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Salicylic Acid Preparations for Treating Warts

Examples

Generic NameBrand Name
salicylic acidCompound W, Dr. Scholl's Clear Away, DuoFilm, Mediplast, Occlusal, Trans-Ver-Sal, Wart-Off

Mild salicylic acid preparations are available as nonprescription paints, creams, or plaster patches for home treatment.

How It Works

Salicylic acid:

  • Softens the skin layers that form a wart so that the wart can be rubbed off with a pumice stone or file.
  • Repeatedly irritates a wart, which is thought to trigger an immune system response. A heightened immune response fights the human papillomavirus that causes wart growth.

Salicylic acid may work even better if you remove the dead skin from the top of the wart. Soak the wart with water to soften it. Then use a pumice stone, nail file, or stiff brush to rub off the top layer of skin. (Don't use the stone, file, or brush for anything else.) When you put on the medicine, it will penetrate deeper into the wart tissue.

Why It Is Used

Salicylic acid is the home treatment most often used for eliminating warts.

  • It is an inexpensive and safe home treatment.
  • It causes minimal or no pain.
  • It may only be effective when used regularly over a period of time.

Salicylic acid should not be used:

How Well It Works

Nonprescription salicylic acid is as effective as or more effective than other treatments, with minimal risk and pain.1

  • A recent review of research suggests that salicylic acid is a safe treatment that effectively eliminates warts up to 75% of the time. By comparison, placebo or no treatment produced an approximate clearance rate of 50%.2
  • There is currently no proof that cryotherapy is any more effective than salicylic acid.1

Side Effects

All medicines have side effects. But many people don't feel the side effects, or they are able to deal with them. Ask your pharmacist about the side effects of each medicine you take. Side effects are also listed in the information that comes with your medicine.

Here are some important things to think about:

  • Usually the benefits of the medicine are more important than any minor side effects.
  • Side effects may go away after you take the medicine for a while.
  • If side effects still bother you and you wonder if you should keep taking the medicine, call your doctor. He or she may be able to lower your dose or change your medicine. Do not suddenly quit taking your medicine unless your doctor tells you to.

Call911or other emergency services right away if you have:

Quit using this medicine and call your doctor if you have:

  • Hives.
  • A rash.
  • Stinging pain.
  • Severe skin irritation.

Common side effects of this medicine include:

  • Dry, peeling, red, or scaling skin.

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

Avoid getting salicylic acid on the skin around your wart. Salicylic acid should touch only the wart.

If treatment causes the area to become too tender, stop using the medicine for 2 to 3 days.

If your warts do not go away after 2 to 3 months of treatment with salicylic acid, or if they come back, consider a stronger preparation, another type of treatment, or no treatment.

Dead tissue contains living wart virus, so dispose of the dead skin carefully. The pumice stone, brush, or file will also have living wart virus on it. Don't use these items for any other purpose, or you may spread the virus.

Taking medicine

Medicine is one of the many tools your doctor has to treat a health problem. Taking medicine as your doctor suggests will improve your health and may prevent future problems. If you don't take your medicines properly, you may be putting your health (and perhaps your life) at risk.

There are many reasons why people have trouble taking their medicine. But in most cases, there is something you can do. For suggestions on how to work around common problems, see the topic Taking Medicines as Prescribed.

Advice for women

If you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant, do not use any medicines unless your doctor tells you to. Some medicines can harm your baby. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbs, and supplements. And make sure that all your doctors know that you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant.

Checkups

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.

Citations

  1. Gibbs S, Harvey I (2006). Topical treatments for cutaneous warts. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (3).

  2. Loo SK, Tang WY (2009). Warts (non-genital), search date June 2008. Online version of BMJ Clinical Evidence: http://www.clinicalevidence.com.

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerPatrice Burgess, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Last RevisedSeptember 7, 2012

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: September 07, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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