A wart caused by human papillomavirus on a person's hand
Warts are common skin infections that occur on almost any part of the body. They are caused by human papillomavirus. While most are harmless, they are, in fact, contagious. Subsequently, they can spread to other parts of the body and other people. Furthermore, they can cause embarrassment, discomfort and pain

Was this helpful?

Thanks for your feedback!

Was this helpful?

Thanks for your feedback!

Back to top

Common warts are small fleshy growths on the skin, usually light grey, pink or brown in colour. They occur when a contagious virus called human papillomavirus (HPV) infects the skin. People can pick up this virus in the following ways. Firstly, by direct contact with a person who has a wart. Secondly, by coming into contact with the same surface that a person with a wart has touched. Warts are pretty commonplace so obviously, a popular question which arises is how to remove them.
Although we find warts most frequently in children, they can appear at any age and can form on any part of the body. Furthermore, they are more likely to show up on the hands, fingers, fingernails, elbows, knees and feet.2a,3a,4a Often disappearing on their own over time, they are generally not painful unless you have one on the underside of your foot.5
Even though most of them are a minor inconvenience and not a serious, life-threatening condition, they may cause some discomfort or embarrassment. As they can be unsightly, most people look for remedies to remove them rather than waiting for them to fall off, which may take a year or two. What’s more, they can also come back once removed.

Back to top

The human papillomavirus (HPV) causes warts by infecting the top level of your skin. Each person’s immune system responds differently to viruses, so some people who come into contact with human papillomavirus will get a wart, while others will not. Also, there are 100 different strains of the human papillomavirus.6a For example, the strain of human papillomavirus that causes common warts is not the same as the one that causes genital warts.6b

Green frog sitting in a sandy environment

You cannot get warts from touching or kissing frogs. Likewise, you cannot eliminate them by using hypnosis, garlic, dipping them in yoghurt, or covering them with duct tape.

Back to top

We can identify different types of warts by where they grow on the body and what they look like.3b

Back to top

Common warts, also called verrucas, most commonly develop on the following areas: The fingers, around the nails, the hands, the knees, elbows and the face. Even so, they can also occur elsewhere, especially in areas with broken skin from biting fingernails or open wounds.3c Verrucas are fleshy, dome-shaped, skin-coloured and often rough-textured.7c
The word ‘verucca’ dates back to ancient Rome and Greece, meaning steep place, height or hill. In the sixteenth century, the German physician Daniel Sennert used the term to describe warts because they look like small hills10

Back to top

We find these on the soles of the feet but also under the toes. They are often flat or grow inward due to the pressure from walking. Described as feeling like you have small stones in your shoe, they are uncomfortable and often painful.3d Moreover, when occurring in clusters, they are called mosaic warts. Deep plantar warts are called myrmercia.11

Plantar wart caused by human papillomavirus

Back to top

Flat warts, also known as plane warts, are smaller and smoother than other varieties. They can occur anywhere and tend to appear in clusters – 20 to 100 at a time.3e

Back to top

Filiform warts have long, narrow spike-like projections and tend to grow on the face, around the eyes, nose and mouth.12

Back to top

Developing around the fingernail or toenail, periungual warts appear as thickened skin around the nail.13a They may disturb nail growth and can cause nail loss.13b People who bite their nails are, of course, more likely to get periungual warts.
Palmar = relating to or located on the hand.
Plantar = relating to or located on the sole of the foot.

Cross-section of skin showing hpv-infected cells

Back to top

Yes, warts are contagious and can spread by skin-to-skin contact to other parts of your body and to other people. 7a As a result, if you constantly touch or pick at your wart and touch another part of your body or someone else’s skin, or if you have an open wound (cut or scrape) that touches someone else’s wart, they may spread.7b, 8
They can also spread indirectly through fomites. Fomites are objects, materials or surfaces likely to carry infection, for example moist places such as swimming pools or bathrooms.9a

Back to top

Warts are among the three most common skin conditions treated.9e In fact, a dermatologist (skin doctor) can usually tell if you have a wart by looking at it. While they often go away without treatment and can be self-treated if they persist, treatment requires an individualised approach. Always consult your doctor or dermatologist if:

  • A young child or infant has a growth anywhere on the body
  • There are many warts
  • They become painful, red, itchy, swollen, bleeding or oozing pus 3g, 4c

Back to top

Warts can be successfully treated at home or by a doctor. A doctor can cut off a wart or use a special instrument to scrape it but this may leave scarring. It is also recommended to consult a doctor if you have a plantar wart under the foot which may need to be cut or cauterized with liquid nitrogen. This is called cryotherapy. Diabetics who have issues with their feet or people who suffer from nerve damage in the feet or neuropathy, must consult a doctor for treatment rather than use a home remedy.

Back to top

A flexible liquid application can also be used to remove warts, while forming a waterproof covering over the wart. This can be used as follows:

  1. Soak foot in hot water for 5 minutes and towel dry.
  2. Rub wart with a pumice stone or emery board.
  3. Mask off the skin around the wart with Vaseline or cut a hole in a plaster and stick it over the wart with the wart sticking through. This is to protect the healthy skin from the acid in the liquid application.
  4. Apply the liquid to the wart using the applicator (avoiding the surrounding skin).
  5. Allow to dry and cover with a plaster if necessary.
  6. It is important to reapply twice a day until the wart has cleared. This can take up to 2 weeks.
  7. A liquid wart removal application is not to be used on the face and neck. It is for external use only and is not to be used on genital warts.

Warts medical brochure medical references

Was this helpful?

Thanks for your feedback!

For more health information

Click on the body area you want to know more about. Select a related health topic from the menu

Select a body area
Mental Health
Infant Health
Restlessness and Teething in Babies
Restlessness and Teething in Babies
Causes of restlessness in ....
There has been a steady increase in the number of flu cases reported recently. This is unusual because the flu season usually runs from March to ....
When is a runny tummy actually diarrhoea, and when to use an ....
Sinuses are spaces in the bones of your cheeks, your forehead and your ....