How to Differentiate Between Skin Tags and Moles

Skin Tags vs Moles Top 10 Differences
Female dermatologist looking at skin growths on the back of a male patient through a magnifying device.

More often than not, moles and skin tags can be annoying. In today’s screen-obsessed, “picture-perfect” world, having an “abnormal” growth as harmless as a skin tag or as common as a mole can be more than enough to give one a serious confidence crisis. They can be even more irritating when they make it hard to tell which is which – is it a skin tag or a mole?

You may have had them for most of your life, or they may have only recently appeared, but identifying whether your skin growths are skin tags or moles can be tricky for some. A skin tag and a mole have their own, distinct characteristics; but they also share a few which can make identification confusing. 

If googling for answers is not giving you any clarity, and especially if your purpose is to learn how to safely remove that unsightly growth on your face or neck, then your best bet is to get it checked by a dermatologist. Nevertheless, you should continue reading for more definitive clues about the pesky growth that makes you camera-shy and even people-shy. 

Skin tags

Skin tags are tiny flaps or pouches of extra skin that are connected to the body by an even tinier stalk. Friction is one of the most theorized causes of skin tags. When an area, such as the underarm, is prone to rubbing against another body part, clothing, or accessories, then a skin tag is likely to form. That tiny stalk is one of the distinctive characteristics of a skin tag. A mole doesn’t have one.  

A skin tag is typically flesh-colored; but it can also be slightly darker than the surrounding skin, particularly in light-skinned individuals. It starts out as a grain-sized growth; but it can slowly grow to the size of a grape over time. A skin tag can develop as a single growth; or it can form a cluster. Other areas where they commonly occur are the eyelids, neck, groin area, and anus. 

Skin tags are benign – this means they are harmless growths. Aside from being unsightly, they can also be irritating and become irritated if they constantly get snagged in clothing or rubbed against another surface. They can also bleed and become infected.

Moles

Moles are also growths that result from abnormal proliferation of cells. They are more darkly pigmented than the surrounding skin, usually tan or brown; they typically appear as flat, circular spots on the skin. Moles sometimes grow over time, become darker, develop a more irregular shape, and/or become a raised bump on the skin. Some moles grow hair; others are smooth. 

Moles can grow anywhere on the body – from the scalp on your head to the soles on your feet. Some people develop moles due to constant exposure to the sun’s UV rays; others are genetically predisposed to them. While most moles are typically harmless, they also have the potential to become cancerous. Any sudden and drastic changes in the appearance of a mole – especially in size and color – can be a sign of melanoma, a form of skin cancer. 

Moles that start to bleed or itch should also be a cause for worry and prompt one to seek medical attention. Too much UV exposure increases the likelihood of a mole becoming cancerous. 

Skin tags vs moles – 10 distinctive characteristics

Color

Moles usually have a light or dark brown pigmentation and darker than the surrounding skin. Skin tags are flesh-colored or only slightly darker than the surrounding skin. 

Shape

A mole can be a flat spot or a raised bump on the skin with an oval or circular shape and a distinct edge. A skin tag is a loose flap or pouch of skin that may be ovoid or semi-circular and hanging from a tiny stalk. 

Diameter

A skin tag is usually between 2mm-5mm in diameter, but it can grow up to 1cm and still remain harmless. When skin tags grow in clusters, they are small and the individual tags are similar in size and shape. A mole is often larger than a skin tag, but normally less than six millimeters in diameter. An abnormally big mole is often a sign of melanoma.  

Growth

A skin tag pretty much stays the same in size, shape, and color, unless it is subjected to constant friction. A mole can appear as a simple, pinkish or light-brown spot and then slowly grow in size and become darker in color over time. 

Location

Skin tags typically appear where there is constant skin friction, such as the eyelids, neck, armpits, groin area, and anus. Moles can appear practically anywhere on the body, but mostly in areas that get frequent sun exposure. 

Hair

A mole can grow hair; a skin tag does not. 

Cancer risk

Skin tags and moles are normal, benign growths. Even with changes in their appearance, skin tags do not indicate cancer. Moles, on the other hand, can become cancerous, and changes in their appearance are the most common symptom. 

Genetics

You may develop skin tags even if you have no family history of the condition. But a family history can make you more susceptible to them, although it is also normal if you don’t get it. Moles, on the other hand, are usually determined by genetics. 

Texture

Skin tags are typically soft to the touch. If they are constantly exposed to friction, however, they may develop a rougher/calloused texture. Moles that are flat are usually smooth, even if they grow hair. Raised moles often have a rough texture. 

Blemish factor

Skin tags may be flesh-colored, but they are normally considered unsightly growths, especially if they appear on the face or neck, and in a cluster. Even a single skin tag is often seen as a cosmetic flaw. Moles are typically more acceptable; some are even considered beauty marks. Although a big, dark mole on the face or neck with hair growing out of it can be seen as unappealing. 

Should you have them removed?

First and foremost, you need to correctly identify if what you have is a skin tag or a mole. It’s always better to have a doctor make the determination, especially if you’re planning on removing a skin tag with alternative treatments at home. At-home skin tag removal is relatively safer than DIY mole removal. And given that moles have the potential to become cancerous, you wouldn’t want to misidentify a mole for a skin tag. 

Final thoughts

Any skin condition that shows abnormal changes should be checked by a doctor. Even if your concern is only cosmetic in nature – the skin tag or mole is affecting your self-esteem – you should not attempt removal if you are not able to properly identify the skin growth. 

There are safe and effective removal options for skin tags. Moles, on the other hand, will require medical removal. Skin tags pose no serious health risks, while moles have the potential to become cancerous. Dermatologists recommend skin cancer screening once a year. Waiting for symptoms to appear before getting your skin growth checked by a doctor might result in more serious health problems. Catching a problem as early as possible increases the likelihood that the necessary treatment will be successful. 

If you are prone to either skin tags or moles, there are certain precautions you will have to take to avoid possible complications. Remember that even a harmless skin tag can get infected if proper care is not taken, and a harmless mole may not be so harmless at all.