Flat Wart

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Images of Wart, Flat (HPV)


Warts are a very common skin condition that are caused by a number of different viruses from the human papillomavirus (HPV) family. The virus causes the affected skin to thicken abnormally, resulting in an overgrowth of the top layer. Flat warts tend to be small flesh-colored raised lesions. There may be many flat warts clustered in one place. Warts are contagious and can be spread on the affected individual's body by shaving or scratching.

Who's at risk?

Anyone can get warts, although they are most commonly found on teens and preteens. People with weakened immune systems often have trouble with warts.

Signs and Symptoms

The most common locations for flat warts include:

  • Face, especially in children
  • Legs, especially in females who shave
  • Beard area, especially in males who shave
  • Backs of hands
  • Arms
Flat warts are very slightly raised smooth skin-colored bumps ranging in size from 1 to 5 mm. Flat warts are usually numerous in quantity and may appear in a line due to auto-inoculation from scratching or shaving.

Infection with flat warts can be described as:
  • Mild – one or a few painless warts
  • Moderate – 10–100 lesions, which are painless
  • Severe – more than 100 lesions, which cause enough pain to limit normal life activities

Self-Care Guidelines

Because warts can resolve on their own, it is not necessary to treat all warts. Additionally, treating warts may not always destroy them, nor will it necessarily keep other warts from appearing. Treatment can be painful and cause scars and might need to be repeated, so it should only be done in cases where the warts are highly bothersome or interfere with daily life.

  • Over-the-counter wart removers have a high percentage of salicylic acid and work by dissolving away the layer of skin infected with the virus. This treatment needs to be used daily and can sometimes be irritating if it touches unaffected skin around the wart.
  • Duct tape applied daily to the affected area seems to work for unknown reasons. The tape should be very sticky and kept on for a few days.
  • Over-the-counter freezing medications are available but have not been found to be very effective.
  • Coupled with the above therapies, the wart should be soaked in warm water, and any loose skin should be removed every few days with a mild abrasive, like a pumice stone.
  • Family members should avoid sharing personal items such as towels.

When to Seek Medical Care

Make an appointment with a dermatologist or another physician if you have:

  • Painful or bleeding warts
  • Warts on the face
  • Rapidly spreading or multiplying warts
  • Warts that interfere with daily life and are not responsive to self-care

Treatments Your Physician May Prescribe

Once you have been diagnosed with flat warts, your physician may try one or more of the following treatments:

  • Freezing with liquid nitrogen (cryosurgery)
  • Burning with an electric needle (electrocautery)
  • Using a laser to disrupt the blood supply of the warts
  • Application of cantharidin, podophyllin, tretinoin, or salicylic acid
  • Injection with bleomycin, a chemotherapy drug, directly into the warts
  • Application of imiquimod, a cream that induces your immune system to destroy the warts

Trusted Links

Clinical Information and Differential Diagnosis of Wart, Flat (HPV)


Bolognia, Jean L., ed. Dermatology, pp.1223, 1226-1227. New York: Mosby, 2003.

Freedberg, Irwin M., ed. Fitzpatrick's Dermatology in General Medicine. 6th ed. pp.2121, 2123-2124, 2128-2129. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003.