Warts and verrucas

Last updated:

Reviewed by:

Dr Bryony Henderson

, Lead GP at Livi

Medically reviewed

Warts and verrucas are lumps that grow on your skin, caused by a virus called the human papilloma virus (HPV). Discover the symptoms and how to treat them.

What are warts and verrucas?

Warts are small, rough lumps that grow on your skin, which are caused by a virus called the human papilloma virus (HPV). Verrucas are a type of wart that you get on the soles of your feet. Both are very common.

There are different types of warts:

  • Common wart – firm, round and raised growths with a rough surface. A common wart may look like a small cauliflower with a grey, white or brown colour

  • Verruca – small warts on the soles of your feet, which can have a tiny black dot in the middle and may be painful when you step on them

  • Flat wart – smooth, raised wart with a flat top. Can be grey, white or brown and tend to appear on the face, back of hands and legs

  • Genital warts – warts that appear around the vagina, penis or anus and are a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

What are the symptoms of warts and verrucas?

  • Firm and rough to touch

  • Usually skin coloured, though they can also appear darker

  • Some flat warts may be yellowish

  • You may have a cluster of several warts, especially on the feet and hands

  • In severe cases, they can be painful, large and may bleed

  • If they are genital warts, they will also cause itching, bleeding and may change your normal flow of pee. These are caused by a different type of HPV virus.

What causes warts and verrucas?

HPV is a common family of viruses with over 100 types. Some of these can cause warts and verrucas, but are not dangerous strains. When this virus infects the skin, it causes the skin to produce a higher amount of keratin, which is a protein that makes our skin tough and resistant. The buildup of keratin forms a lump, which is a wart.

How are warts and verrucas diagnosed?

When you see a GP, they will:

  • Ask you a few questions and have a look at your skin, as this may be enough to diagnose it as a wart or verruca

  • If there’s any doubt, they will also send a small sample to the laboratory to have a look under the microscope

How are warts and verrucas treated?

In children, most warts and verrucas can be left alone and will go away within a year. In adults, it may take up to a few years for them to disappear.

Although warts and verrucas can be inconvenient, it’s usually best to leave them alone and wait for the wart to resolve on its own.

In the meantime, you can try creams, plasters and sprays which may help with the wart or verruca. Though treatments will last about 3 months, may irritate the skin and may not always work. Some examples of wart treatments include:

  • Salicylic acid – this can be applied to the wart on a daily basis for a few months

  • Formaldehyde – a gel that is particularly good for verrucas

  • Cold spray – a weaker version of the cold spray used by GPs for cryotherapy. This is recommended to use alongside other creams for warts

  • Duct tape – apply a small strip of gaffer tape covered in wart cream and leave on for 6 days. After this, take off and replace with a new strip There is conflicting evidence that shows this method works but it can be worth trying, particularly in children

If at any point your skin becomes irritated and sore, stop treatment until the skin has settled. If after a few days this gets worse, don’t hesitate to see a GP.

Some warts are difficult to treat, especially if they’re on your face or genitals. A GP can help you out with:

  • Cryotherapy, which involves freezing the wart off

  • Minor surgery treatment with laser or light

If other treatments have not worked, they will refer you to a skin specialist.

How to prevent warts and verrucas from spreading

Warts and verrucas are contagious and can spread easily through wet and damaged skin. Here’s how to prevent the spread:

  • Try not to pick, cut or damage the wart

  • Wash your hands regularly, especially after touching the area around the wart

  • Avoid touching the wart and cover it with a plaster

  • Don’t share towels with other people

  • If you have a verruca, avoid walking barefoot, keep your feet dry and change your socks regularly. If you swim regularly, cover with a waterproof plaster and wear flip-flops around the pool.

It can take a few months from being exposed to the virus before a wart or verruca develops.

When should I speak to a doctor?

You should seek help from a GP if:

  • You’re worried about the lump on your skin

  • Your wart or verruca keeps coming back

  • The wart or verruca is very big

  • The wart is on your face

  • You have another medical condition that means your immune system is weakened

  • The wart bleeds or changes how it looks

  • If you have a wart on your face or near your genitals

Last updated:
Reviewed by:
Dr Bryony Henderson, Lead GP at Livi