Warts are skin growths that can occur on various parts of your body. They’re caused by human papillomavirus (HPV). While
Warts are common and are estimated to affect about
You can develop warts on any part of your body, including on your scalp. Scalp warts are often just a nuisance, mainly leading to cosmetic concerns.
Keep reading to learn more about scalp warts, what causes them, and how to detect other skin conditions that may appear similar to them.
The picture below includes one example of what scalp warts may look like.
Scalp warts are caused by a virus called HPV. You may be familiar with HPV in the context of genital warts. However, the types of HPV that cause warts on your scalp are different from those that cause genital warts.
HPV can be passed to others, mainly through direct skin-to-skin contact. It can also spread by touching objects or surfaces that have come into contact with the virus, such as towels, razors, or the floors of public showers or locker rooms.
HPV typically enters through an open cut or scrape. From there, the virus can go on to affect host cells, causing an increase in cell growth. This leads to the formation of skin growths called warts. There are several types of warts.
Common warts can occur on any area of your body, including on your scalp. However, they’re more common on your hands and fingers. They can range in size from
These warts are typically painless and often feel rough or scaly to the touch. They may have a rounded appearance.
Common warts can come in a variety of colors, including pink, beige, or brown.
They can also be speckled with small black dots, which are tiny blood vessels that have clotted (seed warts).
Unlike common warts, flat warts are smoother and are smaller in size. They typically occur in multiples.
Flat warts may be yellowish or brownish in color. They’re commonly found on the face and legs. In some cases, they may occur on the scalp.
Filiform warts appear threadlike or brushlike. They can grow quickly and often happen on the face around the mouth, eyes, and nose. In rarer cases, they may be seen on the scalp.
Seborrheic keratosis is a skin condition that can affect older people. It can begin as small bumps that eventually take on a wartlike appearance.
These growths can appear anywhere on the body. Common locations include the scalp as well as the chest, back, and neck. The color of seborrheic keratoses can vary and can include white, brown, or black.
While it may look like warts, seborrheic keratosis isn’t caused by HPV and doesn’t spread to others. Its exact cause is unknown.
There are other skin conditions that can also happen on the scalp and may potentially resemble warts. These include:
- Moles. Moles are clusters of pigment-containing skin cells. They’re round or oval-shaped and can be flat or raised. While moles can happen anywhere, they often appear in areas exposed to sun, such as the scalp, back, and arms.
- Actinic keratosis. Actinic keratosis happens on sun-damaged areas of skin. It often occurs on the scalp, face, and arms. Areas of actinic keratosis have a rough, scaly appearance and may itch.
- Nevus sebaceous. Nevus sebaceous is a rare birthmark that can occur on the scalp, face, or neck. It often becomes more prominent during puberty and can take on a wartlike appearance.
Can it be cancer?
Skin cancer often occurs on areas that are frequently exposed to the sun, such as the scalp, face, and back. Some types of skin cancer may be wartlike in appearance.
There are three types skin cancer:
- Basal cell carcinoma (BCC). BCC often presents as a skin-colored or pearl-like bump. It may also appear as a pink patch of skin.
- Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). SCC can appear as a scaly patch, a firm red bump, or a sore. It can also develop from existing actinic keratosis.
- Melanoma. Melanoma can develop in a new mole or a preexisting mole.
- are asymmetrical
- have an irregular border
- vary in color or have inconsistent color
- are larger in size
- change noticeably over time
Overall, warts on your scalp are unlikely to lead to serious risks or side effects. Warts at this location are typically benign.
However, scratching or picking at a scalp wart can cause warts to spread to other areas of your scalp. Because of this, use caution when brushing, cutting, or shaving your hair.
Additionally, touching your scalp wart and then touching the skin on another part of your body can potentially spread warts to that location. Always wash your hands after you touch a wart.
Some other types of skin growths that have a wartlike appearance can be precancerous or cancerous. If you find a skin growth on your scalp that concerns you, make an appointment with a doctor.
Many times, warts will go away on their own without treatment. However, this may sometimes take months to years.
Because warts can often be a nuisance, many people opt to use some type of treatment to help them go away. Below are some of the potential treatment options for warts.
Salicylic acid is a medication that’s available over-the-counter (OTC). You can find it in many forms, such as a liquid, gel, or pad. It works by gradually dissolving the layers of the wart.
You apply salicylic acid products directly to the wart on a daily basis. While this OTC treatment can have good results, it may take several weeks to be effective. There are also prescription-strength salicylic acid medications.
Cryotherapy for warts involves freezing them with liquid nitrogen. The extreme cold from the liquid nitrogen works to destroy the outer layers of the wart.
Cryotherapy is typically performed at a dermatologist’s office. However, there are various OTC products that can be used to freeze warts as well. These products don’t reach the same temperature as liquid nitrogen and aren’t nearly as effective.
During electrosurgery, a dermatologist uses an electrical current to burn the wart. The wart is then scraped off.
When a wart is excised, a dermatologist cuts it out. Because this method can cause scarring, other treatment options are recommended before excision.
Duct tape is a home remedy for warts that involves placing a small piece of duct tape on the wart and removing it every few days.
Treating a wart with duct tape may help to slowly remove the layers of the wart. Duct tape works by inducing an irritant reaction via the adhesive, bringing the immune system into the area, which then hopefully recognizes and clears away the cells containing the virus.
However, evidence from clinical trials for the efficacy of this treatment is
Other home remedies
It’s important to remember that scientific evidence for many of these home remedies is very limited. For some remedies, evidence is anecdotal only, meaning it comes from personal testimony and not from research.
It’s a good idea to make an appointment with a doctor if you notice growths on your scalp that:
- don’t go away or get worse with home care
- disrupt activities like brushing your hair or getting a haircut
- cause pain, itching, or bleeding
- change in appearance or color
- occur in large numbers
A doctor can often diagnose warts by examining them directly. However, it’s possible that they may also take a skin biopsy to rule out other types of skin conditions that may appear similar to warts.
There are some things that you can do to help prevent new warts from forming on your scalp:
- Don’t touch. You can potentially spread warts to other areas by touching a wart and then touching another area of skin. If you do touch a scalp wart, wash your hands thoroughly afterward.
- Don’t share personal items. Avoid sharing items like hairbrushes, towels, or hats. It’s possible for scalp warts to spread in this way.
- Use caution when grooming. It’s possible that tiny tears can occur in the skin of your scalp, allowing the wart to spread. This is particularly true if you shave your head.
- Keep your head dry. Warts tend to spread more easily in moist areas.
- Cover it. Covering your wart can help keep it from coming into contact with other areas of skin or with personal items. However, this may not be possible depending on its location on your head.
Warts are caused by an infection with a virus called HPV. It’s possible to develop warts on your scalp. The types of warts that can occur at this location include common warts, flat warts, and follicular warts.
Additionally, several other skin conditions that look like warts can happen on the scalp.
It’s a good idea to call a doctor if you develop a growth on your scalp that’s concerning, painful, or changes in appearance. They can help to determine what’s causing it and recommend an appropriate treatment plan.