Types of warts and verrucas
There are four main types of warts caused by human papillomavirus (HPV). Despite their differences in appearance, they are all essentially caused the same way.
These are firm, raised growths with a rough surface, which might look like a very small cauliflower. They often have tiny black dots on the surface. They’re most commonly found on your hands and your knees. They can range in size from smaller than 1mm to bigger than 1cm.
Verruca (plantar wart)
Verrucas are usually found on the soles of your feet. They may also have tiny black dots in the centre and can be painful when you put weight on them. They tend to look quite flat because of the pressure put upon them.
Plane wart (flat wart)
A plane wart is usually a round, smooth, flat growth that’s often yellow in colour. You may have one, a few grouped together or even a group of hundreds of these warts. They most commonly appear on your face, the backs of your hands or your shins.
Genital warts are usually caused by different types of HPV than the other types of wart. They usually spread by sexual contact and are the most commonly diagnosed sexually transmitted infection in the UK. If you have these warts, it’s important to go to a sexually transmitted infection (STI) clinic for further advice. Don’t use over-the-counter wart treatments on genital warts.
Genital warts aren’t covered any further in this Bupa topic. For more information see our topic on sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Symptoms of warts and verrucas
Warts and verrucas don’t usually cause you any symptoms. However, you may find them uncomfortable or painful, especially if they’re on your feet or near your nail beds. You may find them unsightly.
Most warts and verrucas go away by themselves but they can last up to two years in children and up to 10 years in adults. Speak to your pharmacist if your symptoms get worse or the wart or verruca becomes more painful.
Diagnosis of warts and verrucas
If you're worried about your wart or verruca, speak to your pharmacist. They’ll ask you about your warts – how long you’ve had them and how they affect you. They may also examine your wart. In almost all cases your pharmacist will be able to diagnose warts without any further testing.
Treatment of warts and verrucas
Most warts and verrucas will go away by themselves and don’t need any treatment. Often, leaving them is the best option, especially for children, as some treatments can be time-consuming, painful and cause side-effects.
However, you may want to consider treatment if your wart or verruca becomes painful, unsightly or doesn’t go away. There are many different types of treatment for warts but none works completely and doctors still aren’t sure which ones work best. It’s not unusual for your wart or verruca to return after treatment.
The most commonly used treatments for warts and verrucas are those containing salicylic acid, and cryotherapy (freezing).
If your warts are on your face, are very numerous or don’t go away with simple treatments, you may need to see your GP. They will probably refer you to a dermatologist or specialist skin clinic. Your GP will also probably refer you for specialist treatment if you have a condition or are taking medicines that lower your immunity.
There are many creams, gels and medicated plasters for treating warts and verrucas, which you can buy at pharmacies. Many of these contain an ingredient called salicylic acid. This is a chemical that helps by softening the hard outer layer of your wart or verruca. Don’t use it on warts on your face because of the risk of irritation and scarring.
Always carefully follow the instructions that come with your medicines for warts and verrucas. Make sure you only apply it to the wart or verruca. Try to get as little as possible on the surrounding area as it can cause irritation to your healthy skin. Avoid getting it on broken skin. Use an emery board or pumice stone once or twice a week to remove any excess hard skin. You may need to use this treatment daily for up to three months.
If your GP refers you to a dermatologist or specialist skin clinic they may offer you other medicines to treat your warts. Your doctor will discuss with you what the best option is for your circumstances.
Cryotherapy is the process of freezing your wart, using liquid nitrogen. Cryotherapy is usually done by your GP. Your doctor applies the liquid nitrogen to your wart using either a spray or a cotton bud. It takes between five and 30 seconds to freeze your wart depending on the technique used and the size and location of the wart.
Your GP may recommend repeating the cryotherapy every one to four weeks for up to six treatments. It can be painful and sometimes lead to blistering or scarring of your skin. It isn’t often recommended for children because it’s painful.
Cryotherapy isn’t recommended in certain circumstances, such as if you have poor circulation. Cryotherapy for verrucas hasn’t been found to be any more effective than salicylic acid treatment.
In some circumstances your doctor might suggest surgical removal of your wart or verruca.
Your doctor may remove your wart by scraping it away using an instrument called a curette. Or they may offer laser treatment which involves using a laser to destroy your wart and the blood vessels that supply it. These procedures are done under local anaesthesia. All surgical procedures leave scars, and these can be painful on the soles of your feet.
In about three out of 10 cases the wart or verruca comes back after surgical removal. To try and prevent this your doctor may recommend a combination of surgery and medicines.
Causes of warts and verrucas
Warts and verrucas are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV), of which there are over 100 different types. The virus infects cells in the outer layer of your skin.
Warts and verrucas can spread from person to person by direct skin contact. They can also spread by contact with floors or surfaces contaminated with the virus. Although warts are contagious, it’s thought that the risk of catching them is fairly low. You’re more likely to get infected if your skin is damaged or wet, so infection can be linked to swimming pools and communal showers. You can also infect yourself. If you scratch a wart or verruca, the viral particles may spread to other areas of your skin.
Some types of work are linked with getting warts. For instance, if you handle meat or work in an abattoir, you may be more likely to develop warts on your hands.
You’re more likely to develop warts and verrucas if you have a weakened immune system.
Prevention of warts and verrucas
Warts and verrucas are usually caused by direct skin contact or contact with surfaces contaminated with the human papilloma virus (HPV).
It’s hard to completely avoid coming into contact with HPV but taking the following precautions can help prevent warts and verrucas.
- Try not to touch other people’s warts or verrucas.
- Don't share your towels, shoes or socks.
- Wear flip-flops in communal showers.
- Cover your wart or verruca with a waterproof plaster when you go swimming.
- Don't scratch or pick your wart or verruca as it’s more likely to spread.
- If you use nail files or pumice stones on your wart or verruca don’t use these on other areas of your skin.
Remember – there’s no reason why you can’t continue to take part in activities, such as sports or swimming, if you have a wart or verruca. It's a good idea to cover your wart with a plaster. If you go barefoot in communal areas, you may want to wear a verruca sock.
FAQ: Are there any non-medical treatments I can use to get rid of my warts?
Most warts and verrucas go away by themselves. However, you can try covering your wart with duct tape as an alternative to using medicines.
Although there isn't much evidence to show that it works, placing duct tape over your wart may help to get rid of it. Cover your wart with duct tape for six days. Then soak the wart in water and rub with an emery board or pumice stone to scrape off the dead skin. Keep the wart uncovered overnight and re-apply fresh duct tape the next day. You may need to continue this cycle of treatment for up to two months before the wart disappears. If you’re concerned about your wart, speak to your pharmacist.
FAQ: I've found a lump that looks like a wart on my skin, could it be something else?
There are many different types of warts and these can, occasionally, be mistaken for other skin conditions. Some types of skin cancer can also look similar to warts. If your wart or verruca (or any other skin lesion) is painful, itches, bleeds, or gets larger rapidly, see your GP to get it checked.
There are many types of warts and verrucas caused by different types of the human papilloma virus (HPV). They can appear anywhere on your skin and tend to have a characteristic appearance. However, sometimes warts and verrucas can be confused with other skin conditions.
Common warts are firm, raised growths with a rough surface, which might look like a very small cauliflower. They are commonly found on your hands, elbows, knees and feet. Warts can look similar to many other skin conditions including moles, skin tags and a viral skin infection called molluscum contagiosum.
Verrucas, also known as plantar warts, are usually found on your feet. Verrucas can sometimes be mistaken for corns or calluses but these do not have tiny black dots within them.
Warts are benign (non-cancerous). However, occasionally some types of skin cancer can look a bit like warts. If you're worried about your wart or verruca, or any other recent changes in your skin, speak to your GP.
- British Association of Dermatologists
- Sterling J, Gibbs S, Haque Hussain S, et al. British Association of Dermatologists’ guidelines for the management of cutaneous warts 2014. British Journal of Dermatology 2014; 171:696–712. doi:101111/bjd.13310
- Common warts. BMJ Best practice. www.bestpractice.bmj.com, published 9 October 2014
- Nongenital warts. Medscape. www.emedicine.medscape.com, published 9 December 2014
- Verrucae. PatientPlus. www.patient.co.uk/patientplus.asp, published 8 May 2015
- Viral warts (excluding verrucae). PatientPlus. www.patient.co.uk/patientplus.asp, published 8 May 2015
- Human papilloma virus and genital warts. PatientPlus. www.patient.co.uk/patientplus.asp, published 19 July 2012
- Warts and verrucae. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries. www.cks.nice.org.uk, published December 2014
- Joint Formulary Committee. British National Formulary (online) London: BMJ Group and Pharmaceutical Press. www.medicinescomplete.com, accessed 15 June 2015 (online version)
- Minor surgery. Oxford handbook of general practice (online). Oxford Medicine Online. www.oxfordmedicine.com, published date April 2014 (online version)
- Map of Medicine. Warts. International View. London: Map of Medicine; 2011 (Issue 4)
- Kwok CS, Gibbs S, Bennett C, et al. Topical treatments for cutaneous warts. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2012, Issue 9. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD001781.pub3
- Viral warts. Dermnet NZ. www.dermnetnz.org, published 1 June 2015
- Skin tags. DermNet NZ. www.dermnetnz.org, published 15 December 2014
- Moles. DermNet NZ. www.dermnetnz.org, published 21 December 2014
- Plantar warts. British Association of Dermatologists. www.bad.org.uk, published March 2012
- Cryotherapy. British Association of Dermatologists. www.bad.org.uk, published November 2014
- Focht D, Spicer C, Fairchock M. The efficacy of duct tape vs cryotherapy in the treatment of verruca vulgaris (the common wart). Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 2002; 156(10):971–74. doi:10.1001/archpedi.156.10.971
- Warts. American Academy of Dermatology. www.aad.org, accessed 15 June 2015
- Molluscum contagiosum. American Academy of Dermatology. www.aad.org, accessed 15 June 2015
- British Association of Dermatologists
We’d love to know what you think about what you’ve just been reading and looking at – we’ll use it to improve our information. If you’d like to give us some feedback, our short form below will take just a few minutes to complete. And if there's a question you want to ask that hasn't been answered here, please submit it to us. Although we can't respond to specific questions directly, we’ll aim to include the answer to it when we next review this topic.
Let us know what you think using our short feedback form
Reviewed by Dylan Merkett, Bupa Health Content Team, July 2015.
About our health information
At Bupa we produce a wealth of free health information for you and your family. We believe that trustworthy information is essential in helping you make better decisions about your health and care. Here are just a few of the ways in which our core editorial principles have been recognised.
We are certified by the Information Standard. This quality mark identifies reliable, trustworthy producers and sources of health information.
What our readers say about us
But don't just take our word for it; here's some feedback from our readers.
“Simple and easy to use website - not alarming, just helpful.”
“It’s informative but not too detailed. I like that it’s factual and realistic about the conditions and the procedures involved. It’s also easy to navigate to areas that you specifically want without having to read all the information.”
“Good information, easy to find, trustworthy.”
Meet the team
Head of Health Content
- Dylan Merkett – Lead Editor
- Graham Pembrey - Lead Editor
- Laura Blanks – Specialist Editor, Quality
- Michelle Harrison – Specialist Editor, Insights
- Natalie Heaton – Specialist Editor, User Experience
- Fay Jeffery – Web Editor
- Marcella McEvoy – Specialist Editor, Content Portfolio
- Alice Rossiter – Specialist Editor (on Maternity Leave)
Our core principles
All our health content is produced in line with our core editorial principles – readable, reliable, relevant – which are represented by our diagram.
In a nutshell, our information is jargon-free, concise and accessible. We know our audience and we meet their health information needs, helping them to take the next step in their health and wellbeing journey.
We use the best quality and most up-to-date evidence to produce our information. Our process is transparent and validated by experts – both our users and medical specialists.
We know that our users want the right information at the right time, in the way that suits them. So we review our content at least every three years to keep it fresh. And we’re embracing new technology and social media so they can get it whenever and wherever they choose.
Here are just a few of the ways in which the quality of our information has been recognised.
The Information Standard certification scheme
You will see the Information Standard quality mark on our content. This is a certification programme, supported by NHS England, that was developed to ensure that public-facing health and care information is created to a set of best practice principles.
It uses only recognised evidence sources and presents the information in a clear and balanced way. The Information Standard quality mark is a quick and easy way for you to identify reliable and trustworthy producers and sources of information.
Certified by the Information Standard as a quality provider of health and social care information. Bupa shall hold responsibility for the accuracy of the information they publish and neither the Scheme Operator nor the Scheme Owner shall have any responsibility whatsoever for costs, losses or direct or indirect damages or costs arising from inaccuracy of information or omissions in information published on the website on behalf of Bupa.
British Medical Association (BMA) patient information awards
We have received a number of BMA awards for different assets over the years. Most recently, in 2013, we received a 'commended' award for our online shared decision making hub.
If you have any feedback on our health information, we would love to hear from you. Please contact us via email: email@example.com. Or you can write to us:
Health Content Team
Battle Bridge House
300 Grays Inn Road