to speak to your doctor if it's causing you any pain or discomfort, or if you have any concerns about it. "Your healthcare provider might also want to remove a skin tag if they aren't certain what it is and want to send it for evaluation to ensure it isn't anything else," Dr. Culwell added.