A wart on a person's finger.
Warts are a result of rapid skin growth due to HPV.

How to Remove Warts

Warts seem to appear out of nowhere overnight, don’t they? In reality, it can take months of slow growth before you notice those bothersome little lumps. Here you will learn how to remove warts so they cannot affect your daily life.

What Are Warts?

Warts are the result of rapid skin cell growth caused by a virus and typically found on the fingers or hands. When the cells grow quickly enough, they form into a wart in the top layer of your skin. Warts grow only in the epidermis which is the upper layer of skin. The virus usually finds its way into the top layer of skin through an area of broken skin like a cut or ingrown nail. While warts are generally painless, if it is located on a place where you apply pressure, like your finger, it may become uncomfortable.

What Do Warts Look Like?

Warts come in a variety of sizes, shapes and colors since there are different kinds of warts. They can be bumpy or smooth, with a rough or smooth surface. They may be flesh-colored, white, pink, or tan. To the naked eye, a wart may have a pattern of small black dots, which are actually tiny clotted blood vessels. Since there is no uniform appearance to warts, you may not even realize what it is until a doctor tells you.

Causes of Warts

Warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) and are transmitted by contact. There are more than 150 types of HPV. The bright side: only about 10 strains of HPV cause skin warts and these strains are rarely linked to cancer. Thankfully, skin warts are not highly contagious, but we come into contact with HPV regularly.

How Do You Get HPV?

Often, HPV is passed through direct and casual skin contact, like holding or shaking hands with someone carrying the virus. Less often, HPV is passed indirectly through other objects, like towels or other shared personal items. Our immune systems respond to viruses differently, so coming into contact with HPV does not guarantee that a person develops warts.

How Do You Remove Warts?

Given enough time, warts generally disappear on their own—however this can take months or years. While the majority of warts do not need treatment because they are usually harmless, some people choose to get rid of warts because they are bothered or embarrassed by them. Research indicates that the most effective removal treatments are the ones which are the least invasive.

Treating a Wart at Home

Home treatment includes salicylic acid or duct tape.

Salicylic acid is the main ingredient in aspirin and available over the counter in liquid, gel, or patch form. The advice for treatment is to soak the wart (having a shower or bath will work for this). Once soaking is over, use an emery board or pumice stone to file the wart and apply the salicylic acid. Repeat this process twice a day for 12 weeks, continuing a few weeks after the wart disappears to minimize the chance of recurrence.

Duct tape patches are another at-home solution, however the effectiveness of this treatment is debated. The speculation is that duct tape may deprive the wart of oxygen or that dead skin and viral particles are removed when the tape comes off. To try this remedy, tape over your wart with duct tape and wear this patch for six days. On the seventh day, take off the patch, soak and file the wart and leave it uncovered overnight. In the morning, apply a new duct tape patch and leave it again for six more days. Some people apply salicylic acid before re-applying the duct tape.

Medical Treatment for Warts

Cryotherapy is when your doctor freezes the wart. They use liquid nitrogen and apply it topically to the wart and the surrounding area with a swab or spray. The liquid nitrogen is so cold it burns the skin, including the skin cells of the wart. Persistent warts may require additional cryotherapy treatments in order for them to go away.

Prescription drugs can be an option for warts that do not respond to other therapies. Doctors may put a stronger medication on the wart or inject drugs directly into the wart.

Surgeries may be recommended by your doctor for some stubborn warts that resist other treatments. Laser surgery is one option. Alternatively, a wart can be removed by electrodesiccation and curettage where the doctor uses an electric needle to dry the wart out. Once dry, they scrape away the wart with a surgical tool called a curette. This type of surgery usually leaves scarring.

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What to Know About Wart Removal

Wart treatment is not always effective. If a treatment successfully removes the wart, it is possible that warts may return in future. This happens because most treatments take care of the wart, but they do not remove the virus that caused the wart in the first place. The virus may remain dormant for a while, but it can still be found in the epidermis.

How to Avoid Getting Warts

There are a few things you can do to avoid getting warts or spreading the virus further:

  • Wash your hands and disinfect common surfaces often to avoid picking up the virus that causes warts.
  • Avoid touching warts. This includes touching or picking at your own warts.
  • Use different personal care items for areas around your warts. Use a different razor, emery board, nail clippers for areas around your warts and another set of these items for your healthy skin and nails.
  • Try to avoid shaving areas that have warts.
  • Don’t share personal care items with other people.
  • Don’t bite your fingernails or pick at ingrown nails or other broken areas of skin on your hands and arms.

More than anything, warts are a nuisance. Try as you can to avoid them, they still may appear. Hopefully, the next time you get a wart, you can try one of these treatment options to make it disappear.