You may have noticed a small, rough growth on your skin that just won’t seem to go away. If it looks like a tiny cauliflower and persists for weeks or months, it could be a wart.
Warts are benign skin growths caused by infections of the human papillomavirus (HPV). Although harmless, warts can be embarrassing and irritating. When left untreated, some strains of HPV can also lead to cancer. That’s why it’s important to remove warts as soon as you notice them. But how?
Freezing warts, known as cryotherapy, is one of the most common in-office treatments for warts. During the procedure, liquid nitrogen is applied directly to the wart to freeze and destroy the infected skin cells.
Over the next few days to weeks, the dead skin sheds off, allowing healthy new skin to replace it. The procedure is relatively quick, inexpensive, and does not require anesthesia. But is freezing effective at permanently removing warts? Let’s take a closer look.
Is cryotherapy an effective treatment?
Freezing is one of the most commonly used treatments for removing warts. During cryotherapy, liquid nitrogen is applied directly to the wart at temperatures below -320°F.
This causes a blister to form underneath the wart as the infected skin cells freeze and die. Over the next few days, the dead skin peels off, allowing healthy new skin to replace it.
Cryotherapy for warts has relatively high success rates. According to one medical review, between 60-90% of warts are permanently eradicated after one or two freezing treatments.
The effectiveness does depend partially on the type of wart being treated. Freezing seems to work best on flat facial warts and common warts on the hands and feet. For plantar warts and genital warts, reported success rates are closer to 60%.
Why is freezing so effective?
The extreme cold temperatures penetrate deep into the skin, destroying both the wart and the underlying HPV virus that causes them. This stimulates an inflammatory response that clears away the dead cells. By also killing viral particles underneath the skin’s surface, cryotherapy reduces the likelihood of recurrence after treatment.
What to Expect During Your Appointment?
Getting liquid nitrogen treatment is a quick outpatient procedure that can be performed right in your dermatologist’s office. The actual freezing process takes only a few seconds per wart. Most visits take less than 30 minutes from start to finish. Here’s a basic overview of what to expect,
➡️ Cleaning the treatment area
Your provider first inspects each wart and cleans the surface of the skin with an alcohol pad. For larger warts, they may trim off dead skin with a scalpel or nail clippers first. This allows the liquid nitrogen to penetrate deeper into the infected tissue.
➡️ Applying liquid nitrogen
Using a cotton swab, spray nozzle, or cryogen, the doctor applies liquid nitrogen directly onto the wart for 5 to 25 seconds. This may be repeated 1 to 3 times per wart. You may feel a burning or stinging sensation as the skin freezes. Some doctors numb the area with lidocaine injections beforehand to reduce discomfort.
After freezing, petroleum jelly and an adhesive bandage are applied. This protects the blisters as they form underneath the skin’s surface. You can expect moderate pain, swelling, and fluid drainage over the next 24-48 hours. Many doctors recommend taking ibuprofen or acetaminophen to manage discomfort during the healing process.
Keep the bandage on for 3 to 7 days as blisters develop and drain underneath. Try to keep the area clean and dry to prevent infection. After several days, dead wart tissue sheds off to expose fresh skin underneath. A red or raw patch may linger for several weeks as new skin regenerates to fill the space where the wart once was.
Stages of Wart Healing After Freezing
Freezing treatment initiates a blistering response that clears warts in several predictable stages:
- Stage 1: Immediate tissue injury (days 0-2)
As soon as the skin thaws, blood rushes to the frozen area, causing redness and inflammation. This stimulates your immune system to attack the damaged, infected cells. Over the next 48 hours, fluid accumulates underneath the skin, forming one or more clear blisters. There may be throbbing pain during this time as the blisters grow and put pressure on nerve endings.
- Stage 2: Draining blister stage (days 3-6)
On days 3 to 6, the blister roof ruptures and drains fluid. A brown or black scab forms over the raw skin underneath. You may feel increased tenderness when the blister drains. Applying antibacterial ointment and bandaging the area helps prevent infection during this vulnerable healing stage.
- Stage 3: Eschar formation (days 7-13)
During this time, the scab naturally shrinks and hardens into an eschar (pronounced “ESS-car”). The eschar is composed of dried plasma proteins and acts as a protective cover while new skin regenerates underneath. As the eschar sloughs away, pink or red healthy skin is revealed.
- Stage 4: Healing and regeneration (days 14+)
In the final healing stage, the protective scab separates and falls off, exposing fresh skin where the wart once was. Healing continues for several weeks as inflammation subsides and the skin’s strength returns.
The area may itch and remain reddish as the regeneration process completes. Though rare, some people develop a secondary infection or abscess during recovery. See your doctor if you have signs of infection such as persistent pain, swelling, oozing, or foul odor.
Tips for Improving Results with Cryotherapy
To boost your chances of success with wart removal through freezing, keep these tips in mind:
- Repeat as needed: Most people need 2 or 3 treatments spaced 3 to 4 weeks apart to fully clear warts. Allow the skin to completely heal between sessions to achieve the best results.
- Supplement with salicylic acid: Using over-the-counter wart removal products containing salicylic acid in between freezing sessions helps soften dense wart tissue so liquid nitrogen can penetrate deeper.
- Don’t pick at scabs: Though tempting, picking at scabs prevents proper healing and increases the risk of recurrence and scarring.
- Monitor for recurrence: Even with successful initial removal, warts can sometimes grow back. Check the treated area regularly so you can retreat any warts that reappear right away.
- Treat all warts simultaneously: Since HPV thrives in moist areas like the hands and feet, treating all existing warts at once prevents further spread or reinfection of other sites.
Is Freezing Right for You?
Now that you know the basics of how cryotherapy works and what to expect, is freezing the best option for removing your warts? Here are some things to consider:
- Highly effective for most common warts
- Low cost per treatment
- Convenient in-office procedure
- Low pain with numbing
- Rarely leaves scars
- Can be painful without anesthesia
- Causes blisters and drainage
- Risk of depigmentation (light spots)
- Not as effective for plantar and genital warts
- Small risk of recurrence
Talk to your dermatologist about whether freezing or an alternative treatment method is best for the type, size, location, and number of warts you wish to remove.
With high success rates and convenience as outpatient procedures, cryotherapy remains one of the most utilized and cost-efficient options for permanent wart destruction. After just a few short sessions, you can once again enjoy smooth skin free of those annoying benign growths.
As you have learned, freezing or cryotherapy is considered an effective first-line treatment option for removing many common wart types.
By penetrating deep into the skin and freezing wart tissue, dermatologists can destroy HPV particles and stimulate the body’s immune response to naturally clear away dead cells. This disrupts the skin cell replication process needed for warts to persist.
Though mild scabbing and drainage occur during healing, freezing therapy is minimally invasive and rarely causes scarring when properly performed.
The procedure is also inexpensive and completed right in your dermatologist’s office in less than 30 minutes. With a 60 to 90% success rate after one or two sessions, cryotherapy remains one of the most proven and convenient methods for wart destruction.
Ready to banish those pesky growths from your skin for good? With proven success rates, minimal downtime, and affordability on your side, freezing unwanted warts away is a cooling option worth considering. What do you have to lose besides your warts?
- Buckley, D. (2000, July-August). Cryosurgery treatment of plantar warts [Abstract]. Irish Medical Journal, 93(5), 140-135.Retrieved from
- Focht, D. R.,III, Spicer, C., & Fairchok, M. P. (2002, October). The efficacy of ducttape vs cryotherapy in the treatment of verruca vulgaris (the common wart). Archives of Pediatrics and AdolescentMedicine Journal, 156(10), 971-974