How to get rid of warts - Harvard Health (2023)

Ugly and annoying, warts never seem to go away fast enough. Treating them may help speed their departure.

Warts are generally harmless and often disappear on their own over time, but they're unsightly, and some, like those found on the soles of the feet, can make walking and exercise painful. Wart removal can be a challenge, but fortunately, the most effective treatments are the least invasive.

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Wart anatomy

How to get rid of warts - Harvard Health (1)

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Warts grow in the epidermis, the upper skin layer. A typical wart has a raised, rough surface. (Some, like those on the face, may be smooth and flat.) The center of a wart may be flecked with dark dots; these are capillaries that supply it with blood.

What are warts anyway?

Warts occur when skin cells grow faster than normal because they are infected with the human papillomavirus (HPV). Among the 150 strains of HPV, about 10 cause cutaneous (skin) warts, including common, plantar, and flat warts (see "Common types of skin warts," below). Certain other strains cause anal warts and genital warts. Some sexually transmitted types of HPV are implicated in cervical and other genital cancers, but the strains that cause skin warts have rarely been linked to cancer.

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All of us come into contact with HPV repeatedly — when we shake hands or touch a doorknob, for example — but only some of us develop warts, and that's hard to explain. Children and people with immune system abnormalities are particularly vulnerable. For reasons that aren't entirely clear, so are people in certain occupations, such as meat, fish, and poultry handlers. But the most likely explanation is that some people are simply more prone to warts than others.

Skin warts aren't highly contagious. They can spread from person to person by direct contact, mainly through breaks in the skin. Theoretically, you can also pick up warts from surfaces such as locker room floors or showers, but there's no way to know how often this occurs. Warts on one part of the body can be spread to other areas, so it's important to wash your hands and anything that touches your warts, such as nail files or pumice stones.

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A wart virus infection is different from a bacterial infection such as strep throat, which can be caught, treated, and eradicated because it progresses in a distinct, reliable pattern. The ways of warts are much less predictable. According to dermatologist Dr. Suzanne Olbricht, "The wart virus resides in the upper layer of the skin, and who knows where or when you picked it up? The virus could have been there for years. Then it makes a wart for reasons we don't understand. And when the wart goes away, you can still find the virus in the epidermis."

Common types of skin warts

Type

Appearance

Characteristics

Common

Raised, rough surface, sometimes with dark specks; light-colored to gray-brown.

Found mostly on the hands, but may appear anywhere. Those under or around the fingernails and toenails can be hard to treat.

Plantar

Rough, spongy surface kept flat by walking; gray or brown with dark specks.

Found only on the soles of the feet. Clustered plantar warts are called mosaic warts.

Flat

Flat or slightly raised; smooth and pink. Smaller than other warts.

Found mostly on the face, hands, and shins. They're less common than other warts, but when they do appear, it's often in large numbers.

Treating warts

Studies indicate that about half of warts go away on their own within a year, and two-thirds within two years, so "watchful waiting" is definitely an option for new warts. But some experts recommend immediate treatment to reduce the amount of virus shed into nearby tissue and possibly lower the risk of recurrence. If you prefer not to wait it out, you have several treatment options:

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  1. Salicylic acid.This is the main ingredient in aspirin, and it should usually be your first choice. According to one study, salicylic acid is the only topical treatment (treatment applied directly to the skin) that clearly outperforms a placebo. (The study, in the August 2011 issue of theBritish Journal of Dermatology, combined and reanalyzed data from a number of previous studies.) Salicylic acid costs little, has minimal side effects, and comes in various over-the-counter preparations, including liquids, gels, and patches. Concentrations range from 17% to 40% (stronger concentrations should be used only for warts on thicker skin). To treat a wart, soak it for 10 to 15 minutes (you can do this in the shower or bath), file away the dead warty skin with an emery board or pumice stone, and apply the salicylic acid. Do this once or twice a day for 12 weeks. Warts in thick skin, like the bottom of the foot, may respond best to a patch that stays in place for several days. Continuing treatment for a week or two after the wart goes away may help prevent recurrence.
  2. Freezing.In this treatment, also called cryotherapy, a clinician swabs or sprays liquid nitrogen onto the wart and a small surrounding area. The extreme cold (which may be as low as –321 F) burns the skin, causing pain, redness, and usually a blister. Getting rid of the wart this way usually takes three or four treatments, one every two to three weeks; any more than that probably won't help. After the skin has healed, apply salicylic acid to encourage more skin to peel off. Some individual trials have found salicylic acid and cryotherapy to be equally effective, with cure rates of 50% to 70%, but there is some evidence that cryotherapy is particularly effective for hand warts.
  3. Duct tape.Although findings have been mixed, anecdotal evidence suggests that this low-risk, low-tech approach may be worth a try. In one study comparing duct tape with cryotherapy, subjects wore duct tape patches over their warts for six days. Then they removed the patches, soaked and filed the warts, left them uncovered overnight, and reapplied the tape in the morning, leaving them in place for another six days. They followed this regimen for two months or until the wart disappeared. In this study, duct tape was about 45% more effective than cryotherapy. Two other studies found no benefit, but those studies used clear duct tape rather than the standard silver type, which is stickier and has a different kind of adhesive. Given this limited evidence, if you plan to try duct tape, it makes sense to use the silver kind. Why duct tape works isn't clear — it may deprive the wart of oxygen, or perhaps dead skin and viral particles are removed along with the tape. Some people apply salicylic acid before covering the wart with duct tape.
  4. Other agents.Warts that don't respond to standard therapies may be treated with prescription drugs. The topical immunotherapy drug imiquimod (Aldara), a standard therapy for genital warts, can also be used to treat skin warts. Imiquimod is thought to work by causing an allergic response and irritation at the site of the wart. In an approach called intralesional immunotherapy, the wart is injected with a skin-test antigen (such as for mumps or Candida) in people who have demonstrated an immune response to the antigen. Other agents that may be used to treat recalcitrant warts are the chemotherapy drugs fluorouracil (5-FU), applied as a cream, and bleomycin, which is injected into the wart. All these treatments have side effects, and the evidence for their effectiveness is limited.
  5. Zapping and cutting.The technical name for this treatment is electrodesiccation (or cautery) and curettage. Using local anesthesia, the clinician dries the wart with an electric needle and scrapes it away with a scoop-like instrument called a curette. This usually causes scarring (so does removing the wart with a scalpel, another option). It's usually reserved for warts that don't respond to other treatments and should generally be avoided on the soles of the feet.

When to see your clinician

Some skin cancers resemble warts at first. If you have a wart that doesn't change much in size, color, or shape, you probably don't need to see a clinician. But if you're in your 50s and develop new warts, consult a dermatologist. Be suspicious of any wart that bleeds or grows quickly.

FAQs

How do you permanently get rid of warts? ›

Treatment
  1. Stronger peeling medicine (salicylic acid). Prescription-strength wart medications with salicylic acid work by removing layers of a wart a little bit at a time. ...
  2. Freezing (cryotherapy). ...
  3. Other acids. ...
  4. Minor surgery. ...
  5. Laser treatment.
30 Apr 2022

Can I remove warts on my own? ›

For best results, soak your wart in warm water for 10 to 15 minutes first, to soften it. Then, file away the dead skin on top using a nail file or pumice stone. Make sure to stop filing if you feel any discomfort. Next, apply the salicylic acid according to your doctor's directions, or the directions on the package.

How do you get your body to fight warts? ›

Boost your immune system

Eat a healthy diet filled with fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Exercise regularly to maintain excellent heart health. Walking, taking an aerobics class, or riding a bike are all good physical activity options. Get enough rest at night to promote immune function and recovery.

What deficiency causes warts? ›

In our study, patients with warts had significantly lower mean serum vitamin B12 level than patients without warts. Furthermore, they more frequently had decreased serum vitamin B12 levels.

Why do I constantly get warts? ›

What causes warts? Warts are caused by an infection with the human papilloma virus (HPV). The virus causes an excess amount of keratin, a hard protein, to develop in the top skin layer (epidermis).

What kills wart fast? ›

Wart Removal Options
  • Salicylic acid: Considered the most effective at-home wart removal treatment, salicylic acid is available over-the-counter as a concentrated liquid, gel or adhesive pad. ...
  • Apple cider vinegar or lemon juice: These mild acids burn off the wart and attack the virus that caused it.
23 Apr 2019

How does toothpaste get rid of warts? ›

-Surprisingly, applying toothpaste on warts makes the warts to slowly dry out and die by cutting off the oxygen supply. -Take any non-gel toothpaste and put it on the wart before covering it with band air or duct tape and leave it overnight. -Remove the tape in the morning and scrub the dead skin away.

What is best wart remover? ›

Salicylic acid and freezing therapy (cryotherapy) are the best first-choice options for wart removal.
...
These medications are only available by prescription and include:
  • Imiquimod.
  • 5-Fluorouracil.
  • Retinoids.
  • Cantharidin.
1 Jun 2022

Is it OK to leave warts untreated? ›

Warts are harmless. In most cases, they go away on their own within months or years. If warts spread or cause pain, or if you don't like the way they look, you may want to treat them. Treatments for warts don't always work.

Are warts ever permanent? ›

There are a number of different treatments that can make warts go away more quickly – but they don't always work. Viral warts aren't the same as “senile warts” (seborrheic keratosis), which usually first appear in older age and aren't contagious. Senile warts are also quite harmless, but permanent.

How do you get rid of a wart in 24 hours? ›

It is generally not possible to get rid of a wart in 24 hours. Many treatments take at least 2 weeks to work, and a person may find that their wart takes longer than this to heal.

What foods trigger warts? ›

Steer clear of sugary, processed and trans-fatty foods, along with caffeine and alcohol that have been found to feed the virus to keep warts thriving.

What stops warts from spreading? ›

To help prevent warts from spreading to other parts of your body: Don't scratch or pick at your warts. Keep your warts dry. Try to avoid your warts while shaving.

Does warts mean weak immune system? ›

In many cases, your immune system quickly fights off the virus long before outward signs, such as warts develop. If, however, your immune system is slow to recognize or respond to the HPV strain, you're more likely to develop warts.

What Vitamin keeps warts Away? ›

How can zinc help to treat warts? There have been several studies which have shown that a simple supplement of zinc can improve and clear warts. Zinc supplements (usually tablets) can be bought over the counter at most pharmacies.

Can vitamin D help warts? ›

Vitamin D 3 derivatives have been shown to be effective for topical treatment of warts, through regulation of epidermal cell proliferation and differentiation as well as modulation of cytokine production 8.

Does lack of vitamin D cause warts? ›

Serum levels of vitamin D did not affect warts' response or the degree of response to treatment (P =. 250, P =.

Can stress cause warts? ›

Can stress cause warts? Stress won't itself cause warts – that's down to the HPV virus. However, when you're under stress, your immune system's ability to fight off antigens can decrease. So, it could be implied that you're more susceptible to infections, such as HPV, if your body is feeling the effects of stress.

Does clear nail polish get rid of warts? ›

Using clear nail polish to kill warts is a rumored at-home remedy. People think that the nail polish will “suffocate” the wart, causing it to die. The truth is, using clear nail polish may have little to no effect on the wart. In some cases, however, it can prevent the wart from spreading.

Can hydrogen peroxide clear warts? ›

Conclusion: Hydrogen peroxide solution (3% and 6%) is an effective, safe, and cheap treatment modality for nongenital warts which can be used simply at home.

What liquid removes warts? ›

Over-the-counter salicylic acid is a commonly used medication to treat your warts. The salicylic acid is slowly and painlessly absorbed into the skin causing peeling of the skin cells that contain the wart virus.

Does apple cider vinegar destroy warts? ›

All you have to do is to apply ACV to your warts twice a day and cover said warts with a fresh bandage after each application. It can take around 2 weeks for your warts to be removed, although how long the treatment takes to work does depend on the wart and how stubborn it is.

Can salt water clear warts? ›

✓ Filing Use warm water and sea salt. Soak the wart for 10 to 15 minutes in warm salt water to moisten the skin. Scrape the dead skin layers of the wart using a nail file, pumice stone or mild sandpaper. Some people find filing is more effective if the skin is dry.

Can Vaseline clear warts? ›

Vaseline in and of itself is not a wart-removal treatment, but according to Prather, it can be a big help in guarding non-effected skin from the salicylic acid in the liquid formulas.

Can vinegar get rid of warts? ›

Vinegar burns and gradually destroys the infected skin, making the wart fall off eventually, like the way salicylic acid works. The irritation caused by the acid boosts the immune system's ability to combat the virus responsible for the wart.

What is the strongest over the counter wart removal? ›

Dr. Scholl's FreezeAway Wart Remover Dual Action gives you the best of both worlds, offering freeze therapy plus the fast-acting 17 percent salicylic acid. This product is one of the strongest non-prescription wart removers available on the market, and it's safe to use for kids over the age of four.

What cream kills warts? ›

If you decide to treat your own wart, your first-choice remedy should be an over-the-counter medication in liquid, gel, pad, or ointment form. Most of these contain salicylic acid, which softens abnormal skin cells and dissolves them. Some examples are Compound W, Duofilm, and Occlusal HP.

Are all warts HPV? ›

A: Both common warts and plantar warts are a product of the human papillomavirus (HPV) group of viruses. Unlike plantar warts, however, common warts can develop anywhere on the body, though most typically grow on the hands and fingers.

Can a wart last 10 years? ›

Sometimes warts last longer, particularly in adults. In some cases warts may take between 5 and 10 years to clear. Treatment can often clear warts more quickly.

Are common warts an STD? ›

Genital warts and HPV are common STDs. These types of warts, and the HPV types that cause them, don't increase cancer risk. Some people have genital warts just once, while others have recurring outbreaks. Treatment can get rid of the warts, but it can't cure them or HPV.

How deep can a wart go? ›

Warts live within the top layer of skin, or epidermis, and do not extend deeper into the areas where you have fat, large blood vessels, nerves, or muscles. It may feel as though the wart is very deep with roots due to the hardness of the skin around it, but this is not the case.

What's the longest a wart can last? ›

Most warts will persist for one to two years if they are left untreated. Eventually, the body will recognize the virus and fight it off, causing the wart to disappear. While they remain, however, warts can spread very easily when people pick at them or when they are on the hands, feet or face.

Can a wart last for 20 years? ›

Warts that are not genital are usually not serious and may disappear on their own in 2 to 3 years. Some warts last a lifetime. Genital warts can be more serious. Some can be related to the development of cervical cancer.

What is the lifespan of a wart? ›

Most often, warts are harmless growths that go away on their own within 2 years.

Is Epsom salt good for warts? ›

For example, ingrown toenails can be treated by soaking your feet in warm water mixed with Epsom salt for twenty minutes. Bunions can be fixed using toe spacers, but some may need surgical removal. Plantar warts can usually be treated by soaking the foot to soften the wart.

How do bananas get rid of warts? ›

While there is no scientific evidence that banana peels can remove warts, this home remedy is unlikely to cause harm. People can either tape a piece of peel over the wart overnight or rub the inside of the peel over the wart. Warts are unlikely to cause symptoms and will generally resolve themselves.

How much zinc should I take for warts? ›

Two (2) zinc gluconate 50 mg capsules will be taken three (3) times a day for 60 days. Primary Outcome Measures : Efficacy based on the resolution rate (i.e. the percentage of baseline warts that resolve completely) on Days 30 and 60 [ Time Frame: 60 days ]

Are warts cancerous? ›

Warts are common skin growths. They are not cancer. And they don't turn into cancer. They are caused by a virus called human papillomavirus (HPV).

Are there non STD warts? ›

Non-genital warts (verrucas) are an extremely common, benign, and usually a self-limited skin disease. Infection of epidermal cells with the human papillomavirus (HPV) results in cell proliferation and a thickened, warty papule on the skin.

Do healthy people get warts? ›

And most people will have at least one common wart at sometime in their lives, usually on their hands. Certain forms of the virus are more likely to cause skin warts on the hands. Other forms of HPV are more likely to cause genital warts, although some strains of the virus can cause both.

Does zinc help with warts? ›

In the zinc-treated group, the overall response was complete clearance of warts observed in 20 patients (86.9%) after 2 months of treatment. Fourteen patients (60.9%) showed complete disappearance of their warts after 1 month. Three patients (13.3%) failed to respond to the treatment after 2 months of therapy.

Can touching a wart give you warts? ›

Are Warts Contagious? Unfortunately, yes. You can get warts from touching a wart on someone else's body, or by coming in contact with surfaces that touched someone's warts, such as towels or bathmats.

Can warts disappear forever? ›

Sometimes, the immune system clears the warts within a few months. But even if the warts go away, the HPV might still be active in the body. So the warts can come back. Usually within 2 years, the warts and the HPV are gone from the body.

What if my warts never go away? ›

If the wart isn't gone after one treatment, your doctor may suggest another treatment. Applying liquid nitrogen. Your doctor may use liquid nitrogen to freeze the wart. This treatment is called cryotherapy or cryosurgery.

Can warts be lifelong? ›

Warts that are not genital are usually not serious and may disappear on their own in 2 to 3 years. Some warts last a lifetime.

What is the fastest wart remover? ›

Salicylic acid and freezing therapy (cryotherapy) are the best first-choice options for wart removal.

How long is too long for a wart? ›

Call Your Doctor If:

New warts develop after 2 weeks of treatment. Warts are still present after 12 weeks of treatment. You think your child needs to be seen.

Can alcohol remove warts? ›

The most frequently used treatment for external warts is podophyllin 20% in ethanol which is applied to the affected area and then carefully washed off after 4 to 6 hours. The effectiveness of this method of treatment varies between 20 and 98%, with the warts generally disappearing in 3 to 4 days.

Is HPV wart a STD? ›

Genital warts are usually a sexually transmitted disease (STD). They're caused by HPV (human papillomavirus). This virus also can cause some types of cancer. But the types of HPV that cause genital warts do not usually cause cancer.

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