What's the best way to get rid of warts?

You won't contract warts from kissing a frog, but it's easy to get them from other humans.
You won't contract warts from kissing a frog, but it's easy to get them from other humans.
©iStockphoto.com/Linleo

You may not get a wart from kissing a frog in hopes it turns into a prince (or princess), but you can get warts from direct contact with that prince or princess.

Warts are caused by a contagious virus -- human papillomavirus (HPV). There are around 60 strains of HPV, only some of which cause the excessive skin cell growth that results in warts. Warts normally spread person-to-person through contact when there's a break in the skin. Kids, because of their less developed immune systems, get warts more often than adults (but their warts tend to go away, whereas adults' stick around).

And not all warts are the same. The different types include:

  • Common warts, usually found on the hands, tops of feet, arms and legs
  • Flat warts, commonly found on the face and neck
  • Plantar warts, which appear on the bottom on your foot
  • Palmer warts, located on the hand
  • Genital warts

If you look closely at a wart, you can sometimes see what appear to be little dark seeds. What you're looking at are blood vessels that have switched teams, and now supply oxygen and nutrients to that dreaded interloper.

Prevention is key when it comes to warts. Don't touch warts, not even your own -- they can be spread from one part of the body to another. Immediately wash your hands if you do touch them. Use caution when shaving around them, or you may spread them around your skin.

Consider warts the way you would look at any other contagious skin disease. If your roommate has warts, don't share personal hygiene products like soap, deodorant and especially razors. Wear footwear in public places, particularly gym locker rooms, showers and around swimming pools. Don't share towels, clothing or socks with others.

But if you have one already, what's the best way to zap it? Keep reading to find out.

Treating Warts 101

We destroy warts by destroying the virus, or at least most of it, allowing the body's immune system to do the rest. You'll want to treat them promptly, before they spread over your body.

Your first line of offense might be one of these:

  • Salicylic acid. This treatment comes in many forms (including foam, liquid and pad) and should be applied as directed onto the wart. Don't use it on irritated or broken skin. First, clean the area and soak the wart for five minutes, then dry. You may need to apply the medication twice daily. Then, file away any dead skin using a file or pumice stone (dedicated to this purpose alone!). It may take up to three months for your warts to go away using this method.
  • Duct tape. Studies have yielded different results, but there has been noted success with removing warts with duct tape. If you use it, cover the wart with a small piece of duct tape for six days. Then, remove the tape, soak the wart and file it down with a pumice stone or nail file. Leave it uncovered for one night, then re-cover and repeat the process for another six days. If you don't see results in the first two weeks, you likely won't see any at all [source: Miller].
  • Retinoid cream. Retinoid cream can be effective at stopping the growth of warts. It can also cause a variety of side effects and isn't generally as effective as salicylic acid.
  • Cantharidin. This chemical causes blistering beneath the wart, killing the skin and the wart that rests upon it.
  • Freezing (cryotherapy). By freezing the blood vessels of a wart, we can suffocate the wart and get rid of it. This treatment -- using a careful application of liquid nitrogen -- can be performed by a doctor, and over-the-counter at-home freezing kits are also available. Cryotherapy may be a good name, since the treatment can cause blistering and pain. However, freezing warts destroys half of them after the first treatment [source: AOCD].

If these measures aren't successful (or not to your -- or your doctor's -- liking), there are several medical and surgical procedures that can help rid you of stubborn warts. Read on to find out what they are.

Wart Removal: Bringing in the Big Guns

Some warts are just more resilient than others. If warts have begun spreading, or if more mild treatments don't work, there are other options available:

  • Surgical removal. A wart can be removed for good the old-fashioned way, through surgery. Doctors will cut around the wart to excise it. This requires local anesthesia and may cause scarring.
  • Laser surgery. Warts can be eliminated using CO2 lasers or electric lasers. Scarring is common, and this option is normally reserved for warts that haven't reacted to other treatments. Lasers use a strong, focused beam of light to burn off warts. CO2 lasers essentially vaporize the wart, causing it to burn and blister. Your body's immune response will then kick in and finish destroying the wart and healing the skin from within.
  • Pulsed dye laser. This laser option reportedly removes warts 95 percent of the time [source: Feet for Life]. Unlike CO2 lasers, pulsed dye lasers don't normally leave scars behind, and three out of four people will lose the wart in three treatments or less [source: AOCD]. The wart's red blood cells absorb the light, cutting off the blood supply.
  • Electric needle. Burning off a wart surgically with an electric needle has the same effectiveness as a CO2 laser. Doctors will apply the electric needle to its base, cutting it off at the skin. It will cause some scarring.
  • Antigen shot (immunotherapy). This form of treatment involves the injection of antigens, foreign bodies your immune system will recognize as invasive agents. Candida antigen, derived from the same yeast that causes yeast infections, is often used. This prompts your immune system to rush immune cells to the scene (the wart) to destroy the injected antigen, and the wart along with it. There is no scarring, but the injections themselves can be painful.
  • Needling. This process involves jabbing the wart numerous times with a needle, then injecting it with cortisone.

You'll find an option that works for you when it comes to getting rid of warts. Of course, the best offense is a strong defense, and there have been several recent medical breakthroughs in developing vaccines against the strains of HPV that cause warts. One vaccine available protects against two HPV strains responsible for nine out of 10 warts.

For lots more information on warts and skin care, please see the next page.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

Sources

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  • American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. "Warts." (Sep. 28, 2009)http://www.aocd.org/skin/dermatologic_diseases/warts.html
  • Associated Press. "Study: Duct tape wart cure overstated." USA Today. Mar. 19, 2007.http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2007-03-19-duct-tape_N.htm
  • Feet for Life Podiatry Center. "Plantar Warts." (Oct. 2, 2009)http://www.podiatryinfo.com/r11.html
  • Medical College of Georgia. "New HPV Vaccine Under Study." ScienceDaily. Nov. 20, 2007. (Sept. 30, 2009)http://www.sciencedaily.com­/releases/2007/11/071119113902.htm
  • Medical News Today. "Dermatologists Use Antigen Shots to Alleviate Warts without Scarring." July 22, 2005. (Sep. 28, 2009)http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/27573.php
  • Merck Manuals. "Warts." Oct. 2008. (Oct. 2, 2009)http://www.merck.com/mmpe/sec10/ch122/ch122c.html
  • Miller, Karl E., M.D." Duct Tape More Effective than Cryotherapy for Warts." American Family Physician. Feb. 1, 2003.http://www.aafp.org/afp/20030201/tips/8.html
  • University of Queensland (2006, February 14). "Scientists Tweak Cervical Cancer Vaccine Technology To Fight Most Common Sexually Transmitted Disease -- Genital Warts." ScienceDaily. Feb. 14, 2006. (Oct. 1, 2009)http://www.sciencedaily.com­/releases/2006/02/060213104113.htm
  • WebMD. "Retinoid cream for warts." Sept. 11, 2008. (Oct. 2, 2009)http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/retinoid-tretinoin-cream-for-warts
  • WebMD. "Skin Condition: Warts." (Sep. 28, 2009)http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/guide/warts
  • WebMD. "Warts: 10 Answers to Frequently Asked Questions." (Sep. 28, 2009)http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/warts-faq-questions-answers