Warts FAQs

What are warts?

Posted on | Susan Evans, MD

What are warts?

Warts are caused by viruses; the human papilloma virus (HPV) is the most common cause of warts in children and adults. Once the virus enters the skin, there is a rapid growth of the top layer of the skin. Warts may grow on any part of the skin and typically most warts caused by HPV will resolve on their own within a few months or years.


What are the different kinds of warts?

  • Common warts. Usually found on fingers, hands, knees, and elbows, a common wart is a small, hard bump that's dome-shaped and usually grayish-brown. It has a rough surface that may look like the head of a cauliflower, with black dots inside.
  • Flat warts. These are about the size of a pinhead, are smoother than other kinds of warts, and have flat tops. Flat warts may be pink, light brown, or yellow. Most kids who get flat warts have them on their faces, but they can also grow on arms, knees, or hands and can appear in clusters.
  • Plantar warts. Found on the bottom of the foot, plantar warts can be very uncomfortable — like walking on a small stone.
  • Filliform warts. These have a finger-like shape, are usually flesh-colored, and often grow on or around the mouth, eyes, or nose.
  • Genital warts are usually found on the genitals, in the pubic area, and in the area between the thighs, but they can also appear inside the vagina and anal canal.

Are warts contagious?
Yes. However, Simply touching a wart on someone doesn't guarantee that the virus will be transferred. A tiny cut or scratch can make any area of skin more vulnerable to warts. Also, picking at a wart can spread warts to other parts of the body. Touching the wart and then another part of your body can transmit warts. You can infect another person by intimate contact (if there are active lesions) by sharing towels, or razors. After contact with HPV, it may take 2 to 9 months of slow growth beneath the skin before you notice a wart.

How will I know if I have warts?
The symptoms of a wart usually begin with a small bump. If the bump is located on a sensitive part of the body such as the finger, near a joint, or around the mouth or genitals, it may be painful. Tiny blood vessels can grow into the center of a wart, which create the dark spots.

What else can I look for?

  • Abnormally dark or light skin surrounding the lesion
  • Numerous small, smooth, flat (pinhead sized) lesions on forehead, cheeks, arms, or legs
  • Rough growths around or under fingernails or toenails
  • Rough, round, or oval lesions on soles of feet – flat to slightly raised – painful to pressure
  • Small, hard, flat or raised skin lesion or LumpHow do I treat warts?

Topical, over-the-counter medications applied to the wart on a daily basis for several weeks can improve warts. For plantar warts, these medications help file down the wart and special cushions that relieve pressure and pain are also available for purchase.

If your warts are persistent, contact your physician who may prescribe stronger medications or removal by freezing (cryotherapy), burning (electrocautery), laser treatment, or surgical intervention.

A doctor should evaluate and treat genital warts. DO NOT use over-the counter remedies meant for plantar warts on genital warts. Women who have had genital warts, and women whose partners ever had genital warts, should have pap smears at least once a year. For warts on the cervix, women may be advised to have pap smears every 3 to 6 months after initial treatment.

Blog written by Susan Evans, MD
Dr. Susan Evans is an internationally acclaimed, health and beauty expert one of Oprah's and Dr. Oz's healthy skin and beauty...