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What are warts, and what causes them?

Warts are small skin growths caused by any of 100 or more types of human papilloma viruses (also called HPV). Some types are more likely to cause warts on your hands, while others can cause them on your feet, mucous membranes, or other areas of the body. There are two types of warts you’re most likely to experience:

Common warts usually occur on your fingers or hands. They can look and feel:

  • Like small, fleshy, or grainy bumps.

  • Flesh-coloured, pink, tan, or white.

  • Rough to the touch.

  • Sprinkled with black pinpoints or seeds (small, clotted blood vessels).

  • Usually painless (but may be painful when touched)

Full shot of the back of a hand with Common warts.

Plantar warts usually occur on the bottom of your foot (the heel or ball), and can grow inwards under a layer of thickened skin (callus). They may be solitary (a single wart) or mosaic (grow in clusters). They can look and feel:

  • Like small, fleshy or grainy, rough growths on the bottom of your foot.

  • Like a well-defined spot under a callus.

  • Like clusters of small black pinpoints or seeds.

  • A mass that interrupts the normal lines and ridges of your foot.

  • Painful or tender when standing or walking, like there’s a stone in your shoe.

Close up of the  
underside of ball of foot with Plantar warts.

You can develop warts at any age, but they are more common in children and teenagers (about 10% of teenagers have plantar warts), and less common in older people. Warts most often spread from one part of the body to another through breaks in the skin, (even very tiny ones).

Warts can also be passed from person to person through skin-to-skin contact or by touching a personal item that another person’s wart has touched. Plantar warts often spread through warm, moist environments, like public showers and locker rooms where you walk around barefoot.

Front view of a woman with her hand on her collarbone