What Are Plantar Warts—and How Do You Get Rid of Them?
Please tell us that duct tape really works?
No matter how common or harmless they are, warts still have the power to make us feel self-conscious, and they can also be uncomfortable and painful. Most of us at some point in our lives will get these small bumps on our knees, elbows, or hands.
Plantar warts might be one of the more frustrating types of warts, however, since they appear on the feet. Forget indulging in a pedicure with your BFF or sporting sexy open-toe heels on your next date. Don't mind us while we hide our feet away and allow all of our sandals to grow cobwebs. Oof.
So, what can be done about annoying plantar warts? We asked podiatrists and dermatologists to explain plantar warts in detail (brace yourselves), how to prevent them, and the best at-home treatments to remove those warty bumps once and for all.
What are plantar warts?
“Plantar” means “bottom surface,” so plantar warts are lesions that appear on the bottom of the foot (although they can also appear on the top of the foot), explains American Podiatric Medical Association spokesperson and New Jersey-based podiatrist Alan Bass, DPM.
If you've had a plantar wart before, you know they are not exactly comfortable. “A lot of times, the wart can be near a more weight-bearing surface of the foot and it’ll feel like a stone or a pebble, because it’s something that’s not supposed to be there,” explains Dr. Bass. It tends to be even more painful if it appears on the ball of the foot or on the heel, since you put the most pressure on those areas when walking.
They're caused by a virus
Plantar warts develop when the body comes in contact with a virus that the immune system can’t quite fight off. The culprit is a strain of HPV (human papillomavirus), and while many strains of the virus exist, those that cause warts on the feet are not the same HPV strains that cause genital warts.
Since they're caused by a virus, they can be passed from person to person. For example, if you have a plantar wart (with a small knick in it) on the bottom of your foot and are exercising barefoot, the virus can transfer to the gym mat or floor. The next person to come along will be at risk for developing a plantar wart, as well.
You can pick up plantar warts from just about anywhere. Walking barefoot in your yoga or Muay Thai studio? Yep. And did we mention you can also get plantar warts from public pool decks and locker rooms? Yikes.
Plantar warts are more predominant in young adults (up to 18 years) and children than in older adults. This is because when you're younger, your immune system isn’t fully developed, making it harder to fight off the virus, Dr. Bass says.
How to treat plantar warts
There are a few over-the-counter medications and home remedies that can help get rid of plantar warts. But no matter the treatment, the goal is to irritate the skin in order to promote the immune system to respond to the irritation and then recognize the virus and attack it, Paul Langer, DPM, a Minnesota-based podiatrist, tells Health. “So, whether we freeze it with cold, burn it with acids, laser it or cut it, it is not the treatment that resolves the wart, but our own immune system.”
Topical salicylic acid, which can be found at your local pharmacy, slowly dissolves the thick, warty layer of plantar warts and can treat them successfully if used diligently over the course of weeks, says Rachel Nazarian, MD, a New York-based dermatologist and Fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology (FAAD).
Over-the-counter salicylic acid patches and liquid can also be applied, although the warts may take longer to completely disappear. The patches are stronger than the liquids, so be careful not to cause an infection by treating the wart too aggressively, adds Dr. Langer. (Try: Compound W Salicylic Acid Wart Remover, $16 on amazon.com.)
It may sound like a trick from your dad, but using a piece of duct tape could help remove the wart, too. New York City-based dermatologist Debra Jaliman, MD, suggests cutting a small piece of duct tape the size of the wart and leaving it on for a few days before pulling it off. It might not work for everyone, but she says that it could remove the wart. *Stocks up on duct tape.*
Apple cider vinegar can also potentially get rid of a plantar wart. Dr. Jaliman recommends placing an apple cider vinegar-soaked cotton ball on the wart, and hold it in place with a Band-Aid or piece of tape for a few days.
If you have a single plantar wart that hurts like hell and you want to treat it quickly, experts suggest seeing your dermatologist or podiatrist. The wart can be professionally frozen off with liquid nitrogen, or treated with topical medications (only sold at a specialist’s office) applied by a doctor.
Not 100% sure it's a plantar wart? It’s a good idea to have the lesion removed by a specialist and confirmed that it’s not something more serious.
Consider your footwear
If you’ve been susceptible to plantar warts before, there’s a chance you could pick up the virus again. Always wear appropriate footwear in workout classes and in public showers and locker rooms. Because plantar warts are super transmissible, you should never leave warts exposed, and they should always be covered when being treated, says Dr. Bass. That means bandaging them and wearing shoes even when it's painful.
We do know that plantar warts can cause discomfort, and certain footwear may irritate them further. Avoid tight fitting shoes, shoes with very little cushioning, and high heels, since they increase pressure on your foot, advises Dr. Jaliman. Warts love moisture, so it’s best to keep your feet dry. “Wear socks that absorb sweat quickly to prevent softening of the skin from moisturize, as this makes skin more vulnerable to invasion by the virus,” adds Dr. Nazarian.
RELATED: Embarrassing Foot Issues Solved
How to stay plantar wart-free
Once you have a plantar wart, if you’re not careful, it can spread to other parts of the body. “If it’s on the bottom of the foot, try not to touch it with your hands, or pick at it, because you can very easily transfer the virus from the bottom of the foot to the surface of your hand,” Dr. Bass warns. Although the same virus caused it, warts that then develop on the hand are called palmar warts.
You can also spread plantar warts to other people. If a person or child has a plantar wart and is sharing a shower with another person, be sure to clean the bathtub in between with a viral disinfectant to help to keep other kids or house guests safe when sharing the bathroom. Dr. Bass’s pick: tried-and-true Lysol, which can kill 99.9% of viruses and bacteria.
While plantar warts may not be completely preventable, these tips from Dr. Jaliman can help minimize your risk: Avoid walking barefoot in public showers, locker rooms, and public pools, and instead wear sandals or flip-flops to protect your feet. Don’t share towels (remember, the virus likes a moist environment). If treating yourself to a pedicure, verify that salon tools are clean, and if you're not comfortable asking how they sanitize their tools, just opt to bring your own. Lastly, if you think you may have come in contact with someone who has a plantar wart, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly.
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