Some warts disappear over time, but others may need treatment. With wart medications, such as salicylic acid, the wart should peel away in stages until it is as flat as the skin. If this does not happen, the treatment may not be working.
Warts are harmless growths that often appear on the hands and feet. People looking to remove warts can self-treat them at home or consult a doctor.
If a person has a weakened immune system or an underlying health condition, such as diabetes, they should check with their doctor before removing any warts.
This article looks at the different types of warts and the treatment options. It also explains how to know when wart treatment has been effective.
Warts are harmless skin growths that vary in appearance depending on their type. They can occur anywhere on the body but commonly affect the hands.
The human papillomavirus (HPV) causes warts, which can readily spread between people in close contact. If a person comes into contact with the virus, it can infect the surface layer of the skin, creating a wart. Having cuts or other damage to the skin makes this more likely to occur.
Some people have a higher likelihood of getting warts than others, including:
- children and young people
- people with a weakened immune system
- individuals with a skin condition that affects the skin barrier
As there are about 100 strains of HPV, the virus can cause many different types of warts. Types of warts include:
Common warts have a rough, cauliflower-like texture and may appear as single warts or in a cluster. Their size ranges from 1 millimeter to more than 1 centimeter, and they usually occur on the backs of fingers or toes, around the nails, or on the knees.
Plantar warts, which grow on the soles of the feet, look like calluses, have a hard surface, and contain small, black dots. They can appear as single warts or in clusters.
These warts may feel tender under pressure, and a person may feel as though they have pebbles in their shoes when walking.
Plane warts are flat, skin-colored warts that commonly grow on the face, hands, and shins. People usually have multiple plane warts. Shaving may be responsible for spreading the virus on the face or legs.
Filiform warts look like threads or fronds coming from the skin. They appear on the face, particularly around the eyes, nose, or mouth, and usually grow quickly.
Butcher’s warts look like common warts, and they can also appear on the hands, often as multiple warts. However, they occur due to a specific strain of HPV and affect people who live or work in cold, moist environments.
Wart treatments work by removing the wart rather than curing HPV. Due to this, warts may reoccur after treatment because the virus remains.
However, if this is not the case, or a person wishes to remove warts quickly, various treatment options are available.
People can choose from many over-the-counter products containing salicylic acid that they can apply topically to a common wart. Daily treatment with salicylic acid removes warts within 12 weeks in 70% of cases.
There is no clear evidence that duct tape wart removal is effective and no guidance on how long it might take. The idea behind this approach is that applying new duct tape to a wart every few days may gradually remove layers of the wart.
A person can try this method easily at home, but it is important to note that it may not work and that some people may experience side effects, such as skin reactions and bleeding.
Cryotherapy uses liquid nitrogen to freeze the wart, which causes the surface layers to peel off.
People need regular treatments every 1–2 weeks to prevent the wart from growing back. After 3–4 months of treatment, cryotherapy effectively removes warts in about 70% of cases.
However, cryotherapy can cause blistering, which can last up to several days or weeks. It can also cause permanent white marks on the skin and may lead to temporary numbness in the treatment area.
Electrosurgery and curettage
Electrosurgery and curettage use heat to burn away the base of the wart. This type of treatment can treat large warts that have not responded to other treatments, but there are some downsides:
- The wound can take 2 weeks or more to heal.
- In 20% of cases, warts can reoccur.
- Electrosurgery and curettage can cause permanent scarring, which can be painful.
Other treatments for warts include:
- laser treatment, if other methods are not effective
- injection of bleomycin (Blenoxane)
- immunotherapy, such as imiquimod (Aldara), to encourage the immune system to fight the virus
Wart medications, such as salicylic acid, gradually peel away layers of a wart until it reaches the same level as the skin. People may notice the wart becoming flatter over time.
When a doctor performs a procedure to treat a wart, its removal may be much quicker. For instance, the doctor may apply cantharidin (Cantharone) to the wart, which causes a blister to form underneath it. About 1 week after treatment, the doctor can cut away the dead wart.
According to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology (AOCD), people need to keep using wart medication until the wart is no longer visible and looks the same as the surrounding skin. People should not be able to see any black dots or areas of grainy texture.
The AOCD also recommends pausing treatment if the wart or surrounding area becomes sore or bleeds. People may need to miss a day of treatment and continue the following day or once irritation stops.
The American Academy of Dermatology Association recommends taking the following steps to heal a wart heal more quickly:
- using treatment rather than waiting for the wart to go away by itself, which takes longer and gives the virus more chance to spread
- covering the wart, which helps prevent HPV from passing on to others or spreading to other areas
- washing the hands straight away after touching or applying treatment to a wart to stop the virus from spreading
- avoiding shaving over an area of skin with a wart, as it can create small tears in the wart and spread HPV to the surrounding area
People can reduce their risk of getting warts by:
- avoiding touching another person’s wart
- avoiding sharing towels, razors, or other personal items with anyone who has a wart
- covering any cuts or broken skin, as cuts make it easier for HPV to enter the body
- washing the hands frequently to reduce the chances of getting HPV on the skin
- refraining from biting the nail or cuticles, as any skin openings can allow HPV to enter
- wearing flip-flops on wet floors, such as swimming pools or public showers, as moist environments increase HPV risk
People should see a doctor before self-treating warts if they have:
- any suspicion that growths on the skin are something other than warts
- a wart on the face or genitals
- multiple warts
- a wart that is painful or itchy or that burns or bleeds
- a weakened immune system
- diabetes, particularly if warts are on the feet
People can also consult a doctor if they are unsure about the best treatment method for removing warts or if self-treatment does not work.
HPV causes warts, which are harmless growths on the skin. The virus is contagious and can pass easily to others.
A range of treatments, including home remedies and medical procedures, can remove warts.
People with a weakened immune system or diabetes should consult their doctor before using any wart removal treatment. People should also see a doctor if they have warts on the face or genitals.