Myths & Facts about Warts

People don’t like to talk about warts. In fact, some people feel embarrassed to even tell anyone they have a wart. But, you know what? A lot of people get warts, especially during childhood. So we want to bust one big myth right away—you don’t get warts because you’re dirty. You get warts because you have a tiny break in your skin where a virus enters. These wounds or skin breaks can be from shaving your face or legs, biting your nails, clipping your toenails or fingernails, or even having a papercut.

These are everyday things—nothing to be ashamed of. So let’s bust a few more myths and find out the truth about warts.

Busting Myths about Warts

Myth 1: You can get warts from touching a frog.

This fairy-tale-like myth seems to be related to the bumpy skin some frogs or toads have. Toads and tree frogs do have wart-like bumps on their skin, but that skin actually protects them. The bumps act as camouflage, and bumps behind their eyes secrete a poor-tasting neurotoxin that makes predators spit them out. Unfortunately, warts in humans are not a protective feature. They are skin reactions caused by different forms of the human papillomavirus (HPV), and this virus does not come from frogs or toads. But, to keep the amphibians safe, you shouldn’t touch frogs and toads anyway.

Myth 2. Warts are not contagious.

Because warts are caused by a virus (HPV), they are contagious like any other virus. This is why it is important to keep warts covered. Keeping a wart covered and washing your hands after touching it helps prevent the wart from spreading to other parts of your body and to other people. Warts aren’t only spread through skin-to-skin contact, however. Just the simple act of using a towel to dry the wart area and sharing that towel with someone else or using it on another part of your body can spread the virus that causes warts. And if the virus gets into any breaks in the skin, another wart could grow.

Myth 3. Warts grow roots.

With some warts, it may seem like they grow roots, but they don’t really. In fact, the underside of the wart is actually smooth, unlike the bumpy top part we see in common warts. Warts grow from the top layer of skin. The misperception of “roots” may be from the fact that warts may grow down into the second layer of skin (the dermis) and displace layers of skin as they grow downward, which makes them more difficult to remove. So, we can see why this myth came about, but warts do not have roots.

Myth 4. All warts look alike.

When you hear the word “wart,” what do you think of? Many people think of the common wart that appears on hands, fingers, elbows or around knees that is roundish, rough in texture, grayish in color and looks a bit like cauliflower. Even though warts are caused by the same family of viruses, different types of warts have different appearances. Some you may not even notice for a while. For example, some plantar warts (on the bottom of your foot) grow into the skin, so you may just see a hole with hardened skin around it. Filiform warts grow outward in thin stalks from the eyelids or other areas on the face. Flat warts are completely smooth and flesh colored, so they almost blend in. So, no, warts do not all look alike.

Myth 5. Warts last forever.

It may seem like warts last forever because they can take a long time to go away, especially without treatment. And it’s true that warts can grow back in the same spot if you didn’t complete treatment or tried to cut off the wart with a sharp tool, which we don’t recommend. (You could also get an infection this way!) But these days, you have multiple treatment options that are readily available and very effective.

Compound W wart removal products come in topical gels and liquids and medicated bandages that remove warts over a period of weeks, as well as cryotherapy treatments that can freeze off the wart in one to three treatments. These are easy to find at your local pharmacies and other major  retail stores like Walmart, Target, and Amazon.

You can also ask your doctor to help get rid of a wart that’s in a spot that gets contact all the time (like a tip of a finger or the bottom of your foot) or that’s on your face where you should not apply home or over-the-counter wart removal treatments.

If you have any questions about warts, check our blog for answers and ask your family doctor, pediatrician or dermatologist (skin doctor).