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Warts are caused by viruses and are passed from person to person, sometimes indirectly through touching an object someone with a wart has touched. While they are cosmetically unappealing, they are non-cancerous and not dangerous, but they can cause discomfort if they become irritated.

What Causes Warts?

Warts are caused by a viral infection in the top layer of the skin. Viruses that cause warts are called human papillomavirus or HPV. Warts are usually skin-colored and feel rough to the touch, but they can appear dark, flat, and smooth. The appearance of a wart depends on where it is growing.

Some people get warts depending on how often they are exposed to the virus. Wart viruses occur more easily if the skin has been damaged in some way, which explains the high frequency of warts in children who bite or pick at hangnails. Some people are just more likely to catch the wart virus than others, just as some people catch colds more easily. Patients with a weakened immune system also are more prone to a wart virus infection.

Types of Warts 

Common warts usually grow on the fingers, around the nails, and on the backs of the hands. They are more common where skin has been broken or where fingernails are bitten or hangnails picked. These are often called “seed” warts because the blood vessels to the wart produce black dots that look like seeds.

Foot or plantar warts are usually on the soles, or plantar area, of the feet. When plantar warts grow in clusters, they are known as mosaic warts. Most plantar warts do not stick up above the surface like common warts because the pressure of walking flattens them and pushes them back into the skin. Like common warts, these warts may have black dots. Plantar warts can be painful, feeling like a stone in a shoe.

Flat warts are smaller and smoother than other warts. They tend to grow in large numbers, 20 to 100 at a time. They can occur anywhere, but in children they are most common on the face. In adults, they are often found in the beard area in men and on the legs in women. Irritation from shaving probably accounts for this.


In children, warts can disappear without treatment over a period of several months to years. However, warts that are bothersome, painful, or rapidly multiplying should be treated. Warts in adults often do not disappear as easily or as quickly as they do in children. Water’s Edge Dermatology practitioners are trained to use a variety of treatments for warts, depending on the age of the patient and the type of wart.

Common warts typically are treated by applying salicylic acid gel, “painting” with cantharidin, cryotherapy (freezing), electrosurgery, or laser treatment. Foot warts are often treated using salicylic acid plasters, applying other chemicals to the wart, or with laser surgery, electrosurgery, or cutting to remove the wart. Flat warts are treated using “peeling” methods with daily applications of salicylic acid, tretinoin, glycolic acid, or other surface peeling preparations.

Tips for Preventing Warts

Though there is no foolproof way to avoid getting warts, there are some steps that can reduce the chances of getting or spreading warts:

  • Avoid biting or chewing fingernails and cuticles;
  • Wash your hands often;
  • Moisturize skin, especially skin that is dry and cracked;
  • Always wear sandals or flip flops in public showers, locker rooms, and pools;
  • Clean cuts and scratches with soap and water;
  • Never share razors, towels, or socks with other people;
  • Keep hands and feet dry and wear extra-absorbent socks if your feet tend to sweat a lot;
  • Avoid touching other people’s warts.

Your Water’s Edge Dermatology practitioner can make a proper diagnosis and discuss the best way to treat a wart. Request an appointment now for you or your child or other family member to have warts evaluated and treated correctly: Request an Appointment.

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