What Are Anal Skin Tags?

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Anal skin tags are pieces of excess skin around the anus that are often caused by straining or inflammation. They are not cancerous, but can be itchy or sensitive to the touch.

These common skin growths can be diagnosed and removed easily, if desired. Moreover, depending on the underlying cause, some anal skin tags may be prevented with simple lifestyle changes.

In this article, you'll learn how to recognize anal skin tags, what might have caused them in your case, how a healthcare provider identifies them, and what can be done to treat them.

Man with irritated backside walking in his apartment

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Anal Skin Tag Symptoms

Anal skin tags are skin-colored or brown growths or bumps that are attached to a tiny stalk. They are typically small, usually less than 6 millimeters (mm), but can grow to be several centimeters (cm) in size.

While anal skin tags do not cause pain or bleeding, they can be itchy and tender to the touch. They can also be bothersome.

Anal skin tags can get caught on your underwear or be bothered when you clean or wipe the area, worsening itching and inflammation.

Causes

Skin tags commonly develop from prior external hemorrhoids, which are swollen, enlarged veins in the anal area.

When the swelling goes down, the skin around the hemorrhoid may not fully tighten back up and return to how it was before. The loose skin that remains may become a skin tag.

Common causes of external hemorrhoids that then may eventually lead to skin tag formation include:

  • Constipation: Straining to pass a bowel movement can put pressure on blood vessels in the anal area, causing them to swell.
  • Heavy lifting: This can put unnecessary pressure on the veins in your rectum/anal area and lead to swelling.
  • Pregnancy: Pregnant women are more prone to hemorrhoids and skin tags because of hormonal changes and the weight the baby puts on the veins behind their uterus.

Anal skin tags are also common in people with Crohn’s disease and form as a result of inflammation. In some cases, skin tags around the anus are the first sign of this type of inflammatory bowel disease.

Skin tags may also form as a result of anal wetness/irritation and excessive wiping from diarrhea, or from the chronic friction of wearing tight underwear.

Excess skin that forms after repeated scarring, such as healing from an anal fissure (a tear in the lining of the anus) may also cause anal skin tags.

People with certain genetic disorders like Birt-Hogg-Dubé (BHD) syndrome may also be more prone to developing skin tags, although not necessarily around the anus.

anal skin tags causes
Illustration by Cindy Chung, Verywell

Diagnosis

Even if you feel sure that you have an anal skin tag, see your healthcare provider for a proper evaluation.

A primary care practitioner or healthcare provider can often diagnose anal skin tags, or they may refer you to a specialist. This could be a gastroenterologist, a healthcare provider who focuses on the digestive system, or a dermatologist, one who addresses skin issues.

When undergoing an exam for a potential anal skin tag, your healthcare provider will first ask you to remove your pants and underwear. You'll be given a hospital gown or paper drape to cover up.

Next, your healthcare provider will ask you to lie on an exam table, usually on your left side, or stand up and lean over the exam table.

While wearing gloves, they will gently examine your anal area. In some instances, a more detailed diagnostic exam may need to be performed.

Rectal Exam

During a rectal exam, your healthcare provider will lubricate one gloved finger and insert it into your rectum. This allows them to feel if there are any abnormal structures inside your rectum/anus.

Keep in mind that while a rectal exam may be a bit uncomfortable—physically and perhaps even mentally—the exam is very fast. Also, remember that healthcare providers are trained in giving these exams, so this is all in a day's work.

Anoscopy

It may be necessary for your healthcare provider—usually a gastroenterologist—to perform an anoscopy. This test can be done right in their office.

You will be given a laxative or enema to clear your bowels ahead of time. Sedation is usually not needed.

During an anoscopy, your healthcare provider will first lubricate a thin, rigid tool with a light on the end of it called an anoscope. It will then be inserted a few centimeters into your anus. If a tissue sample (biopsy) is needed, it can be taken at this time.

There may be some discomfort when the anoscope is inserted. But like a rectal exam, it is over quickly.

Sigmoidoscopy

A sigmoidoscopy is a test performed to look at the rectum and the last part of the colon, called the sigmoid colon.

It may not be needed for simple skin tags but may be done if there’s suspicion of another cause for a lump in the anal area.

This test is usually done by a gastroenterologist and also requires that you take an enema or strong laxative beforehand. While no anesthesia is usually used, your healthcare provider may give you a sedative to help you relax or sleep during the procedure.

The instrument used is called a sigmoidoscope, and it is inserted through the rectum and manipulated up into the large intestine. A healthcare provider can get a good look inside the last section of the colon and can also take biopsies if needed.

Recap

The diagnosis of anal skin tags usually only involves a simple inspection of the anal area. In some cases, a rectal exam or a procedure in which a thin instrument is inserted into the anal opening is performed.

Anal Skin Tag Removal

After a skin tag is diagnosed, you and your healthcare provider will need to decide if it should be removed or left alone. For small skin tags or ones that aren’t causing any symptoms or discomfort, it might not be worth removing them right away—or at all.

The procedure for removing a skin tag is usually very quick and performed in the healthcare provider's office.

To minimize any discomfort during the procedure, a numbing medication will first be injected into the area around the tag. In some cases, a sedative may be recommended in order to help you feel more comfortable.

The various techniques used to remove a skin tag include:

  • Simple excision: Surgical scissors or a scalpel is used to remove the skin tag.
  • Laser: A laser is used to burn off the skin tag.
  • Cryotherapy: Liquid nitrogen is used to freeze off the tag.
  • Electrodesiccation: An electrical current is applied to the skin to dry out the skin tag.

If a large wound site is present after the skin tag is removed, it may be closed with stitches that dissolve on their own or need to be removed at a follow-up visit.

You can expect to go home right after the procedure. You will likely receive instructions to follow, such as resting the remainder of the day and returning to light or normal activities the following day. Your healthcare provider will also recommend avoiding strenuous activities for a period of time while the area heals, possibly for several days to a few weeks.

Other instructions will be given for keeping your anal area clean after a bowel movement. It may be necessary to use wipes to remove any bacteria from the area or to clean thoroughly with soap and water. 

Stool softeners might also be prescribed after anal skin tag removal so that bowel movements are soft and can be passed without straining.

Sitting in a bathtub of a few inches of water or using a sitz bath on the toilet may also be recommended to promote healing.

Recap

Anal skin tags can be removed with various office-based procedures, such as cutting out or freezing the skin tag, or removing it with the use of a laser or electric current.

Prevention

The key to preventing skin tags is determining why you are developing them in the first place.

For example, if recurrent external hemorrhoids are the problem, then you will want to adopt lifestyle habits that help prevent hemorrhoids from forming in the first place.

Tips for preventing hemorrhoids include:

  • Avoiding straining
  • Limiting the time spent sitting on the toilet
  • Staying active every day
  • Drinking six to eight glasses of water throughout the day
  • Eating a high-fiber diet or taking fiber supplements, as recommended by your healthcare provider
  • Maintaining a healthy weight

If you have Crohn's disease, see your gastroenterologist regularly and take your medication as advised.

Recap

You cannot prevent skin tags without knowing why they are occurring. If it's because of hemorrhoids, for example, avoiding straining can help. If it's chronic diarrhea, you'll need to make sure you are gently wiping after a bowel movement.

Summary

Anal skin tags are pieces of excess skin around the anus that can be itchy and bothersome. There are many possible causes, including hemorrhoids, healing tears in the anal area, and chronic skin irritation.

Fortunately, these harmless skin growths can be easily diagnosed and removed quickly and relatively painlessly, if desired, in your healthcare provider's office.

Recovery after having one or more anal skin tags removed involves simple at-home strategies like taking stool softeners and avoiding strenuous activity for a short period of time.

A Word From Verywell

Skin tags can be annoying and mildly uncomfortable, but they’re not usually a cause for concern and won’t progress into a more serious condition or become cancerous.

That said, don't assume a lump or bump in your anal area is a skin tag. Get it checked out by a healthcare provider to be safe. It's also important to see your healthcare provider if a previously diagnosed anal skin tag suddenly changes in size or color or becomes painful.

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8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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