Typically benign, warts fall into the “nuisance” category of skin problems. They show up fast (overnight, it seems) on places like the palms of your hands or the soles of your feet, but they’re often slow and stubborn to leave. Not to mention, they’re unsightly and can be irritating, too.
The types of warts we’re talking about—common warts, flat warts, and plantar warts—are the result of viral infections that originate from the human papillomavirus or HPV family, but they’re not the strains associated with cancer, explains Yale School of Medicine. You see, HPV is a group of 200 plus viruses, only some of which are sexually transmitted. (Among those sexually-transmitted strains, some are considered low-risk and may cause genital warts, while some others are deemed high-risk because they can lead to cancers.)
The warts people get on their hands, feet, and face typically appear as small, often flesh-toned, bumps, either on their own or in clusters. And, common as they may be, the little buggers are still annoying. Here’s what you can do to prevent this pesky skin condition from occurring in the first place, plus natural ways to clear it up.
Types Of Warts
About 33 percent of kids and teenagers get warts, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). But this viral and contagious skin condition is far less prevalent among those with more developed immune systems, affecting only three to five percent of the adult population.
Here are the main types of warts you can get (that aren’t sexually transmitted), according to the NIH:
- Plantar warts: These types of warts occur mostly on the soles of your feet and ankles. While other kinds grow outwards, plantar warts are pushed inward because of the weight you put on your feet when you stand and walk. Mosaic warts are a type of plantar warts that grow in clusters on your feet, and they’re even flatter than plantar warts.
- Common warts: Ranging in size from a pinhead to pea, these growths are often found on the back of the hands, the fingers, and the skin around your nails. They can also show up on your feet.
- Flat warts: Small and slightly raised, these warts are sometimes light brown in color and most often appear on the face, particularly on the forehead and cheek. They can also affect the hands and lower arms, too.
- Filiform warts: These warts look different from others as they have a thread-like, spiky appearance. They most often appear on the face, around eyelids, and lips.
How Do You Get Warts?
The viruses that cause warts can enter the skin through small cuts and then cause extra cell growth, with the outer layer of skin thickening, hardening, and ultimately forming a raised wart, explains the NIH.
“The virus can be spread through direct skin-to-skin contact or through contact with contaminated surfaces, such as towels, swimming pools, or shower floors,” explains dermatologist Dr. Alpana Mohta, M.D., and an advisor for BetterGoods.org, an independent organization that audits the safety of ingredients in beauty and personal care products.
Read More: What Your Fingernails Say About Your Health
Some people are more prone to warts, including children and teenagers who often use communal showers in locker rooms or swimming pools, according to the NIH. If a family member has warts, it may up your chances of getting warts—especially if you’re sharing things like washcloths or flip-flops. Those with weakened immune systems and atopic conditions like eczema are also more susceptible.
How Can You Prevent Warts?
HPV strains are all over the place, but there are some steps you can take to prevent getting warts, Dr. Anna Chacon, M.D., a Florida-based board-certified dermatologist. Keeping in mind that the viruses can spread via skin-to-skin contact or through contact with things that have been touched by others, you shouldn’t share personal items that touch the skin directly, like towels, washcloths, nail clippers, and pumice stones, Chacon says. Wearing flip-flops at pools and in locker rooms can also help you steer clear of plantar warts, she says.
Also, because HPV can enter through cuts in the skin, it’s best to break habits like nail biting or picking at your cuticles, Chacon says.
If you already have a wart, be careful when shaving because running your razor over it can then spread the virus to other parts of your skin, according to the Cleveland Clinic. You’ll also want to keep warts dry (especially on the feet!) because moisture also allows them to spread more easily, Chacon adds.
Natural Ways to Clear Up Warts
First, some good news: Warts will often go away on their own, Mohta says. (Thanks, immune system!) Studies involving school-aged children and teenagers showed that 50 percent of them no longer had any of the pesky bumps after one year. After two years, that percentage increased to 70 percent. However, research on the natural course of warts in adults is thin.
If you’re looking to get rid of a wart, there are a few natural, at-home remedies to try. A word of caution, though: If you have warts on your face, leave it to a medical professional to clear those up.
1. Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil is a natural antiseptic and has antiviral properties, explains Mohta, which means it could potentially help your body clear up warts. To use tea tree oil, mix a few drops with a carrier oil such as coconut oil or jojoba oil, she suggests. Apply the mixture to the wart and cover with a bandage. Repeat this process several times a day until the wart disappears. While there is no research evidence that shows tea tree oil can clear up warts, studies have shown it to be helpful with other viruses.
2. Duct tape
For a true McGuyver move, try using duct tape to get rid of a wart. “Duct tape occludes the wart, which means it cuts off the oxygen supply, which then kills the virus,” Mohta says. Get this: One study found that duct tape was more effective than cryotherapy, a.k.a. freezing, for getting rid of warts.
To use duct tape, cut a piece of tape that is slightly larger than the wart. Apply the tape to the wart and leave it on for six days. If the tape falls off, you can reapply a fresh piece of tape over the site. After six days, remove the tape and soak the area in warm water. Gently rub the wart with a pumice stone or file to remove any dead skin. Repeat this process until the wart is gone. According to Mohta, this method usually takes 1.5 to two months to clear warts.
Garlic is a popular home remedy for a number of health issues, and studies have demonstrated that it has antifungal and antibacterial properties. One small study showed garlic extract helped clear common warts within a month.
To put garlic to the test, you can simply try rubbing a clove on the wart, Chacon says. Or, crush up a garlic clove, mix it with water, apply it to the wart, and cover it up with a bandage. Repeat the process a few times per day.
When You Should See a Doctor
While you can self-treat warts, it’s important to note that it is possible to mistake another kind of skin growth (potentially including skin cancer) for a wart, according to the AAD.
As such, the AAD recommends seeing a dermatologist in the following circumstances:
- You suspect a growth is not a wart
- The wart is on your face or genitals
- You’ve developed several warts
- The wart hurts, itches, burns, or bleeds
- You have a weakened immune system
- You have diabetes (removing any wart on your foot when you have diabetes could cut or burn your skin and cause lasting damage to the nerves in your feet)
Dermatologists may recommend a host of treatments that range from cryotherapy (in which liquid nitrogen is applied to the wart), immunotherapy, or, in extreme cases, laser therapy.