Every once in a while, you hear about a home health remedy that’s so wacky, it has to be real. Why? Well, because nobody would believe it otherwise.
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This is one of those times.
Don’t believe us? Honestly, we can’t blame you. It’s a bit out there. That’s why we asked dermatologist Melissa Piliang, MD, to explain why duct tape works, what kind of warts you can use it on and when you need to put down the tape and head to the doctor instead.
How to remove a wart with duct tape
The duct-tape occlusion method is very simple:
- Cut a piece of duct tape down so that it will sit comfortably over the wart. Children and adults alike might enjoy the process more if you use duct tape that comes in a fun color or pattern.
- Place the tape over the wart and leave it there for approximately five days. The duct tape will likely fall off from time to time. When that happens, replace it with a new piece as soon as you can.
- On day five, remove the tape, soak the wart in warm water and use a piece of sandpaper, a pumice stone or an emery board to slough off the top layer of the wart. Dr. Piliang recommends using sandpaper because it’s affordable. You can cut it to size and you can throw it out after using it without feeling like you’ve wasted money.
- Leave the wart uncovered overnight (10 to 12 hours).
- Put a new piece of duct tape on the wart and start the process over. You should expect to do this process several times — usually, four to six weeks — until the wart is completely gone.
You can double up!
You can also use duct tape in concert with over-the-counter treatments like a 20%–40% salicylic acid gel, says Dr. Piliang. By themselves, these treatments may take weeks or months to work. Together, things could move faster.
Why does duct tape kill warts?
Have you ever noticed that your skin looks a bit odd when it’s been covered with a bandage for a while? Duct tape has a similar effect, says Dr. Piliang.
“Covering warts with duct tape makes the skin wet, pale and wrinkly, which isn’t an ideal environment for a wart,” she explains. She also notes that duct tape is such a strong adhesive that — when you pull it off — you’re likely to remove a layer of the wart along with it.
Some experts think that the chemicals in duct tape’s adhesive could be triggering an immune response, speeding up the healing process. Others note that warts usually resolve by themselves eventually. And maybe keeping it covered isn’t doing anything to treat the wart, but it is preventing the virus from spreading to other parts of your skin.
What kinds of warts can you use duct tape on?
Duct tape occlusion is only an effective treatment for certain kinds of warts on certain parts of your body. Don’t use duct tape if:
- Your wart is located near mucous membranes (like your mouth, your nasal cavity or around your eyes), or is in close proximity to your armpits or genitals. That skin is very sensitive and could tear.
- You have periungual or subungual warts (warts under and around your nails). Duct tape is magical, but not that magical.
- You have genital warts. The strain of HPV that causes genital warts can also cause cervical cancer. Whether you have a cervix or not, you want to get treated as soon as possible, so you don’t risk infecting somebody else.
- You have plantar warts (warts on your foot). The skin on our feet is pretty tough. Not only is duct tape likely to be less effective on it, but the tape is also likely to fall off a lot.
You know the scene in movies where the hero rips the duct tape off the mouth of the dude that’s been kidnapped? You know how said dude never looks super thrilled about it? Now imagine doing it to yourself by choice.
While it’s likely going to be less painful than freezing a wart, for example, that doesn’t mean ripping duct tape off yourself is going to be fun. If you have sensitive skin — or a condition like eczema or psoriasis — it could be downright damaging. And, of course, if you’re allergic to the materials in duct tape, you could end up with a nasty case of contact dermatitis.
It’s perhaps unsurprising, then, that the most common side effects of duct tape occlusion all have to do with skin irritation: bleeding, rash and redness.
What to do if you still have a wart?
Just because treating warts with duct tape is easy doesn’t mean it’s fast. In fact, you can expect the duct tape occlusion method to take weeks. It may even take months.
“If the wart is still there after two months, it’s probably time to speak to your doctor about other options, like freezing or laser treatment,” Dr. Piliang advises.
When to see a doctor
The goal of duct tape occlusion is to avoid a trip to the doctor, but that isn’t always possible. Give a call to the doctor’s office if:
- The wart is still there after two months. It may be time to consider other treatment options.
- You have multiple warts. Duct tape occlusion treats the wart, but it doesn’t treat the underlying virus. If you have a lot of warts — or you’re noticing new ones popping up — it may be time to treat the virus itself.
- You’re immunocompromised or have a condition like diabetes. The virus could spread, or you could end up with a bad infection without realizing it.
- You’re in pain. While it’s not unheard of, most warts don’t cause pain. If you’re experiencing pain, you may be dealing with a different kind of skin condition.
- It looks infected. If the wart looks red and puss-filled, or it’s cracking and bleeding, that’s concerning. The wart could be infected, and that fluid could allow the virus causing the wart to spread to other parts of your skin.
- The wart is changing color. Treat a wart that changes color the same way you would a mole and make an appointment with a doctor immediately.
- It’s impacting your day-to-day activities. Are you finding it hard to walk? Are you avoiding going out because you’re embarrassed by how it looks? Is the itching becoming unbearable? Then, put down the duct tape and pick up the phone. You don’t have to deal with this by yourself.