Warts are mysterious. There are more questions than answers. We do know that warts are caused by a virus (human papilloma virus or HPV). How that virus penetrates the skin on fingers, hands or knees is unclear. Why are children more vulneerable to warts than adults? Why are some people vulnerable and others resistant? Why do warts usually disappear on their own accord and on their own timetable? Why are warts so susceptible to suggestion? How can a virus respond to mental manipulation? Are there any wart remedies that work? If we could better understand how to cure warts, might we be able to cure cancer?
A Brilliant Scientist Discusses Warts:
Perhaps you think we are exaggerating the importance of warts. Would you believe one of the greatest minds in medicine?
Lewis Thomas was the definition of a Renaissance man. He graduated from Princeton and then Harvard Medical School. He was a renowned educator, serving as dean of both the Yale Medical School and the New York University School of Medicine. He was also president and CEO of one of the most prestigious cancer centers in the world—Memorial Sloan-Kettering Institute.
In addition to his career in medicine he was a renowned essayist, poet, philosopher and author. His books, The Lives of a Cell, and The Medusa and the Snail, are classics.
Dr. Thomas was intrigued by warts. In The Medusa and the Snail he described warts this way:
“Warts are wonderful structures. They can appear overnight on any part of the skin, like mushrooms on a damp lawn, full grown and splendid in the complexity of their architecture. Viewed in stained sections under a microscope, they are the most specialized of cellular arrangements, constructed as though for a purpose. They sit there like turreted mounds of dense, impenetrable horn, impregnable, designed for defense against the world outside.”
“The strangest thing about warts is that they tend to go away. Fully grown, nothing in the body has so much the look of toughness and permanence as a wart, and yet, inexplicably and often very abruptly, they come to the end of their lives and vanish without a trace. And they can be made to go away by something that can only be called thinking, or something like thinking. This is a special property of warts which is absolutely astonishing, more of a surprise than cloning or recombinant DNA or endorphin or acupuncture or anything else currently attracting attention in the press. It is one of the great mystifications of science: warts can be ordered off the skin by hypnotic suggestion.”
Dr. Thomas goes on to describe the mental processes by which we can cure ourselves of warts. He proposes an immunology-based surgical strike of extraordinary precision. Here is a link to the entire essay “ON WARTS.”
The Dermatologists’ War on Warts:
Have you ever had a wart? Most people have had at least one at some point. These skin growths may be ugly, but they are not usually dangerous. Although they often go away on their own, this can take a long time, up to two years (StatPearls, May 13, 2019). Waiting for them to resolve may require more patience than most people can muster.
What causes warts? When the human papillomavirus (HPV) invades the top layer of skin, the response is an overgrowth of keratin. This hard protein creates rough bumps, usually skin colored, but sometimes darker than the surrounding skin. Because they are caused by a virus, warts can spread. If you touch a wart, wash your hands well afterwards.
Dermatologists frequently remove warts by freezing them off, cutting them out or burning them off with electrosurgery. This slash-and-burn approach hasn’t changed much for decades. Though it often works, people would sometimes prefer to treat their warts at home.
My History with Warts:
Like many kids, I had warts on my fingers. They were ugly. A dermatologist burned them off with an electric cautery device. That hurt! And some of the warts came back. That’s a pretty common scenario. Eventually, though, they did go away on their own.
When I started doing research for the first edition of The People’s Pharmacy in the early 1970s, warts were on my list of topics.
Here is a snippet:
“…children are very susceptible to suggestion. If you make up some outrageous but safe ‘cure,’ throwing in lots of hokey techniques, the chances are that the warts will disappear over the next several weeks or months. Such magical techniques could include touching the wart with ice cubes, painting it with food coloring, or exposing it briefly to a heat lamp. The bigger the production, the better the chances for success.”
Wart Remedies and the Immune System:
During a search for wart remedies 44 years ago, I discovered a reference to desiccated liver tablets and the immune system. Dr. Daniel Hyman, writing in the journal Modern Medicine (Vol. 43: Number 14:86, 1975), asked the question: “Is There a Simple Way to get Rid of Plantar Warts?” Here is what I wrote based on Dr. Hyman’s article:
“It has been suggested that hard-to-treat warts are due to a deficiency in the person’s immune system. If the immune system were stimulated there is a good chance that the warts might disappear all by themselves. Dr. Daniel Hyman has suggested that three desiccated liver tablets taken three times a day could do the trick.”
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Other Wart Remedies:
Duct Tape to the Rescue:
One popular home remedy for warts is duct tape. Although this approach hasn’t been well-studied, early research showed it worked as well as freezing (Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, Oct. 2002). To use this approach, apply a small piece of duct tape, the size of the wart. Leave it in place for a week, then remove it, wash the wart and sand it down with an emery board. In 12 hours, apply a new piece of duct tape and repeat the cycle for six weeks if necessary (Canadian Family Physician, May 2019).
One reader offered this testimonial for using duct tape on plantar warts on the soles of the feet:
“I have found the original style of very sticky gray duct tape to be the best cure for warts. Years ago, I bought used shoes at a thrift store. It took me a while to realize that’s where the plantar warts had come from.
“For over a year, I tried a paste of salicylic acid compounded by a pharmacy per my doctor’s instructions. I peeled and peeled the skin that was killed by the acid, and finally solved the problem, but it was time consuming and painful.
How to Use Duct Tape:
“Years later, I got another wart. I tried the duct tape method, and the wart came out of my skin into the tape within two weeks. My best guess is that the duct tape somehow causes the body to reject the wart. I did not have a recurrence.
“Wash the foot bottom thoroughly with soap, rinse and dry well. Make a patch of tape that you have not stuck your fingers over (otherwise it will not stick as well). Put it on the spot and make sure it adheres well. The idea is to keep the tape stuck on the spot 24/7. Check it a few times daily to make sure it is still in place. Replace the tape after showering, or whenever it comes off. The wart will come off into the tape when you pull it off during changing within a few weeks.
“Don’t wear other people’s shoes. If you try on shoes, new or used, first put on at least a nylon footlet or sock to protect yourself and others.”
Keeping the wart covered with a piece of duct tape has the advantage of isolating the virus from contact. Dermatologists often recommend wearing flip-flops at the pool or in public locker rooms to keep from picking up or spreading plantar warts.
More Wart Remedies:
Castor Oil: One of the More Popular Wart Remedies
Our readers love castor oil for lots of common ailments including inflammation and bruising.
Carol was a skeptic. She turned into a believer:
“I was totally surprised that it worked! However, it took 4 weeks to loosen the wart and 5 weeks for it to fall away. It was exciting to watch the castor oil working each day as it loosened the wart, and the root popped out–a real Science Experiment!”
Jerri had a similar experience:
“I used castor oil on a wart that developed at the hairline near my temple. I rubbed it on the wart 3 to 5 times a day. The wart started crumbling away after about a week until it was completely gone.”
Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is Good for Monarchs and Nasty to Warts:
Many readers sing the praises of the “juice” of the common milkweed.
Trish in Florida says:
“Good ol’ milk weed plant “milk” does the trick! Break the stem and the white milk that you see is what you apply to the wart. Put it on three-four times a day and within a week’s time the wart will be gone!”
Another reader shared this:
“You sometimes get questions about how to get rid of warts. I’ve had horses all my life, and warts on a horse’s muzzle are common. I’ve always rubbed the milk from a bleeding milkweed plant on them. It takes only a few times. Most horsemen know of this fix even if it is restricted to summer. It also worked on my daughter when she got warts on her hands and knees.”
Many readers have asked how to find milkweed. Mel has an answer:
“Common milkweed can be found in the summer on any country road, at least in the northern 1/2 of the US. Just break the plant at any point and a white milky substance comes out.”
Here is a photo of milkweed (Asclepias syriaca). If you can’t locate this plant, find a farmer. She will know where to find it!
The seed pods of a common milkweed plant (Asclepias syriaca) near a small lake in Joliet, Illinois, during August.
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Other Wart Remedies:
E. Torres used fig sap to get rid of warts:
“When I was young I suffered from warts on my hands and head. My grandmother had a fig tree in her yard and she broke some leaves off at the stem. She told me to apply the sap on the warts and after 3-4 days they were gone.”
Apple Cider Vinegar:
The “Green Machine” insists that apple cider vinegar (ACV) is the answer:
“ACV WORKS! I tried everything, and I mean everything. I had loads of warts on my hands for nearly 2 years and ACV worked very quickly. Just apply once or twice a day and keep applying a few days after the scabs fall off (keep applying until they fall off.)”
Favorite Wart Remedies from The People’s Pharmacy:
Many readers insist that the fleshy part of a banana is one of the best wart remedies ever discovered. Cut a piece of banana peel about the size of the wart. Tape the white side to the wart and replace it every day until the wart “dies.”
This is a variation on the ACV approach. You are supposed to rub the wart with the juice of a lemon a couple of times a day.
Tagamet (cimetidine): the ultimate wart remedy!
We have heard from a great many readers that when all else fails, cimetidine can come to the rescue. Here are some stories:
Sean in California was desperate:
“For more than a decade I had warts. They kept getting worse as time went on. They were on my arms, hands and knees. I received years of painful cryo [liquid nitrogen] treatments that, I think, at best stopped them from growing. Freezing never cured anything. I was also using salicylic acid.
“Fun stuff for a girl going through puberty. The grotesque warts on my knees were devastating to my self esteem. I wouldn’t wear shorts or bathing suits unless I’d used 8 bandaids or an ace bandage to cover up.
“At some point, a last ditch attempt before surgery, was prescription ulcer medication. It worked so fast. That was 25 years ago so I’m not sure how fast, but it was fast even to an impatient teen.
“At least reading it being a controversial treatment answers the lingering question of why they didn’t just start with that. And I didn’t realize my magic green pill was Tagamet.
“I hope that other folks react as well as I did. Not to sound hyperbolic, but it really changed my life in that I could focus on the normal horrors of puberty instead of my warts.”
Julie in Minnesota had a somewhat similar story to share about her daughter:
“When my daughter was 15 she had such a bad case of plantar warts that we were going monthly to a podiatrist and having several excised just to find more growing. She was having her feet all cut up trying to remove them. It seemed we couldn’t get a handle on it.
“She was referred to a dermatologist who prescribed her cimetidine 3x a day. It took about 6 months but with no other treatment, it cleared it up. We were very surprised but thankful. She is now 18 and has not had any more plantar warts until just this week. She noticed the start of one. We are going to nip this one before it spreads. So, even though it worked, once you have the wart virus in your system it may return. With Cimetidine it helps to keep it more under control.”
Bob in Sarasota, Florida, tried everything for his son. Of all the wart remedies they tried, cimetidine did the trick:
“My son had cauliflower warts one year, We tried everything: salicylic acid, Compound W, compounded creams and homeopathic drugs, liquid nitrogen, dermatologist specialist, freezing, Aldara (imiquimod), etc. Everything failed. None of the therapies worked. In fact he grew more warts. We were desperate and worried.
“We visited this website and saw some positive results with cimetidine and thought we might give a try. Professionally I am pharmacist. It was hard to believe that cimetidine could work, but we got a very positive response. All warts were gone in 3 months. My son had 10-15 warts and they all fell off in 3 months. He also had some flat warts on his hand and finger and they are all gone. I appreciate all the help I got from this site.”
Do You Want More Wart Remedies?
If you would like to learn more about other wart remedies (such as bacon fat, garlic, potato, turmeric and Listerine) please check out our book, Quick and Handy Home Remedies. We have hundreds of simple approaches for common ailments.
Share your own favorite wart remedies in the comment section. Let us know what worked and what didn’t.
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” Read Joe's Full Bio.
The People’s Pharmacy Quick and Handy Home Remedies
Home remedies can be surprisingly effective for a number of common ailments. They're less expensive with fewer side effects than prescription drugs. Time-tested solutions for minor health problems.
Focht, D. R., et al. "The efficacy of duct tape vs cryotherapy in the treatment of verruca vulgaris (the common wart)," Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, Oct. 2002,
Goldman, R. D., "Duct tape for warts in children: Should nature take its course?" Canadian Family Physician, May 2019, PMCID: PMC6516695 PMID: 31088871
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