What You Don't Know About Warts

They may be ugly, irritating, and embarrassing, but are they harmful? And is there anything you can do to prevent and treat them?

About Common Warts

Caused by a strain of the human paplillomavirus (HPV), common warts are harmless growths that usually appear on the hands and fingers. The small bumps can be flesh-covered, white, pink, or tan, and appear both singly or in small clusters. If you pick at a wart, it may bleed from one of the tiny blood vessels inside it. Children and young adults are the most likely sufferers.

How Warts Spread

Since warts are caused by a virus and usually occur on the hands, they are easily transmitted. Since people's immune systems respond differently to the virus, it's hard to pinpoint the degree of contagiousness, but it is possible to spread them through a common towel. You can also spread them to other parts of your body, especially if you have a break in your skin or a hangnail. When warts heal, they "shed" more HPV which can cause new warts to grow.

Treating Warts

There's no medical reason to treat common warts, but if you want to stop them from spreading, or they bother you for cosmetic reasons, there are options. A permanent solution may be hard to find since you will always be susceptible to re-infection, even after successful treatments.

Home Remedies

  • Salicylic acid. Found in most over-the-counter patches and medications, salicylic acid will peel off the infected skin with a few weeks of regular treatment. Choose a solution that contains 17 percent salicylic acid and follow the instructions carefully. The acid can cause mild skin damage around the wart and should be avoided by pregnant women.
  • Duct tape. Believe it or not, a 2002 study showed that duct tape was more effective than cryotherapy-a common medical treatment for removing warts. You could try applying duct tape to the wart for 6 days, remove the tape and soak it in warm water for 20 minutes, then filing it with an emery board. It will disappear in a few days, though the process may need to be repeated. This can work by irritating the wart and triggering the body's immune system to fight back.

Prescription Medications

  • Bleomycin or Blenoxane. This injectable substance can kill the HPV that causes the warts.
  • Immunotherapy. Topical medications like SADBE and Imiquimod work by triggering the immune system to fight off the warts.
  • Retinoids. These can be taken orally or applied topically and work to stop the skin cell growth of your wart.

Medical Procedures

  • Cryotherapy. Also called "freezing," this therapy uses liquid nitrogen to destroy warts. It causes a blister to form that rubs off with the wart in about a week.
  • Cantharidin. This extract is applied to the skin and covered with a bandage. The solution will cause an uncomfortable blister that lifts the wart off your skin so your doctor can remove it.
  • Minor surgery. Usually a last resort, cutting away the wart or destroying it with an electric needle is possible, though can be painful and may leave a scar.
  • Laser surgery. An expensive and possibly scarring procedure, this is another last resort for warts that don't respond to other treatments.

Tips for Reducing the Spread of Warts

  • Be sure to wash your hands after touching warts.
  • Don't pick at warts.
  • Don't bite your fingernails.
  • Don't clip, comb, or shave infected areas.
  • Try to keep hands dry as much as possible, since warts thrive in wet environments.




American Association of Dermatology