Signs and Symptoms
What Causes It?
What to Expect at Your Provider's Office
Treatment Options
Drug Therapies
Complementary and Alternative Therapies
Special Considerations
Supporting Research

Warts are small, generally harmless, and usually painless growths on the skin. Warts can be disfiguring and embarrassing, however, and occasionally they will hurt or itch. The different types of warts include the following.

  • Common warts: usually on the hands, but can appear anywhere
  • Flat warts: generally found on the face and back of the hands
  • Genital warts: normally found on the external genitalia, in the pubic area, and in the area between the thighs, but can appear inside the vagina and in the anal canal
  • Plantar warts: found on the soles of the feet

Warts affect all age groups. Genital warts are quite contagious, while common, flat, and plantar warts are much less likely to spread from person to person. All warts can spread from one part of the body to another. Some warts will disappear without treatment, although it can take as long as six months to two years. Whether treated or not, warts that disappear often reappear.

Signs and Symptoms
  • Common warts: usually begin as tiny, smooth, flesh-colored eruptions and grow into rough growths perhaps 1/4 inch across or in clusters
  • Flat warts: small flesh-colored or pink growths with flat tops
  • Genital warts: tiny eruptions that grow to resemble common warts
  • Plantar warts: rough, flattened, callus-like growths, often with tiny black dots in the center; frequently tender; can disrupt your posture, resulting in leg or back pain

What Causes It?

Warts are caused by a common virus in humans, the human papillomavirus (HPV). Your risk of getting warts is increased by direct contact with warts or the fluid in warts (notably genital warts), using communal facilities (such as locker rooms), skin trauma, and diseases or drugs that weaken your immune system.

What to Expect at Your Provider's Office

Warts can generally be diagnosed by location and appearance. Your health care provider may want to cut into a wart to confirm that it is not a corn, callus, or other similar-appearing growth, but rarely will your provider have to order laboratory tests. If you have genital warts, your provider will want to check inside your anus and (in women) vagina.

Treatment Options

Medical treatments include drug therapy (usually the first-line treatment), cryosurgery ("freezing" the wart to destroy tissue), electrosurgery, lasers, and cutting out the wart. Unless your wart is causing significant problems, you should avoid treatments that have risks or could result in scarring.

Drug Therapies

Common, flat, and plantar warts: nonprescription preparations using salicylic acid are available over the counter.

Genital warts: in most cases, your health care provider will either apply podophyllin weekly or prescribe a podofilox for you to apply.

Complementary and Alternative Therapies

Nutritional and herbal support may enhance immune function and minimize recurrence of HPV, the virus that causes warts.


Some changes you can make in your diet include the following.

  • Eliminate caffeine, alcohol, refined foods, and sugar.
  • Avoid saturated fats (animal protein and dairy products).
  • Increase whole grains, fresh vegetables, fruits, legumes, and essential fatty acids (nuts, seeds, and cold-water fish).
  • Vitamin C (250 to 500 mg two times per day), beta-carotene (100,000 IU per day), vitamin E (400 IU per day), and zinc (15 to 30 mg per day) support immune function and healing. Vitamin E may also be put directly on a wart to treat it.
  • B complex (50 to 100 mg per day) helps reduce the effects of stress, which can weaken your immune system.
  • Folic acid (800 mcg per day) is recommended for genital warts.
  • Selenium (200 mcg per day) supports immune function.


Herbs may be used as dried extracts (capsules, powders, teas), glycerites (glycerine extracts), or tinctures (alcohol extracts). Unless otherwise indicated, teas should be made with 1 tsp. of herb per cup of hot water. Steep covered 5 to 10 minutes for leaf or flowers, and 10 to 20 minutes for roots. Drink 2 to 4 cups per day.

Combine tinctures of one part goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) with two parts each of the following herbs: lomatium (Lomatium dissectum), licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra), coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), osha (Ligusticum porteri), and thuja leaf (Thuja occidentalis). Take 30 drops twice a day. Do not take licorice if you have high blood pressure.

Topical applications are most effective for treating warts. Stop any topical application if irritation should develop in the surrounding skin. For plantar, flat, and common warts use the following applications.

  • Banana peel patch. Cut a piece of banana peel and place it over the wart before going to bed. Tape in place.
  • Raw garlic patch. Cover the wart and surrounding skin with a thin layer of castor oil or olive oil. Apply a thin slice of fresh garlic and tape in place.

To maximize benefit, place two to four drops of tincture of thuja or greater celandine (Chelidonium majus) on the wart before covering with peel or garlic. This application may need to be repeated nightly for up to three weeks. The wart will turn black as it begins to die.

For external genital warts, paint the warts with vitamin A or beta-carotene once or twice daily. Add 3 to 4 drops each of thuja, echinacea, and lomatium for best results.


Two well-designed trials evaluating the use of homeopathy in the treatment of common and plantar warts found that the remedies were no more effective than placebo in reducing the number of warts. Despite the lack of evidence from these two trials, professional homeopaths might recommend one of the following treatments for warts based on their knowledge and clinical experience. Before prescribing a remedy, homeopaths take into account an individual's constitutional type. In homeopathic terms, a person's constitution is his or her physical, emotional, and intellectual makeup. An experienced homeopath assesses all of these factors when determining the most appropriate remedy for a particular individual.

  • Antimonium crudum — for either rough and hardened or smooth warts as well as plantar warts in otherwise healthy people
  • Causticum — for fleshy warts anywhere on the body, but particularly those near the fingernails, lips, or on the face
  • Dulcamara — for large, smooth, and flat warts on the face, fingers, or back of the hand
  • Nitricum acidum —for soft warts on the genitals, anus, or lips; these warts or often irregularly shaped and may bleed and produce an excessive amount of sharp pain
  • Ruta —for plantar warts, particularly if they are sore and have a smooth surface
  • Thuja — for warts of any location except plantar; this remedy may be particularly useful for warts that are on the chin, anus, or genitals, are generally soft and may be painful and bleeding


Acupuncture may be helpful in stimulating your immune system.

Special Considerations

Do not use podophyllin if you are pregnant.

Supporting Research

Barker LR, et al., eds. Principles of Ambulatory Medicine. 4th ed. Baltimore, Md: Williams & Wilkins; 1995:1467-1469.

Berkow R, Beers MH. The Merck Manual of Medical Information. Whitehouse Station, NJ: Merck Research Laboratories; 1997:984-985.

Brodell RT. Infect Med. SCP Communications, Inc.; 1996:13:56-60, 66.

Carr AC, Frei B. Toward a new recommended dietary allowance for vitamin C based on antioxidant and health effects in humans. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999;69(6):1086-1107.

Cummings S, Ullman D. Everybody's Guide to Homeopathic Medicines. 3rd ed. New York, NY: Penguin Putnam; 1997: 268.

Dambro MR, ed. Griffith's 5 Minute Clinical Consult. Baltimore, Md: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 1999:1166-1169.

Duke JA. The Green Pharmacy. Emmaus, Pa: Rodale Press; 1997: 452-455.

Ewald GA, McKenzie CR, eds. Manual of Medical Therapeutics. 28th ed. Boston, Mass: Little, Brown and Company; 1995:20-21.

JAMA Patient Page. How much vitamin C do you need? JAMA. 1999;281(15):1460.

Johnston CS. Recommendations for vitamin C intake. JAMA. 1999;282(22):2118-2119.

Jonas WB, Jacobs J. Healing with Homeopathy: The Doctors' Guide. New York, NY: Warner Books; 1996: 236.

Kainz JT, Kozel G, Haidvogl M, Smolle J. Homeopathic versus placebo therapy of children with warts on the hands: a randomized, double-blind clinical trial. Dermatology. 1996;193(4):318-320.

Labrecque M, Audet D, Latulippe LG, Drouin J. Homeopathic treatment of plantar warts. CMAJ. 1992;146(10):1749-1753.

Levine M, Rumsey SC, Daruwala R, Park JB, Wang Y. Criteria and recommendations for vitamin C intake. JAMA. 1999;281(15):1415-1453.

Lockie A, Deddes N. The Complete Guide to Homeopathy. New York, NY: DK Publishing Inc; 1995:187, 189, 227.

Ody P. The Complete Medicinal Herbal. New York, NY: DK Publishing Inc; 1993:160-161.

Pray WS. Nonprescription Product Therapeutics. Baltimore, Md: Lippincott Willliams & Wilkins, in press.

Scalzo R. Naturopathic Handbook of Herbal Formulas. 2nd ed. Durango, Colo: Kivaki Press; 1994:73.

Ullman D. The Consumer's Guide to Homeopathy. New York, NY: Penguin Putnam; 1995: 253.

Walker LP, Brown EH. The Alternative Pharmacy. Paramus, NJ: Prentice Hall Press; 1998:353-354.

Review Date: August 1999
Reviewed By: Participants in the review process include: Constance Grauds, RPh, President, Association of Natural Medicine Pharmacists, San Rafael, CA; David Perlmutter, MD, Perlmutter Health Center, Commons Medical and Surgical Centre, Naples, FL; Eric Wellons, MD, Department of Surgery, Union Memorial Hospital, Baltimore, MD; Terry Yochum, DC, Rocky Mountain Chiropractic Center, Arvada, CO.

Copyright © 2004 A.D.A.M., Inc

The publisher does not accept any responsibility for the accuracy of the information or the consequences arising from the application, use, or misuse of any of the information contained herein, including any injury and/or damage to any person or property as a matter of product liability, negligence, or otherwise. No warranty, expressed or implied, is made in regard to the contents of this material. No claims or endorsements are made for any drugs or compounds currently marketed or in investigative use. This material is not intended as a guide to self-medication. The reader is advised to discuss the information provided here with a doctor, pharmacist, nurse, or other authorized healthcare practitioner and to check product information (including package inserts) regarding dosage, precautions, warnings, interactions, and contraindications before administering any drug, herb, or supplement discussed herein.

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