Skip to Main Content

It’s time to have the talk about warts

Warts are common – especially in kids. Most people will have at least one wart at some point in their lifetime. 

But just because many of us have warts, doesn’t mean we understand them. This common skin condition can be confusing and concerning, as well as annoying, embarrassing, and sometimes painful.  

Fortunately, warts are mostly harmless and often treatable. Even without treatment (and with a little patience), many warts will go away on their own.


What causes warts?

Warts are noncancerous, fleshy growths on the skin that are caused by a family of viruses called human papillomavirus, or HPV. Warts happen when the virus causes skin cells to grow faster than normal.

Warts are spread through skin-to-skin contact with another person who has the virus or through contact with a surface that has the virus on it.


Don’t blame toads

Contrary to folklore, you cannot get warts from touching a toad. But you should still steer clear of handling the bumpy little creatures. The skin secretions from some frogs and toads can irritate the skin and may cause a rash.


Are warts contagious?

Warts are caused by a virus, which makes them highly contagious. Warts are easily spread through direct or indirect contact. You can get them by touching a wart on someone’s body or by coming in contact with surfaces that have touched someone’s wart, such as a razor, towel, bath mat, or fingernail clippers.

You can also spread your own warts from one part of your body to another. 

If you have a wart, there are simple steps you can take to keep it from spreading:

  • Cover the wart with a bandage.
  • Avoid scratching or picking at your wart.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly and immediately after touching your wart.
  • Avoid shaving over a wart. You can easily transfer the virus to your razor and spread it to another part of your body.
  • Keep your feet dry to prevent the spread of plantar warts.

Anyone can get warts, but some people are at higher risk of getting the virus that causes warts, including:

  • Children and teens. Young immune systems are less developed and less likely to ward off strains of HPV that cause warts. School-aged kids are also more likely to be exposed to classmates with warts.
  • People with a weakened immune system, including individuals who have had an organ transplant or who have a serious medical condition.


What do warts look like?

Most common warts are raised and have a rough surface. Common warts typically appear on the back of the hands or near the fingernails but can sometimes pop up on the knees or elbows.

In addition to common warts, other types of warts – caused by different strains of HPV – can appear on different parts of your body, including: 

  • Plantar warts. These warts typically develop on the toes or bottom of the feet and may be white with tiny black dots. Plantar warts can become large and cause pain when standing or walking.
  • Mosaic warts. These small, white warts typically appear on the balls of the feet or under the toes. They are flatter and smoother than plantar warts and rarely cause pain.
  • Flat (or plane) warts. Smaller and smoother than other warts, flat warts can develop anywhere on the body. They typically grow in large clusters.
  • Filiform warts. These long, thread-like growths can appear on the eyelids, face, neck, lips, or armpits.
  • Genital warts. Genital warts are small, hard nodules with rough surfaces that grow on the genitals or rectum. This sexually transmitted infection is passed through skin-to-skin contact.   


Can I treat a wart at home?

Warts often go away without treatment, especially in children. For adults, it may take more time, effort, and patience. For common warts, over-the-counter treatments may help speed the process.

Some effective non-prescription wart treatments include:

  • Salicylic acid solutions that slowly peel away the wart.
  • Freezing spray. This is typically most effective on small warts.
  • Duct tape. It may not be scientifically proven, but this MacGyver approach to wart removal has proven effective for many. The process is easy, but keep in mind it may take weeks or months to work.
    • Cover the wart with a small piece of silver duct tape.
    • Every 3-5 days, remove the tape and gently remove dead tissue with a pumice stone or disposable emery board.
    • Repeat the process until the wart is gone.

Never try to cut or rip a wart. It can lead to infection and other complications. Only a health care clinician should surgically remove warts or other growths.


When should I seek medical care for warts?

If warts don’t go away within a couple of months or you don’t see improvement, it’s best to seek medical attention. Sometimes, warts can cause problems and require treatment or removal. 

You should talk with a health care clinician if:

  • You have a wart on your face, genitals, or anal area.
  • You’re unsure the growths are warts or they look suspicious.
  • Your wart hurts, itches, burns, or bleeds.
  • You have many warts.
  • You’ve tried home treatments without success.
  • The growths are bothering you, interfering with your daily activities, or causing embarrassment.
  • You have a weakened immune system.
  • You have diabetes and a wart on your foot.
  • Your young child or infant has a wart that appears anywhere on the body.

How your wart is treated will depend on its type, severity, location, and how long you’ve had it. If home treatment hasn’t worked, a health care clinician may recommend other options, including:

  • Prescription-strength salicylic acid.
  • Freezing the wart with liquid nitrogen.
  • Topical immune system stimulants that fight the virus that causes the wart.
  • Laser-light treatment to heat and destroy small blood vessels inside the wart.
  • Surgical removal.

In rare cases, a dermatologist may need to perform a skin biopsy to be certain.


How can I prevent warts?

There’s no way to completely prevent warts, but there are some things you can do to lower your risk of getting the HPV virus:

  • Wash your hands regularly.
  • Avoid contact with another person’s wart.
  • Don’t share towels, razors, or anything else that may have come in contact with a wart or HPV.
  • Avoid biting nails or picking at cuticles. Sores or tears in the skin make it easier for HPV to get in your body.
  • Wear flip-flops or other shoes in locker rooms, pool areas, and public showers.
  • Use a moisturizer. Dry or cracked skin can provide an opening for viral infection.
  • Clean and cover cuts and scrapes to prevent HPV infection.
  • Use condoms to prevent genital warts.
  • Talk with a health care clinician about the HPV vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that children ages 11-12 get two doses of vaccine. The CDC also recommends that everyone up to age 26 get the vaccine if they’re not already fully vaccinated.


Indigo is here when warts get under your skin

If you have a stubborn wart that’s causing you worry, pain, or embarrassment, Indigo can help.

Our Urgent Care clinicians treat worrisome warts and other skin conditions, as well as most other minor injuries and illnesses. And we make it easy and convenient to get the care you need – on your schedule. 

One of our health care clinicians will assess your symptoms and provide a prompt diagnosis and treatment plan that’s best for you. And if you need additional care, we’ll coordinate a referral to a dermatologist.

Simply walk into one of our neighborhood locations or book an appointment online. Or skip the trip to a clinic all together and schedule a same-day or next-day appointment with an Indigo Virtual Care clinician from your phone or favorite device. 

In person and virtually, Indigo is here 8 am to 8 pm, every day.

A better way to get better.

Health care that’s friendly, easy, and centered around you.

Find My Indigo