What are warts?

Warts are skin growths that are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). The virus can enter the body through the skin. Warts look like small, grainy bumps that are rough to the touch. Most warts are flesh-colored, tan, pink, or white. Warts sometimes contain small black dots that are tiny, clotted blood vessels.

In most cases, common warts appear on the fingers, near the fingernails, or on the hands. Warts also can appear on other areas of the body. These include warts on the soles of the feet (called Plantar warts), genital warts (usually transmitted by having sexual contact), and flat warts (generally on the face).

What causes warts?

Warts are caused through direct contact with HPV, which is contagious. The virus causes skin to grow faster than usual. HPV may spread by person-to-person contact or through direct contact with an object used by a person with the virus. The virus that causes warts also can spread to other places on the body of the person with warts.

How are warts treated?

Usually, warts are harmless and can disappear without treatment. However, people can seek treatment for warts when the condition is bothersome or embarrassing. In some cases, warts may be removed with over-the-counter salicylic acid liquids or pads. In other cases, a pediatrician or dermatologist can use one of the following methods:

  • Freezing (cryotherapy)—In this treatment, a doctor will use liquid nitrogen to freeze a wart. A blister forms around the wart and the dead tissue falls off within about a week.
  • Burning (electrosurgery)—Often used with curettage (scraping off) of the wart with a sharp tool.
  • Condylox—A prescription medicine that is applied in small amounts directly to the wart.
  • Laser surgery—A procedure that is used for warts that are difficult to treat. It may leave a scar.

Can warts be prevented?

Washing your hands can help prevent you from getting warts. Avoid using towels in public places such as the gym. Wear foot protection in areas where people may have been walking barefoot.

If you already have warts, you can prevent them from spreading by not picking at them. You may cover warts with bandages. In addition, keep your hands as dry as possible. Warts are harder to control in moist environments. You should never brush, comb, or shave areas where warts are present. This is because the virus can be spread through these actions. You should wash your hands thoroughly after touching a wart.

A note about HPV

The HPV virus also is the cause of cancer of the cervix (part of the uterus or womb) and can cause cancer of the penis and anus. HPV is now the major cause of mouth and throat cancer. Most genital warts and cancers caused by HPV can be prevented by the use of condoms and by the HPV vaccines (Gardasil® and Cervarix®).


  • American Academy of Dermatology. Warts Accessed 5/5/2015.
  • American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. Warts Accessed 5/5/2015.
  • CDC.gov. What is HPV? Accessed 5/25/2015.
  • CDC.gov. HPV Vaccines Accessed 5/25/2015.

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 5/25/2015…#15775