Understanding Common Warts -- Treatment

Medically Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on March 10, 2024
3 min read

Some doctors say that the best treatment for warts is no treatment at all. Most people develop an immune response that causes warts to go away by themselves. One-fifth of all warts disappear within six months, and two-thirds are gone within two years. However, if your wart doesn't disappear, or if it's unsightly or uncomfortable, you can try self-treatment or seek help from your doctor. If you have diabetes or a weak immune system, it is recommended to avoid self-treatment and instead follow up with your doctor.

If you decide to treat your own wart, your first-choice remedy should be an over-the-counter medication in liquid, gel, pad, or ointment form. Most of these contain salicylic acid, which softens abnormal skin cells and dissolves them. Some examples are Compound W, Duofilm, and Occlusal HP.

First, soak the wart in water for five minutes to help the medication penetrate the skin. Then gently rub off dead skin cells with a washcloth or pumice stone. These compounds require daily treatment, often for at least several weeks. You should not reuse the same washcloth or pumice stone or you may keep reinfecting yourself with the wart virus. After applying the over-the-counter salicylic acid treatment, the area should be covered with a piece of duct tape. This will help to both adhere and penetrate the salicylic acid into the skin.

Another over-the-counter option is using a freezing spray. The sprays generally contain liquid butane and are sprayed directly onto the wart to freeze and kill the tissue. Temperatures can reach as low as a negative 100 degrees. The down side of this home treatment is that it may not freeze the wart deep enough to be effective. It can also be painful because the spray needs to be applied longer than if you were being treated in a doctor’s office.

You may develop a blister around the wart after the freezing. Keep the area clean with an antiseptic or anti-bacterial. The blister and the wart should disappear within a few days. Examples of freezing treatments include Compound W, Dr. Scholl’s Freeze Away, Histofreezer Wart Removal and Wartner Wart removal

If over-the-counter treatment fails, your doctor can remove a wart by:

  • Freezing it with liquid nitrogen.
  • Burning it off with an electric needle or a laser.
  • Applying acids to help destroy the wart.
  • Injecting a drug called bleomycin into the wart (which kills the virus), used for severe cases.
  • Injecting candida antigen to stimulate the body’s immune system to fight off the wart.
  • Prescribing a topical medication called imiquimod (Aldara), which improves your body's fighting capabilities. This is mainly helpful for genital warts.

Getting rid of warts takes persistence. It is in the rare situation that a wart is gone with a single treatment. There is no treatment that your doctor can do that has been proven to be more effective than the over-the-counter treatment with salicylic acid and duct tape. Oftentimes, your doctor will do a treatment in the office while you continue to do at-home treatments.