But is this really the most effective way to cure them?
Anecdotally, people have sworn by it, so much so that scientists have taken note and decided to study the phenomenon themselves. In fact, back in 2002, research published in JAMA Pediatrics found that duct tape was significantly more effective at treating the of verruca vulgaris, or common warts, than cyrotherapy was.
In that study, 51 young subjects were given either cryotherapy—in which liquid nitrogen is applied directly to the wart to freeze it off—or duct tape application for two months. When the warts were measured after that time, 85 percent of the duct-tape group had complete resolution of their warts, versus 60 percent of the cryotherapy patients.
So, low-cost wart cure for the win? It’s a little early in the game to declare duct tape the clearcut winner, says Adam Friedman, M.D., an associate professor of dermatology at George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences. There’s still not a whole lot of conclusive research out there on the topic.
“The jury is still out as to whether or not this works,” he notes, pointing to a well-controlled 2007 study that found no difference in treatment with duct tape and with moleskin, which was used as a control. Other studies have shown some improvement, but not in a statistically significant way, he adds.
But, that said, don’t put away your roll quite yet, MacGyver.
All of these studies are looking at duct tape as the lone wart therapy, Dr. Friedman says. That might be the issue, since there could be a role for the fix-it staple in combination with in-office procedures or other at-home treatment, he says.
That’s because duct tape does have a helpful mechanism for wart relief.
Think of how you’re using it. When you tape the wart, the adhesive around the lesion causes enough irritation on your skin to trigger an immune reaction in the area, Dr. Friedman says. That speeds healing, more than simply leaving it alone and hoping it shrinks.
Here’s how to use it: Apply the duct tape to the wart daily for five days. Then take two days off, and repeat until you notice considerable reduction or even resolution of the issue.
You could also pair this with an over-the-counter treatment, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. They suggest products that contain salicylic acid (for instance, Compound W Fast Acting Wart Removal Gel) or a freeze spray (like Compound W Freeze Off Wart Remover), both available at drugstores. You can spritz those on first and then apply duct tape, or do duct tape alone.
If your wart is in a more delicate area, like your face, back of hands or feet, or genitals, then skip the tape treatment. Your skin is thinner in these places, and you’d likely do more harm than good because it could cause irritation or even tear the skin.
Or you can just visit a dermatologist, Dr. Friedman says. There are plenty of wart-killing options available, including cryotherapy, candida injections, and bleomycin shots. Dermatologists also use immune stimulants like imiquimod or 5-fluorouracil. That helps your body fight off the wart.
Whatever route you take, be diligent. With medical treatments, make sure you complete the number of rounds your doctor suggests, even if the wart issue seems resolved. If you’re doing the over-the-counter and duct-tape strategy, keep it going until the problem is totally gone.
“If you leave just one infected cell behind, the wart will recur, or create a new wart in the same vicinity,” he notes. “The key message is to hit them hard and frequently.” (Warts are just one of the gross skin infections you can pick up at the gym).