If you’ve noticed a growth on your face, hands, or feet, you may have a wart. Although warts usually aren’t harmful, they may cause itching or mild discomfort. Because they are unsightly, they may affect your self-esteem.
Here’s what you need to know about where warts come from — and how to get rid of them.
Types of Warts
Warts can grow anywhere on the body. This includes your skin, the inside of your mouth, your genitals, or your rectal area.
Not all warts are the same. Types of warts include:
- Common warts — flesh-colored, rough bumps that often appear on the fingers, backs of hands, and around fingernails. They often occur near broken skin, especially if you bite or pick at your nails. They may look like cauliflower, or contain black dots that look like seeds.
- Plantar (foot) warts — grow on the bottom of your feet, sometimes in clusters. Plantar warts often look flat or grow inward because of pressure from walking. They sometimes hurt, and may contain black dots.
- Flat warts — can occur anywhere on the body, often in clusters. They are smaller and smoother than other warts, with a flat top, and tend to be pink to light brown in color. People often get them in areas where they shave, i.e., the beard area in men or legs in women.
- Filiform warts — grow quickly, often around the mouth, eyes, and nose. Filiform warts look like tiny fingers that stick out from the skin.
- Genital warts — are a sexually transmitted infection (STI) and occur on or near the vagina or penis. They can look raised or flat, small or large. They’re usually painless, but some people have bleeding, burning, or pain with genital warts.
If you’re not sure whether a skin growth is a wart, it’s best to check with a doctor. The bump might be a callous or it could be something more serious. Some skin cancers even look like warts.
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What Causes Warts?
Warts are a type of infection caused by a virus. These viruses are part of the human papillomavirus (HPV) family. Different types of HPV cause warts to grow in different parts of your body.
The strains of HPV that cause warts aren’t the same ones that cause cervical cancer.
Warts are contagious. The viruses that cause them can easily spread from person to person. You can also get the virus from touching an object, like a hairbrush or towel, used by a person who has warts.
Warts can also spread from one part of your body to another. Children who have warts on their fingers often spread them to their face by touching their nose or mouth.
Warts on the genitals can pass to another person during sex. Sometimes women have warts inside the vagina without knowing it. They can pass the infection to their partner.
The HPV vaccine, which prevents strains of HPV that cause cancer, can also help prevent some strains of HPV that cause warts.
Why Am I Getting Warts?
If you haven’t had warts before, you may wonder: Why am I getting warts? The most likely answer is that you probably touched someone’s wart. Or you handled an object, like a towel, that came into contact with a wart.
Warts are very contagious. Anyone can get warts. But some people are more resistant to the viruses that cause warts, while other people get them easily.
People who are more prone to developing warts include:
- Children and teenagers.
- Anyone who bites or picks at their nails or hangnails.
- Those with a weakened immune system.
If you have a healthy immune system, warts sometimes go away on their own without treatment. That’s especially true for children. But it may take months for a wart to disappear on its own.
If you’re eager to get rid of warts, there are inexpensive over-the-counter (OTC) remedies for wart removal.
The most common OTC wart treatment is topical medicine containing salicylic acid, such as Compound W. If you have warts on your fingers, feet, or legs (not your face or genitals), you can use these treatments. They come in many forms, including liquid, gel, and a patch that you put on the wart.
Here’s how to use salicylic acid treatments, step by step:
- Take a bath or shower before treatment to soften the skin.
- Lightly pat the skin dry.
- Apply the salicylic acid to the wart and let dry. (Try not to let it get on surrounding tissue.)
- Cover the area with a bandage or sock.
- Before bathe again the next day, rub the wart lightly with a pumice stone or nail file. That will remove some of the dead skin from the wart. You may choose to do this right after your shower, when the wart is soft.
- Repeat as often as it takes for the wart to disappear. (It may be weeks.)
Note: It’s important to follow directions and be totally consistent with OTC wart treatment. Otherwise, it’s far less likely to work.
When You Should See a Doctor for Warts
If home remedies don’t work, you should call your primary care doctor or a dermatologist for treatment to get rid of warts. Doctors may use stronger chemicals to remove warts. They may also “freeze” the wart with liquid nitrogen, cut it out, or remove it with a laser procedure.
You should also see a doctor to treat warts if:
- You have a wart on your face.
- The wart is swollen, bleeding, or oozing pus.
- You have genital warts. A doctor must treat genital warts. You could hurt your genital area by putting OTC chemicals on it.
- You have clusters of warts, or warts on many different parts of your body.
- Your warts itch, burn, or hurt.
- You have a weakened immune system.
- You are diabetic. You might damage the nerves in your feet by attempting home treatments for plantar warts.
American Academy of Dermatology, Warts: Overview, Link
American Academy of Dermatology, Warts: Who Gets and Causes, Link
National Library of Medicine, Warts, Link
American Academy of Family Physicians, Warts, Link
American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons, Plantar Warts, Link
Kidshealth.org, First Aid: Warts, Link
Connect with UPMC
The UPMC Department of Dermatology diagnoses, treats, and manages numerous hair, skin, and nail conditions and diseases. We care for common and uncommon conditions, and our treatments include both surgical and nonsurgical options. We operate several specialty centers for various conditions. The UPMC Cosmetic Surgery and Skin Health Center is a comprehensive dermatologic laser facility, offering a full range of cosmetic services and procedures. With UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, we offer a Skin Cancer Program that provides complete care from screenings, diagnosis, treatment, and beyond. Find a dermatology provider near you.