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Duct-tape fans stick with remedy despite wart study

Julie Deardorff
Published November 26, 2006

Warts might seem trivial, but the stubborn little virus has long stymied the medical establishment. Nothing reliably kills the ugly growths, though dermatologists have tried liquid nitrogen, anti-ulcer and chemotherapy drugs, electrical currents, acid solutions and surgical knives.

Nothing, of course, except duct tape.

Sticky duct tape, the wondrous all-purpose fixer, is used in everything from auto and spacecraft repair to fashion. Though largely considered one of those wacky "folk remedies," duct tape stuck it to liquid nitrogen in 2002, when researchers found it outperformed the conventional treatment.

And even though the study quality was later criticized--and many common warts disappear within a year or two without treatment--self-respecting dermatologists continued recommending it as a safe, painless treatment, especially for children.

Now, though, duct tape appears to be coming unglued. When it comes to treating warts, duct tape actually is no better than a placebo, according to a study in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. In addition, 15 percent of the duct-taped children in the study reported adverse effects, such as redness of the skin, eczema and wounds, compared with none in the placebo group.

Duct-tape loyalists took the news hard. In fact, Carolyn Perek of Brookfield, who used it to banish several unsightly warts on the ball of her foot four years ago, said she still would recommend it. "I'd cover the area with tape and leave it on for several days until it started to peel off," said Perek, a 27-year-old corporate recruiter. "Then I'd wash the area and put on a new piece of tape."

After eight weeks, her warts were gone and haven't been back since. She had no blistering or skin irritation. "It's a safe, pain-free and cheap method of wart removal," she said.

Warts, the most common skin disease, are small growths caused by the human papilloma viruses (HPV). The highly contagious common wart usually is found on the hands, fingers, elbows, forearms, knees, face and the skin around the nails. It can be spread if it's picked, trimmed, bitten or touched.

Plantar warts, which don't tend to spread, pop up on the soles of the feet and the underside of toes. They resemble calluses, except they can be tender when touched and bleed if the surface is trimmed.

Some believe duct tape works because the adhesive is an effective irritant. If you annoy a wart enough, it will go away. Andrea Nugent of Vernon Hills, who successfully used duct tape to cure her daughter's 20-some warts, said her dermatologist believes the glue in duct tape prompts the immune system to produce something to kill the virus.

And Oak Lawn podiatrist John Grady, who often fields questions about duct tape, said it's the placebo effect. "A small percentage spontaneously resolve, and people think it's what they put on the wart," said Grady, a fellow of the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons. "But it would go away anyway. The truth is, placebos work well in wart treatment."

This might explain the other unorthodox remedies, such as taping a small piece of banana peel over a wart. Others say crushing a garlic clove directly onto the growth, then covering it with an adhesive bandage for 24 hours will do the trick. Blisters are supposed to form, and the warts should fall off in a week.

Some people have had luck with immunotherapy and injections of the candida allergen.

"The list of things to treat warts is about a mile long, which means nothing on the list works that well," said Charles E. Crutchfield III, M.D, , an associate professor of dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School. "Duct tape works sometimes, but so does hypnosis and so does doing nothing [sometimes]. Duct tape works best to treat warts when it is used to hold other treatments in place!"

Still, if skin abrasions are the only risk duct tape poses, it doesn't hurt to try. If you're game, cover the wart for six to seven days with duct tape (replacing the tape if it falls off sooner). When the week is up, buff the wart with an emery board.

Then replace the duct tape for another week until the wart is gone or two months have passed.

One hopefully unnecessary caveat: Don't try using duct tape on your face or on perianal or genital warts. Duct tape, used to repair military equipment, also is called "100 m.p.h. tape" because of the urban legend that it will stay stuck when subjected to high winds. Ouch.----------

E-mail Julie at and visit her blog at Send health news to


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Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

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