Medically reviewed on Nov 17, 2023 by Jordan Stachel, M.S., RDN, CPT. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
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Both skin tags and human papillomavirus (HPV) affect the skin. However, while skin tags are harmless and almost always benign, warts caused by HPV are contagious and spread through sexual contact.
That said, there’s a lot more to dissect when it comes to understanding and differentiating skin tag vs. HPV skin conditions. Let’s dive in.
Skin tags are harmless, noncancerous growths that can appear across your body, including on your neck, eyelids, and underarms. While they’re often the same color as your skin, they may be slightly raised and darker in color, like a mole. Some can also become red and inflamed when irritated.
Additionally, some skin tags dangle, while others stay flat along your skin. Some are small, while others are a few centimeters in size.[1,2]
Ultimately, no skin tag is the same. For this reason, it’s easy to confuse them with warts or another skin condition, like cancer.
Skin tags develop when the body produces unneeded skin cells along the epidermis. The skin may fold and rub against itself, which is what causes the raised or hanging skin tags. While they’re most likely to develop on your neck, eyelids, and underarms, they can also be found on your :
These types of skin growths are very common, especially among older people. It’s believed that every adult will have at least one skin tag in their lifetime. Skin tags are also likely to affect people who are overweight or pregnant, as well as people who have loose areas of skin.[1,2]
Additional conditions that can put you at a higher risk of developing skin tags include :
While skin tags cannot affect your health, it’s very common for people to seek removals. However, this generally isn’t recommended unless the skin tag is impacting your comfort in some way. For example, you may choose to remove a skin tag if it’s regularly irritated, bleeding, impacting your eyesight, or painful.
If you have questions about your skin tags, visit a healthcare provider. If necessary, they can remove the skin tags and assess them for cancerous cells. For removal, healthcare providers can take a variety of routes, including :
That said, you cannot remove a skin tag with wart medication.
So, what is HPV, and how does it look different from skin tags? HPV (human papillomavirus) is a viral infection and the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the United States. It’s spread through skin-to-skin contact when engaging in vaginal, anal, and/or oral sex with an infected partner.
There are over 200 types of HPV. Some are considered low-risk, while others are considered high-risk. High-risk HPV can develop into several types of cancers—of the cervix, rectum, anus, penis, vagina, head, and neck.4 Low-risk HPV types, on the other hand, rarely cause cancer. Although, they can cause warts.
Warts are small, noncancerous, and rough, and they can appear on any part of the body, such as the :
Although HPV warts result from the human papillomavirus, they’re not considered an STI because the virus can enter any cut or tear in the skin and cause a wart. In fact, it’s very common for children to have warts since they’re prone to cuts and scrapes.
However, when engaging in sexual activity with an infected person, it’s most common to find warts on or around your genitals, anus, and rectum after being infected. These warts are considered STIs.
That said, all types of HPV warts are very contagious. You can catch the virus if you directly touch a wart, or touch something that’s contaminated with the virus. You can also become infected through nail biting, cuticle picking, and shaving.
Besides warts, HPV has very few symptoms.
To diagnose an HPV infection, your healthcare provider will assess your warts. If transmitted sexually (and if you’re a woman or a person assigned female at birth), your healthcare provider may also conduct a pap smear or colposcopy to screen your cervix for cancerous cells or they may provide you with an HPV test.
Can HPV be cured with antibiotics? There are no treatments for the virus itself, although your healthcare provider can prescribe topical medication to directly treat your HPV warts. They may also remove the visible warts with methods like :
Both skin tags and HPV warts are noncancerous; however, warts arise from a viral infection, while skin tags appear from physical wear and tear.
If you have questions about skin growths on your body and want to rule out a HPV infection, try the Everlywell at-home HPV Test. It’s discreet, easy to use, and taken from the comfort of your own home. And, if your results come back abnormal, we’ll connect you with our independent network of telehealth physicians so that you can learn more about your condition and online STD treatment options.
Stay on top of your health with Everlywell.