Put A Hex On Warts

Home remedies spell trouble for this vexing skin condition.

Put A Hex On Warts
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Warts are unsightly, embarrassing, and stubbornly persistent. So it's not surprising they're the subject of medical myths and old wives' tales--just stay away from toads and witches and you'll be all right, right?

Not quite. Warts are caused by one of the more than 150 families of non-genital human papilloma virus, or HPV--which is transferred person to person, or through objects touched by those infected. "Warts are like many other types of infections," explains Audrey Kunin, M.D., author of The Dermadoctor Skinstruction Manual. "Certain people are prone to picking up infections over and over because their bodies don't recognize that particular germ and do what they're supposed to do--kill it."

Common warts typically occur on the hands, while plantar warts are found on the soles of the feet; the latter can also grow in clusters. Usually rough to the touch and skin-colored, both types may produce a black dot.

A number of natural remedies are available to treat warts. Salicylic acid, originally derived from white willow bark, is found in over-the-counter remedies such as Compound W and Occlusal-HP; it cures 75 percent of non-genital wart cases, according to a review published in the British Medical Journal, and can be even more effective than cryotherapy, in which dermatologists use liquid nitrogen to freeze warts. (Compound W also makes Freeze Off, a do-it-yourself cryotherapy kit that employs a mix of dimethyl ether, propane, and isobutane.)

Standard wart medications should not be used on your face or genitals. But on your hardier skin, even if it's sensitive, you can try other remedies in addition to or in place of salicylic acid, says Andrew Gaeddert, an Oakland, Calif.-based herbalist and author of Healing Skin Disorders. "Some plant remedies work quite well," he says. "They basically interrupt the viral replication."

Gaeddert suggests steeping a few cloves of crushed garlic in 4 ounces of castor oil for several days, then applying the mixture topically to the wart three times a day using fresh gauze or an adhesive strip. Or try three parts rubbing alcohol or witch hazel combined with one part each tinctures of celandine, thuja, and blood root (available at specialty stores or through an herbalist), applied to the wart three times daily. Thuja is actually the most common homeopathic treatment for warts. It should be taken in the 30C or 30X potency twice daily for three days only, advises Miranda Castro, author of The Complete Homeopathy Handbook. "If it doesn't work pretty quickly," she says, "seek the advice of a homeopathic practitioner who can take more than your warts into account and select a remedy for your whole picture."

In the end, the most effective relief might be in your tool drawer, according to a study published in the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine. For up to two months, children and young adult patients applied small pieces of duct tape over a wart for six days at a time, then removed the tape, soaked the wart, and rubbed it gently with an emery board or pumice stone. After leaving the tape off overnight, they re-taped in the morning. Eighty-five percent of patients who did this lost the warts completely, compared with 60 percent of a group who had their warts frozen with liquid nitrogen. Why does it work? The reasons aren't clear, but by providing a local irritation, it may activate the immune system to help replace diseased tissue with healthy skin.