Warts aren’t pretty, and most people who have them want to get rid of them – fast. They usually look like flesh-colored bumps on the skin, although the coloration may vary from white to pink. These common skin growths have special names depending upon where they’re located, such as plantar warts that involve the feet. They’re quite common and can occur anywhere on the body. They usually cause no problems, other than being an eyesore and a nuisance, unless they occur in the genital area. Women with genital warts are at higher risk for cervical cancer.
What Causes Them?
Warts are caused by infection with a virus called the human papillomavirus, also referred to as HPV. The HPV virus stimulates the production of keratin, a hard protein found in the top layer of the skin. This keratin builds up to create a raised bump on the skin that feels rough to the touch. Warts are an infectious disease because they’re caused by a virus, and they can be transmitted from person to person through breaks in the skin. They’re more common in children than adults since most adults have some immunity against the virus. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t get warts by kissing a frog.
Warts don’t require treatment except for cosmetic reasons. They’ll eventually go away without treatment although it can take several years. Most people don’t want to wait that long. For those folks, there are home treatments that can be effective.
Some studies show that applying duct tape to the wart for 7 days, rubbing the area with a pumice stone and then repeating this process for several weeks will rid the skin of a wart, but research has been mixed as to how well this really works. It isn’t effective for everyone, and it requires a great deal of patience.
Another treatment that can be effective is applying salicylic acid to the area. Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid that softens and sloughs away the hard layer of keratin that makes up a wart. It has to be used daily for best results, and it can take several weeks to see results.
For treating plantar warts on the feet, it’s best to soak feet in warm water for 10 minutes to soften the skin before applying salicylic gel and then buff the area with a pumice stone between applications. Any product with salicylic acid can cause burning or mild skin irritation, but most people tolerate it well.
When warts don’t respond to salicylic acid treatments, a doctor can freeze it with liquid nitrogen. If effective, the wart should disappear within 7 to 10 days, although it may require several treatments to see results. Prescription retinoids such as Retin-A can also be effective.
There are other topical treatments available by prescription for treating warts. These include cantharidin, a chemical that comes from a beetle, and trichloroacetic acid. These chemicals can cause significant skin irritation and should only be used after other treatments have failed.
In cases of severe warts that fail to respond to conventional treatments, doctors sometimes prescribe medications that boost the body’s immune system’s ability to fight the virus. These medications should be reserved only for severe cases due to the potential side effects.
The Bottom Line?
Warts are not pretty to look at, but they’re not a precursor to skin cancer or other skin problems. Treatment is usually for cosmetic purposes and involves the application of salicylic acid products as a first-line treatment. If this doesn’t work, freezing with liquid nitrogen is another effective option.