Insights

What’s the Best Treatment for Common Warts?

Talor Bianchini08 Sep 2021

Common warts are caused by excessive skin cell growth due to infection with human papillomavirus (HPV). Most common warts will go away on their own without any treatment in about a year or two, but others may grow nearby. There are lots of treatments for removing common warts, and some can even be done at home. Overall, the best treatment is salicylic acid.

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Best Treatments for Common Warts 

When trying to get rid of your warts, you want to find a highly effective treatment, causes minimal scarring, and is relatively inexpensive in most cases. There are different treatments recommended depending on the type of wart. Common warts usually have a raised surface and can be light-colored to a gray-brown. These typically appear on the hands but can be in other locations as well. 

Some of the best treatments for common warts include:

  • Salicylic Acid
  • Cryotherapy
  • Duct Tape Therapy
  • Laser Treatment
  • Electrosurgery & Curettage

Salicylic Acid: Best Overall 

This should usually be your first choice when starting treatment for your warts. The solution is applied to the wart several times a day for several weeks. A thin layer will form over the wart, which is removed before adding the next layer. Sometimes, even the top layer of the wart can be carefully removed. Compared to a placebo treatment, salicylic acid is more effective and removes common warts within 12 weeks in about 70% of cases

In addition to being highly effective, salicylic acid can also be purchased over the counter without a prescription. No doctor's visit is required to utilize this treatment, which comes in creams, gels, liquids, and patches. There are also varying concentrations that can be used, but higher percentages should only be used on thicker skin. Salicylic acid use also comes with minimal side effects and scarring. Only in rare cases does it cause skin irritation and pain. 

Cryotherapy: Best for Minimal Scarring 

Cryotherapy involves the ‘freezing off’ of common warts from the skin. This is done by first cutting off the wart with a sharp knife and then applying liquid nitrogen to the wart, which then causes it to fall off. Most common warts can be treated using cryotherapy, and it is typically utilized in the hand area. This is completed at a doctor’s office and is a relatively quick procedure. 

Although cryotherapy can be painful, it is the best treatment to avoid scarring if done carefully. It can take multiple treatments, especially if the wart is on the larger side. It can also be expensive, depending on what kind of doctor that you see. It is not as effective as salicylic acid, but studies have shown that using the two together can be more effective than just one treatment option. Although they do not involve liquid nitrogen, there are also at-home cryotherapy kits and should only be used for smaller warts. 

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Duct Tape Therapy: Best for At-Home Treatments

Duct tape therapy is the process of wrapping the wart with a piece of duct tape for about 4 to 7 days, then removing and cleaning with soap and water, and finally removing the top layer with an emery board. This process is then repeated until the wart has been removed completely, typically 4 to 6 weeks

Duct tape therapy can be done at home without a doctor and has shown to be more effective than cryotherapy. In one study, duct tape effectively removed warts from 85% of children, while cryotherapy was only successful in 60%. It is safe to use at home and is much more inexpensive than cryotherapy and even salicylic acid. More research needs to be done about this treatment, and some people may experience side effects like skin irritation and bleeding. 

Laser Treatment: Best for Hard to Treat Warts

Laser treatment uses a laser to burn off the wart and skin tissue. This procedure cannot be performed at home and will typically be performed in a dermatologist’s office. Laser therapy is usually considered when other treatments have failed, and warts need to be removed. Although they are needed when nothing else seems to be working, they are no more effective than cryotherapy. 

There are more risks and side effects associated with laser treatment. Typically, one will experience pain for a few days after surgery, even though a local anesthetic is used. You could have a fever and bleed afterward as well. If any symptoms persist, make sure to contact your doctor. Laser treatment can also leave the patient with bad scarring and is one of the more expensive treatment options for common warts. 

Electrosurgery & Curettage: Best for Large Warts 

Electrosurgery and curettage work by cutting off the wart with a sharp knife or another tool and then burning the wart tissue to prevent regrowth. These two techniques are often used together. It is recommended not to use in areas of widespread growth because it typically results in scarring. This procedure is a good option for large warts, which often don’t respond well to previously mentioned treatments. 

There are more side effects associated with electrosurgery and curettage. People often experience bleeding, crusting, and pain at the treatment site. It is also highly likely that the procedure will result in scarring, itchy, and pain. Subsequent treatments may need to be used as well since warts commonly grow back. 

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Common Warts Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

If you haven’t had a wart before, you may be curious and confused about this new ailment. Below are answers to some commonly asked questions about common warts. 

How can I prevent warts?

Some people are more susceptible to warts than others, including children, immunocompromised people, and the elderly. Warts are very contagious, and the virus that causes them (HPV) can be easily spread from person to person. Don’t touch other people’s warts to avoid the spread, and avoid sharing things like towels, nail clippers, and razors. In addition:

  • Don’t scratch or pick at an existing wart
  • Don’t shave over a wart
  • Try not to bite your nails
  • Get the HPV vaccine and wear condoms
  • Wear shoes when using a public locker room or shower

Is it okay to leave warts untreated?

If a wart is small and isn’t bothering you, treatment is not necessary. They will typically go away on their own in about 1-2 years. Some warts may cause discomfort, or you may not like the look of it, which is when you should seek treatment. Untreated warts can spread HPV to other people, but it is unlikely. Most adults have built up immunity to HPV, which is why children are the most at risk. Overall, unless a wart is very large or is causing you pain, it is okay to let it go untreated. 

Can you remove warts with tweezers or nail clippers?

No. It is advised not to use tools at home like tweezers and nail clippers to remove warts yourself. If you are trying to get it to go away on its own, you should not touch it. Using these tools can further spread HPV to other parts of the body, causing the growth of new warts. It is not safe to do this on your own. If you want to have a wart removed, you should use an over-the-counter treatment or visit your doctor. 

How do I know if my wart is dying?

If you are using an at-home treatment for your warts, like salicylic acid or duct tape therapy, you will want to stop once the base of your wart looks like the rest of your skin. This means there is no raised bump, and the area doesn’t have any black dots or look grainy. 

Bottom Line 

Common warts are caused by infection from HPV. If they are small and not bothersome, they can go untreated and typically go away independently. Many treatments are available to get rid of warts both at home and at a doctor’s office. When comparing all treatments available, the best overall for getting rid of common warts is using salicylic acid gels, liquids, and patches. 

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