- A wart is a skin growth caused by the human papilloma virus. While some strains of HPV are a risk factor for cancer, warts are not.
- There are many kinds of warts that grow on different parts of the body.
- Warts can be treated by home remedies, although modern clinical treatments are considered more reliable.
According to European folklore, warts came from touching toads. And the best way to get rid of them was to find another toad and rub the poor creature on the wart under a full moon.
This is only slightly stranger than America’s own folklore remedy from the 18th century which prescribed rubbing warts with a potato and then burying the potato under a tree.
Fortunately, medicine has come a long way. If you’re one of the millions of people who suffer from warts every year, keep reading. We’ll discuss modern clinical solutions from lasers to cryotherapy, as well as some home remedies which don’t involve toads, full moons, or buried potatoes.
What Are Warts?
A wart is a non-cancerous, benign skin growth caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV) which infects the flat epithelial cells on the surface of the skin, producing a hard, rough “papilloma”. The wart is contagious and spreads by physical contact, even without direct skin-to-skin contact. Warts can be transmitted by sharing razors and towels, or using communal showers.
HPV is extremely common. A recent study at NYU’s Langone Medical Center concluded that 70% of adults are actively infected with one or more strains of HPV. While warts are most common in children and teenagers, people of any age can be affected.
While not all strains of HPV cause warts, most people will have one or more warts at some point in their lives appearing in most cases on their hands or feet.
Genital warts are also caused by a strain of HPV, but their treatment is outside the scope of this article.
» Need to consult with a dermatologist about genital warts? Find an experienced doctor in your area.
Types of Warts
Warts come in different textures and sizes. Some varieties appear in clusters and cover a large area, while other varieties are more likely to appear in just one spot. Some warts are the same color as the surrounding skin, while others are a more of a grayish brown color.
Each of the over 130 varieties of HPV is typically capable of infecting only a few isolated areas of the body. Some warts appear most commonly on the hands, others appear only on the soles of the feet, and others occur primarily on the face.
The “common wart” or “verruca vulgaris” usually rises above the surface of the surrounding skin and has a rough, uneven surface. Common warts are typically found on the hands, and less commonly elsewhere on the body. They are also sometimes called “junior warts” or “Palmer warts.”
Unlike the common wart, the “flat wart” or “verruca plana” has a smooth surface and often clusters in large numbers. They are typically found on the hands, wrists, and knees, as well as on the face and neck.
Also very common are “plantar warts” or “verruca plantaris”. These hard lumps occur on the soles of the feet and can be painful if not treated promptly.
While most warts turn up on the hands and feet, “filiform warts” appear on the face, usually around the nose, lips, and chin. These warts are characterized by thread-like growths or bumps which radiate outwards from the center.
Periungual warts form in clusters around fingernails and toenails. The incidence of periungual warts is higher in people who bite their nails.
Professional Removal: What are the Options?
Aside from being unattractive, warts are usually harmless. In people with normal immune systems, warts typically disappear on their own after a few weeks or months; however, for most people waiting isn’t the preferred solution. Professional clinical solutions provide the fastest avenue to recovery.
These treatments aim to remove warts without leaving a visible scar and include prescription medications, laser resurfacing, and cryotherapy. Which treatment doctors recommend depends on the type of wart and its location.
It’s important to note that wart treatments do not necessarily prevent warts from returning or spreading because although the wart itself has been removed, the underlying HPV infection may still persist.
Cantharidin should be applied only in a doctor’s office and is considered an extremely hazardous substance. Cantharidin causes the skin to blister and will destroy the wart.
Imiquimod belongs to a class of drugs that boost the body’s immune response to fight the HPV virus. Imiquimod is available in topical preparations and can be applied at home, but it can only be obtained by prescription.
While Imiquimod has been shown to be an effective treatment, it can take a long time to work. The treatment may need to be applied for up to sixteen weeks, depending on the type and location of the wart.
Laser surgery uses intense light to burn away warts. It is performed in a doctor’s office and is recommended for larger warts. The procedure can be performed under local or general anesthetic depending on the type, location, and number of warts. However, local anesthetic is more common.
In most cases, laser surgery does not leave visible scarring. After laser surgery the treated site may be painful for a few days. The exact recovery time will depend on the size and type of the warts.
» Looking for laser wart removal in your area? Search Zwivel to find a dermatologist near you.
Cryosurgery is the most common non-medicinal procedure for wart removal. It uses ultra-cold liquid nitrogen to destroy the wart tissue. While cryosurgery has a very low chance of scarring, the procedure can be painful. The pain typically subsides within 3 days, and the healing process takes anywhere from 1 to 2 weeks.
To permanently destroy the wart, repeated treatments may be necessary.
Home Wart Removal Remedies
Not quite ready for professional treatment? We asked Dr. Bruce Katz, a dermatologist at JUVA Skin & Laser in New York City for his thoughts on home remedies:
“The only one of these treatments that works reliably is salicylic acid. It comes in liquid or pads at most pharmacies,” says Dr. Katz, “The other treatments have been suggested for many years, but don’t work reliably.”
We’ve listed the other treatments here if you’re interested in giving them a try. Otherwise, your best bets are salicylic acid and the above clinical treatments.
The Duct Tape Method
Formally known as “tape occlusion,” the duct tape method of wart removal is inexpensive and simple. You’ll need to cut a piece of duct tape to roughly match the size of your wart. Cover the wart and wait 6 days. If the tape falls off, try and replace it as quickly as possible.
After 6 days, remove the tape, rinse with warm water and file the wart with an emery board. Cover the wart with a new piece of tape the following day, and repeat the process until your wart is gone.
Many pharmacies will sell over-the-counter wart removal products containing salicylic acid. Salicylic acid wart removers should not be used on genital warts, and are not recommended for facial warts but they do work on other kinds of warts if you’re patient.
In order to apply salicylic acid to warts, you should first file down the wart with an emery board or pumice stone as much as possible. Then apply salicylic acid drops and cover the wart with a band-aid. Repeat this process daily for up to six weeks until the wart falls off.
Tea Tree Oil
Available at most health-food stores, tea tree oil or “melaleuca” is an old but effective home remedy for a variety of skin diseases including warts. Tea tree oil is a natural essential oil derived from the sap of an Australian tree.
To remove warts, apply tea tree oil daily with a cotton swab and cover the wart with a bandage. The oil should help to remove the wart with in 4 to 6 weeks. If you develop skin irritation or show signs of an allergic reaction you should stop using the tea tree oil immediately.
Vitamin C Tablets
A simple yet effective home remedy for wart removal is to crush a vitamin C tablet and mix it with enough water to form a thick paste. Apply this paste daily to your wart, and cover the wart with a bandage. Remove and wash the area each day, before applying more vitamin C and a fresh bandage. The warts should disappear within 6 to 8 weeks.
Apple Cider Vinegar
The apple cider vinegar remedy for wart removal has been popular for centuries, probably because it works. To use this method, soak a cotton ball with apple cider vinegar and then ring it out until the cotton ball is damp, but not dripping. Press the cotton ball against your wart, and cover with a bandage. By repeating this process every day, the wart should fall off within 2 to 3 weeks.
Warts and the Immune System
Many people report that warts seem to appear when they haven’t been getting enough sleep, or when they feel exhausted and worn down.
Keep in mind that the best defense against warts is your own immune system. If you are prone to getting warts — or you already have warts and are afraid they’ll spread — make sure your immune system is operating at peak efficiency.
To help your body get rid of warts quickly make sure you’re getting enough sleep, eating a balanced diet, and loading up on immune-boosters like vitamin C, zinc, green leafy vegetables, and antioxidants.