How to tell the difference between a harmless skin tag and a potentially life-threatening mole

Skin tags - how to spot the difference between a skin tag and mole
(Image credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Skin tags are harmless growths that look a bit like warts, but how do we tell the difference between these and moles that do have the potential to be dangerous?

Our expert, Jana Abelovska, Medical Advisor at Click Pharmacy has the lowdown. Read our short guide and you'll soon be able to spot the difference between skin tags and cancerous moles.

What are skin tags and how are they caused?

‘Skin tags are growths on the skin which are harmless, but many people choose to have them removed mostly for cosmetic reasons,’ says Jana. ‘They mainly tend to grow in folds of the skin and are made of collagen fibre and blood vessels covered in skin, anyone can develop a skin tag or are born with it, however they tend to develop in older people, those who are obese or those with type 2 diabetes.’

Generally, they appear as a result of loose collagen fibres - collagen is the protein in the body that keeps your skin tight rather than loose.

While skin tags require no treatment and may sometimes naturally fall off on their own, you have the option to have them medically removed if you so wish. For example if the tags catch on clothing, cause you pain or make you feel self-conscious, you have the option.

How do you tell the difference between skin tags and moles?

‘There are certain key differences between a skin tag and a mole,’ says Jana.

‘Moles are usually harmless and won’t cause any pain or annoyance unless rubbed. Moles are usually flat or raised slightly and are usually dark grey or brown in colour whereas skin tags are small soft pieces of skin that usually stick out on a stem - and are the same colour as the skin.

’ You can also tell the difference by checking if there’s hairs; most moles may have hairs, this is usually a good indicator that it is a mole and not a tag.

Skin tags may protrude from the surface too, while moles will often not be very high.

What a skin tag looks like

What causes skin tags? And how to tell the difference between a skin tag and a mole

What a mole looks like

What causes skin tags? And how to tell the difference between a skin tag and a mole

Are some people more likely to develop skin tags than others?

Anyone can develop a skin tag or are born with it. However they tend to develop more in:

  • older people
  • those who are obese
  • those with type 2 diabetes

Where do skin tags usually appear?

Skin tags tend to grow in skin folds, where skin rubs against itself.

Skin tags are most commonly found:

  • on your neck
  • in your armpits
  • around your groin
  • under your breasts
  • on your buttocks
  • and rarely on your eyelids

This is why they tend to affect overweight people more who have excess folds of skin and skin chafing.

If you have any concerns about a skin tag or mole, or are considering how to get rid of skin tags, speak to your GP.

Do not remove skin tags yourself at home.

Rose Goodman
Health Writer

Rose Goodman is a health writer across print titles and websites including woman&home.

Prior to pursuing her career as a writer, Rose obtained a degree in psychology and went on to work in adult mental health for five years, specifically working with people diagnosed with eating disorders, anxiety, depression and OCD. Mental health and wellbeing is something Rose feels incredibly passionate about and believes normalising the conversation around mental illness is something we should all actively strive to do.