Laser Surgery for Warts: What to Expect

Medically Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on January 16, 2022
3 min read

If you have warts, your doctor will probably start with a couple of standard treatments. They’ll give you medicine that makes your warts peel away. Or they may use a super-cold liquid to freeze them off. If these treatments don’t do the job, they might try laser surgery.

A laser is a precise, focused beam of light. DVD and CD players use them to “read” discs. Some lasers send out light powerful enough to cut metal. On the skin, lasers can help get rid of fine lines, unwanted hair, wrinkles, freckles, and age spots.

This is the main type of laser used to remove warts. The light heats up the blood in the tiny vessels inside the wart and destroys the vessels. Without blood, the wart dies and falls off. The laser’s heat may also attack the virus that causes the wart.

The laser may feel like a rubber band snapping against your skin. You won’t feel much pain after the procedure is done. You should heal fully in 2-4 weeks.

Laser treatment can be good for hard-to-reach spots, like genital warts in your urethra, the tube that carries pee from your bladder out of your body. Depending on how many warts you have and where they are, your doctor might give you medicine that numbs the area they’ll treat. Or they might put you to sleep.

Laser surgery can have a couple of downsides:

  • It may leave scars
  • When the laser zaps your skin, it sends up tiny puffs of debris that might spread bacteria, viruses, or fungi

Some doctors think there isn’t enough proof that laser surgery works better than other treatments, like removing it with regular surgery. But lasers may do a better job of keeping the warts from coming back.

Carbon dioxide laser. This light is as effective as a sharp knife. It might be a good choice if your warts are around your fingernails or toenails and other treatments haven’t worked. First, your doctor will use the laser to cut away the top of the wart. Then they’ll make the light less focused, and it will burn away the rest. The debris it stirs may include the virus that caused your warts. You might have more scarring with this treatment than you’d get from pulsed dye laser.

Erbium: Yttrium/Aluminum/Garnet laser. The name is a mouthful, but this kind of laser can heat a smaller area with precision, so it doesn’t cause as much scarring. Researchers don't think the puffs of debris from this kind of laser spread the wart virus.

Neodymium: Yttrium/Aluminum/Garnet laser. This laser goes deeper to target the blood vessels in the wart. Doctors who treat children beam this light through a fiber optic cable to zap papillomas, which are wart-like tumors in the mouth or throat. They’re caused by the same virus as warts.

Doctors don’t know how to kill the virus that causes warts. So they may come back or show up in new places. Genital warts are most likely to return, in part because they appear in moist locations.