Verruca and Warts: Warts Explained


Warts can be a nasty annoyance.

Appearing as small lumps on the skin of the hands and feet, they vary in appearance and may develop singularly, or in clusters. Some are likely to affect particular areas of the body, for example verrucas (medical name verrucae pedis), which are a type of wart that appear on the sole of the foot only (and which are explained in-depth here). On the contrary, warts, also known as common warts, (medical name verrucae valgaris), are usually found on the top of toes, hands and fingers.

You may be curious though as to how they form in the first place. In this article, Amopé takes an in-depth look at how warts develop and spread, what they look like, how to treat them, what you can do to minimize the risk of contracting them, and what you can do to stop them from spreading.

How do warts develop and spread?

If you contract a wart, it means that you must have come into contact with a wart-causing virus sometime in the past, even though it could have been some time ago. Most commonly, people contract warts through direct skin to skin contact, such as shaking hands with someone. Warts can also be caught from using inanimate objects, for example from using the same towel as someone who has warts or something as simple as using the same doorknob.

Warts are an infection on the top layer of the skin, caused by viruses in the human papillomavirus (HPV) family. With over 100 variants, the viruses are more likely to cause warts when they come into direct contact with skin that is damaged or cut, such as when people cut themselves during shaving. This is the reason why men can have warts in the beard area, and women sometimes have them on their legs.

What do warts look like?

The common wart is round or oval-shaped, firm and raised, often with a rough, irregular surface, and can vary in size, from 1mm to 1cm in diameter. They are not usually painful, although they can occasionally itch or bleed. You may develop one, or several, common warts at once.

How can warts be treated?

If you do get warts, one option is to leave the wart to go away on its own, but they can spread to other parts of your body if left untreated. You may decide to get rid of the wart if it is causing you embarrassment, or if your wart is painful (although pain is rare).

Other treatments include salicylic acid. This is the active ingredient in most of the over the counter remedies for warts found in pharmacies. It can destroy healthy skin so it is important to protect your skin, by using petroleum jelly or a corn plaster to cover skin around the wart, before applying.

Also, file down the wart with an emery board or pumice stone (avoid sharing them with others) before applying treatment. Repeat this about once a week whilst the treatment is ongoing. Each time you treat your wart, soak the affected area in water for about five minutes to soften it, then follow the medication instructions. This treatment may need to be applied every day for up to 12 weeks or longer.

Warts can also be treated by chemical treatments, which are available on prescription. This method involves chemicals such as glutaraldehyde and silver nitrate being applied to the warts to kill affected skin cells. There are, however, some potential side effects with this method. They include the skin possibly being stained brown (if using glutaraldehyde) and burns to the surrounding skin around the wart (if using silver nitrate).


Most people will develop warts at some point in their life - but there are steps you can take to minimize the risk of getting warts and to prevent them spreading to others, if you do have them. 

Washing your hands thoroughly and regularly is an important step. Try to keep your skin healthy and moisturized, and try not to bite your fingernails or cuticles. If you do not do these things, it may give the opportunity for the HPV to spread.

Also, remember to be careful to use clean, fresh towels in a communal location such as a gym, and wear gloves when using shared gym equipment if you have a wart on your hand, to prevent it from spreading. Additionally, take care when shaving, as the HPV can spread easily if you cut yourself.