What are the different types of warts?
By Dr. Anna H. Chacon, MD, Fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology Mar 09, 2022 • 5 min
Warts are usually harmless, but they can grow to a substantial size, or in clusters, and some types of warts may be painful or embarrassing.
Read on to learn about the most common types of warts, what they look like, and where they occur.
What is a wart?
A wart is a noncancerous skin growth that occurs on various parts of the body. Warts are caused by the human papillomavirus, or HPV. Warts are contagious and very common among children and teens, but they can occur at any age. Most people will have a wart during their lifetime—and some will have many. There are several types of warts.
These warts are also known as verrucas and can grow to the size of a pea. Warts on hands and fingers are usually common warts. They’re hard, rough and scaly, and may have black dots on the surface that look like seeds. Common warts often form around broken skin from actions such as biting fingernails or picking at hangnails. Children frequently get common warts on the finger or hand, which can easily spread to the face. Facial warts can cause embarrassment.
These warts typically occur on the bottoms of your feet or the pad of a toe. Like common warts, plantar warts are commonly known as verrucas and can grow to a fairly large size. Since your feet support your weight, the warts get pushed flat or inward when you stand or walk. Plantar warts on the foot can be very painful, and the inward growth makes them more difficult to remove than warts on hands and fingers.
These warts occur underneath or around the fingernails or toenails and appear as thickened skin, or they may look like cauliflower. Periungual warts may cause splits in the skin around the nails, which can be very painful.
Most commonly found on the face, flat warts are small, slightly raised warts that grow to a few millimeters in diameter. These facial warts generally occur on the cheeks and forehead in children. In adults, they often occur in the areas you shave—men tend to get them in the beard area, and women get them on their legs. Less often, flat warts may occur on the hands or lower arms. They may be light brown in color, and they tend to grow in large numbers—up to 100 at a time.
When plantar or common warts grow in clusters, they’re known as mosaic warts. Mosaic warts are small and white when they occur on the ball of the foot or pad of a toe. They’re flatter than single plantar warts and typically don’t cause pain. Mosaic warts may spread to cover large areas of the soles of the feet.
These threadlike, spiky warts sometimes look like little brushes and often appear as facial warts, especially around the nose, eyes and mouth. Filiform warts can grow quickly and may become a source of annoyance and embarrassment.
Genital warts and anal warts
These warts are transmitted through sexual contact and only affect the genitals or anus. Genital warts are small, hard nodules with a rough surface. Anal warts occur as soft bumps in or near the anus. They’re light brown or flesh-colored and may itch, bleed or discharge mucus. Genital and anal warts may occur inside or outside the vagina or anus. If left untreated, anal warts or genital warts may lead to an increased risk of anal, genital or cervical cancer.
Do warts go away on their own?
In children, warts often go away without treatment. In adults, some warts may not go away until they’re removed with over-the-counter topical wart treatments or in your doctor’s office with a laser, freezing or surgical treatment.
Since there is no cure for the HPV viruses that cause warts, once the warts are removed, they may return to the same site or appear in a new spot. The sooner you have a wart removed after it appears, the less likely it is to return. Old warts shed the virus into the skin, and new warts are likely to grow in and around the area.
When to see your dermatologist
Although warts in children typically go away on their own, treatment speeds up healing and helps prevent the spread of warts to other parts of the body or to other people. Warts in adults often require wart treatment to remove them. If you or your child has warts, especially if they occur on the foot, visit your dermatologist to determine whether—and how—they should be treated.
Published March 2022.