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Warts are skin growths that aren’t necessarily harmful but can be itchy and bothersome. One over-the-counter treatment that can remove warts is salicylic acid. It needs to be applied over time to work.

While most people tolerate salicylic acid treatments well, there are some people who don’t. Read on to learn how to safely apply this treatment to remove warts — and when to leave wart removal to medical professionals.

Salicylic acid works to remove warts by exfoliating the skin cells until the wart is gone. The acid may also trigger an immune response to build healthy skin cells in the area. With continued daily application, the salicylic acid solution will often remove the wart.

For those with diabetes or other diseases that impair blood flow, seek professional assistance in wart removal.

At-home salicylic acid wart treatment

Most drugstores sell salicylic acid over the counter to help remove warts. A common brand name is Compound W. These products usually contain about 17 percent salicylic acid. However, some companies sell 40 percent salicylic acid treatments for foot and plantar warts.

Here are some tips for at-home salicylic acid wart removal:

  • Apply salicylic acid after getting out of the shower or bath. Dry the skin off so it’s still damp and apply. This will help the treatment sink in more effectively.
  • An alternative to application after the shower or bath is to soak the wart in warm water for five minutes.
  • Some people cover a wart with duct tape as a bandage. However, research is inconclusive on whether duct tape is an effective wart removal treatment. You should avoid using duct tape if you have sensitive skin.
  • Use an emery board, pumice stone, or other exfoliating tool to remove dead skin cells from the wart each day before bathing. Never share these exfoliating tools, as you can transmit the virus that causes warts to another person with these.
  • Apply the salicylic acid to the wart daily. Consistent treatment over the course of several weeks is the most effective method. Sometimes the wart will fall off in its entirety.

Salicylic wart treatment with a professional

A doctor may prescribe a stronger concentration of salicylic acid for at-home use. These stronger concentrations are usually applied to thicker areas of skin, such as the soles of the feet.

While the approach to application is the same as with lower concentrations, you may experience greater skin irritation as a result. Review with your doctor symptoms that indicate you should stop using the treatment. These may include intense redness or discomfort.

Salicylic acid side effects

Body: While salicylic acid for warts is a generally mild treatment, it can cause some side effects. These include skin irritation, discolored skin, and discomfort at the site of the wart.

Salicylic acid is a topical treatment that’s commonly used to treat acne blemishes. It belongs to the family of chemicals known as beta hydroxy acids. When applied to the skin, salicylic acid works to break bonds inside the skin’s pores that are holding dead skin cells to living ones.

Some common cosmetic products that include salicylic acid include:

  • acne spot treatments
  • face washes
  • shampoos to fight dandruff
  • wart removal gels and wart removal bandages

Doctors call salicylic acid a “keratolytic” medication because it has exfoliating properties. When applied to the skin, the acid can remove the outer layer of skin cells. This is not only useful in fighting acne blemishes, but also in wart removal.

Salicylic acid for wart treatments may be sold as a patch, liquid, or gel. Each preparation usually requires daily or every-other-day application for maximum effectiveness.

Shop online for salicylic acid wart removers here.

If salicylic acid doesn’t seem to be removing the wart effectively, there are other professional treatments for wart removal. One example is cryotherapy. This treatment involves exposing the wart to liquid nitrogen in a doctor’s office to freeze the wart off. Sometimes a doctor will recommend salicylic acid combined with cryotherapy to treat the wart.

Other professional wart removal options include:

  • curettage to scrape the wart away
  • electrocautery
  • injections of medications to inhibit cell growth, such as 5-fluorouracil
  • laser surgery to remove the wart

In some cases, a doctor may recommend surgical removal of warts. This procedure has a risk of scarring. Sometimes, warts can come back in the same area after surgical removal.

There are many different types of warts, and you can’t remove all of them with salicylic acid treatments.

The five most common wart types are:

  • common warts: appear on the hands
  • flat warts: appear on the forehead and facial region
  • genital warts: appear in the genital region, including the pubic and thigh area
  • plantar warts: appear on the bottoms of the feet
  • subungual and periungual warts: appear underneath the toenails and fingernails

Salicylic acid is a safe treatment for common warts and plantar warts, but it should not be used to treat warts on the face, neck, or genitals.

You shouldn’t use salicylic acid treatments for wart removal on the face. While you can use salicylic acid as a spot treatment for acne, it’s usually in products with much lower concentrations than is used to treat warts. The higher percentage can cause hyperpigmentation or hypopigmentation on the face.

Say no to salicylic acid on genital warts

Because genital warts appear on delicate areas of the body, you shouldn’t use salicylic acid to remove or treat these warts. You could potentially burn and damage the skin, causing infection, discomfort, or scarring.

Salicylic acid is a first-line treatment for non-genital warts. It’s an inexpensive and effective treatment, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.

The treatment can provide good results when applied regularly. However, many warts will also go away on their own with time. Speak with your doctor about the best wart treatment options for you based on the wart’s location and type.