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Salicylic Acid Preparations for Treating Warts


Examples

Generic NameBrand Name
salicylic acidCompound W, Dr. Scholl's Clear Away, DuoFilm, Mediplast, Occlusal, Trans-Ver-Sal, Wart-Off

Mild salicylic acid preparations are available as nonprescription paints, creams, or plaster patches for home treatment.

How It Works

Salicylic acid:

  • Softens the skin layers that form a wart so that the wart can be rubbed off with a pumice stone or file.
  • Repeatedly irritates a wart, which is thought to trigger an immune system response. A heightened immune response fights the human papillomavirus that causes wart growth.

Why It Is Used

Salicylic acid is the home treatment most often used for eliminating warts. It:

  • Is an inexpensive and safe home treatment.
  • Causes minimal or no pain.
  • May only be effective when used regularly over a period of time.

Salicylic acid should not be used:

How Well It Works

Nonprescription salicylic acid is as effective as or more effective than other treatments, with minimal risk and pain.1

  • A recent review of research suggests that salicylic acid is a safe treatment that effectively eliminates warts up to 75% of the time. By comparison, placebo or no treatment produced an approximate clearance rate of 50%.2
  • There is currently no proof that cryotherapy is any more effective than salicylic acid.1

Side Effects

Salicylic acid can irritate or damage healthy skin surrounding the wart. As a prevention measure, cover the surrounding skin with a doughnut-shaped pad or bandage when applying salicylic acid. If you experience discomfort with salicylic acid treatment, try applying it less often.

Rarely, salicylic acid treatment causes scarring.

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

  • Avoid getting salicylic acid on your unaffected skin. Salicylic acid should touch only the wart.
  • Dead tissue contains living wart virus, so dispose of the dead skin carefully. The pumice stone or file will also have living wart virus on it. Don't use the file or pumice stone for any other purpose, or you may spread the virus.
  • If treatment causes the area to become too tender, stop using the medication for 2 to 3 days.
  • If your warts do not go away after 2 to 3 months of treatment with salicylic acid, or if they come back, consider a stronger preparation, another type of treatment, or no treatment.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF)Click here to view a form.(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.

References

Citations

  1. Gibbs S, Harvey I (2006). Local treatments for cutaneous warts. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (3). Oxford: Update Software.

  2. Luk NM, Tan YM (2007). Warts (non-genital), search date November 2006. Online version of BMJ Clinical Evidence. Also available online: http://www.clinicalevidence.com.

Credits

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerKathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerAlexander H. Murray, MD, FRCPC - Dermatology
Last RevisedSeptember 2, 2010

eMedicineHealth Medical Reference from Healthwise

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