Common warts are caused by a virus and are transmitted by touch. Children and young adults are more likely to develop common warts, as are people who have weakened immune systems. Common warts usually disappear on their own, but many people choose to remove them because they find them bothersome or embarrassing.
Common warts can be annoying to anyone. It is worth considering that, in normal people, half of all warts, on average, spontaneously go away within about 18 months. The information in this article is about the treatment of common warts. It does not apply to genital or venereal warts. Over-the-counter treatment for common skin warts has long been based upon the use of products containing salicylic acid to destroy the wart. Newer nonprescription wart treatments use aerosols to freeze warts.
These are available as drops, gels, pads, and plasters. They are designed for application to all kinds of warts, from tiny ones to great big lumpy ones. Salicylic acid is a keratolytic medication, which means it dissolves the protein (keratin), which makes up most of both the wart and the thick layer of dead skin that often surmounts it.
Nonprescription freezing methods
Aerosol wart treatments available over the counter use sprays that freeze warts at a temperature of minus 70 F (minus 57 C). This compares with the liquid nitrogen used by most dermatologists, which is considerably colder (minus 320 F or minus 196 C).
It has been reported that warts can be treated by covering them with duct (duck) tape or other nonporous tape, such as electrical tape. This treatment requires that the tape must be left in place all the time and removed only a few hours once per week. The tape must be replaced frequently.
You can't damage yourself with these OTC treatments. If you get salicylic acid on normal skin, it can cause burning or redness but never infection or scarring. All you have to do is stop using it on irritated areas and the skin returns to normal. Still, it's probably better not to use salicylic acid on sensitive areas like the face or groin, where it's likely to make nearby skin raw and uncomfortable.
It generally is recommended that salicylic acid not be used in people with diabetes or in areas where there is poor circulation (because of concern about how normally the skin can heal; however, in practice, salicylic acid is withheld only when there are clear signs of ongoing inflammation of the skin).
Likewise, nonprescription freezing products are also reasonably safe but must be used carefully and only according to package instructions because they work by destroying living tissue.