Flat Warts Overview

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Flat warts aren't as big as common warts, but they're still a cosmetic problem. See more pictures of skin problems.
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These tiny, smooth spots on your skin are usually skin-colored -- pink, yellow or even light brown -- and difficult to see. They most often appear on your face, neck or legs. These spots may form in groups, with as many as one hundred or more in one area. Sometimes, they occur in a line or a circle. What we're talking about is flat warts.

Unlike common warts, which have a dome-shaped appearance, flat warts are usually flush with the skin's surface. They're smooth, while common warts are often rough. Flat warts tend to be smaller than other types of warts -- as small as 0.07 inches (0.2 centimeters) and often not larger than 0.39 inches (1 centimeter) [source: Intelihealth]. Unlike plantar warts, which grow on the bottom of feet, flat warts typically appear on men's and children's faces or on women's legs. In fact, they're much more commonly found on children and are sometimes called juvenile warts [source: KidsHealth].


Flat warts, or Verruca plana, are more often a cosmetic problem or a slight inconvenience. They're considered a benign growth and don't normally cause pain, although sometimes they may itch [source: Warts Information Center]. Occasionally, they can become sore if they appear in an area where clothing is tight or rubs against the skin. Flat warts may disappear by themselves over time. However, because flat warts often appear in groups and on the face, people don't always want to wait for them to clear up. Moreover, because they're contagious, early treatment can prevent them from spreading [source: Intelihealth].

If you have flat warts, you might be wondering how to treat them effectively. If you think you have flat warts and want to know more about what causes them and the various treatments that are available for you, read on.


Causes of Flat Warts

All warts -- including flat warts -- are caused by a virus known as human papillomavirus, or HPV. There are dozens of kinds of HPV, and the different warts caused by it tend to appear on various surfaces of the body. For the most part, flat warts are caused by HPV types 3, 10, 28 and 49. HPV is commonly transmitted by direct contact from one person to another. It's also possible for HPV to be transmitted indirectly. So, if you come into contact with the virus in a locker room, pool or other public place, you may get warts. In addition, once you have a wart, it's very easy to spread the virus from one place to another on your own body [sources: Intelihealth, Warts Information Center].

You're more susceptible to HPV if you've got a cut, scratch or some other opening in the skin. If you have a scratch or cut and it gets infected with HPV, it's likely that flat warts might appear along it. If you already have flat warts, be aware that they can easily spread to other areas of your body that may be scratched or cut [source: Merck].


Another way that flat warts spread is through the act of shaving. Shaving with a razor is a daily routine for many people. However, since there's a chance you may nick yourself with the razor, shaving may encourage the spread of flat warts. For men, that means an outbreak on faces, and women may get them on their legs [source: Warts Information Center].

If you have a strong immune system, you already have a line of defense to combat flat warts. However, because warts are caused by viral infection, people whose immune systems are compromised by an autoimmune disorder or who are taking certain medications that weaken the immune system are more likely to get them.


Treating Flat Warts

Although flat warts are inconvenient, most of them will go away on their own as the body's immune system targets the virus that causes them. This can takes months to several years. Treating individual warts does not prevent new ones from occurring if the virus is still active in the body. So, if the warts aren't causing you any pain and they're not spreading, it may be best to leave them alone.

Using over-the-counter wart treatments, such as products that contain salicylic acid, may be somewhat effective at removing individual warts. These products dissolve the epidermis, or the top layer of skin, and when they're used consistently over a long period of time can successfully remove the infected skin. Before applying the medicine, it's a good idea to soak the warts in warm water and scrub them with a pumice stone. This process removes the dead skin and allows the medication to make contact with the wart [source: VisualDx Health].


However, if you have flat warts on your face or if the warts begin to spread quickly, consult a doctor. Doctors have access to a larger variety of treatment options, including cryotherapy (freezing off the warts), immunotherapy medications and medications that are injected directly into the wart [source: Cleveland Clinic].

If you have flat warts, hopefully you've learned a few ways to prevent them and treat them. If they're still not on their way out of your life, follow the links on the next page for more information.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • Aetna InteliHealth. "Warts." (Accessed 8/5/2009) http://www.intelihealth.com/IH/ihtIH/WS/9339/10988.html
  • American Academy of Family Physicians. "Duct Tape More Effective than Cryotherapy for Warts." 2/01/03. (Accessed 8/8/09). http://www.aafp.org/afp/20030201/tips/8.html
  • Cleveland Clinic. "Warts: An Overview." (Accessed 8/5/2009)http://my.clevelandclinic.org/disorders/warts/hic_Warts_An_Overview.aspx
  • Cleveland Clinic. "Warts: Treatment." (Accessed 8/5/2009)http://my.clevelandclinic.org/disorders/warts/derm_treatment.aspx
  • Kidshealth from Nemours. "What's up With Warts?" (Accessed 8/6/2009)http://kidshealth.org/kid/ill_injure/aches/warts.html#
  • Medical News Today. "Duct Tape and Other Treatments for Warts." (Accessed 8/5/2009)http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/17335.php
  • The Merck Manuals Online Medical Library. "Warts." (Accessed 8/5/2009)http://www.merck.com/mmpe/sec10/ch122/ch122c.html
  • VisualDx Health. "Flat Wart: A parent's guide to condition and treatment information." (Accessed 8/6/2009)http://www.visualdxhealth.com/child/flatWart.htm
  • Warts Information Center. "Flat Warts." (Accessed 8/6/2009)http://www.warts.org/flat-warts.html
  • Warts Information Center. "Duct Tape Wart Removal." (Accessed 8/6/2009)http://www.warts.org/duct-tape-wart-removal.html