Wart Removal: Prescription vs Over the Counter

Warts most commonly appear on the hands and feet, but they may also appear on other parts of the body. Common warts usually resolve on their own within a few months; however, some may persist for many years.

Approximately 75 percent of common warts respond to over the counter (OTC) treatments. The remaining 25 percent are often resistant and require prescription strength treatment. Prescription treatment may also be needed, if the wart grows back.

Common warts are caused by exposure to the human papilloma virus. There are over 100 strains of the virus, but each strain affects only a specific region of the body. Warts usually do not grow beyond the epidermis (upper) layers of the skin. In rare cases, they may protrude into the dermis layer of tissue, located directly below the epidermis. Because they tend to grow within the upper layers of tissue, warts generally respond well to treatment.

Over the Counter (OTC) Wart Treatments

Salicylic Acid

Nonprescription strength salicylic acid is available as an OTC topical treatment for warts. It is available in liquid, gel and on patches. Salicylic acid works because it breaks down proteins in the skin, causing the wart to eventually slough off. Most warts will require several applications of salicylic acid, before the wart will dissolve.

Persons with diabetes should not use the acid, before consulting with their physician. The slower healing process in patients with diabetes or circulatory conditions could result in complications. Additionally, salicylic acid should not be used on irritated or sensitive skin.

Duct Tape Method

There have been reports that occlusion through duct tape will dissolve warts; however, this method has not yet been scientifically proven. This method requires that the wart be covered continuously for several weeks with the duct tape.

Liquid Nitrogen Wart Removal Kit

Liquid nitrogen wart removal kits are available OTC in diluted concentrations. The kit will contain a canister of liquid nitrogen and several applicators. The nitrogen freezes the wart, causing it to eventually fall off. This treatment also requires several applications.

Prescription Wart Treatments

Prescription Strength Salicylic Acid

If OTC salicylic acid does not dissolve the wart, your medical provider may prescribe a stronger salicylic acid solution. This solution is much stronger than the solutions available OTC and requires special care when applying it to the skin. The solution should not be applied to surrounding healthy tissue.


In this procedure, the physician freezes the wart with a special refrigerant. A blister develops and the wart falls off. This procedure may need to be repeated several times, before it is successful.

Laser Treatment

Laser treatments remove warts by destroying the tissue. The treatments are performed with local anesthesia, because the treatments can be painful. Scarring may occur and several treatments may be necessary.

Surgical Removal

In some cases, it may be necessary to surgically remove a wart that has not responded to other types of treatment. Surgical removal is not recommended, unless the wart is causing pain or discomfort.

Many alternative treatments are currently under study. Many include the use of injectable medications. Research indicates that salicylic acid has the highest success rates in treating warts. Moreover, the removal of a wart does not guarantee it will not return.

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