If you spot a brown spot on your face that was never there before, you might dismiss it as a new mole or pigmentation. But don’t be too quick to dismiss it: it could actually be a wart. But what exactly is a wart and how can you tell the difference between a wart and a mole? We ask Thomson Skin Specialist Centre’s Dr Tan Hiok Hee, a dermatologist with expertise in various aspects of medical and cosmetic dermatology, for answers.

First things first: what are warts? Warts are formed due to a Human Papillomavirus (HPV) infection. “Sometimes, the term ‘Seborrhoeic wart’ is used to refer to a non-infectious type of skin growth that is not caused by HPV, which can clinically resemble a wart but is not,” Dr Tan says.

Seborrhoeic warts are benign growths on the skin due to cell build-up. It can resemble a mole.

Are warts the same as moles?

No, they’re not. “A viral wart is usually something that has been present over a relatively shorter amount of time. It tends to have a rough surface, and may have finger-like or filiform projections arising from its surface. A mole is usually pigmented, and can have a smooth dome-shaped appearance or be flat.”


While both viral and common warts are not life-threatening, they might increase in size, which is why Dr Tan suggests having them treated early. Warts can be removed through various methods, including cryotherapy, which involves freezing the warts, laser surgery, or electrocautery, which in the warts are burnt off. They can also be removed surgically or with topical medications.

“Some warts can be treated with topical medications. Common warts are sometimes treated with a salicylic acid preparation. Genital warts can be treated with imiquimod cream, which enhances the body’s natural immunity to fight the virus.”


Does this mean they’ll never come back?

It is possible [for another wart to grow in the same place after removal] because infection with HPV may not be visible to the naked eye. However, it’s possible to minimise reoccurrence. Dr Tan says, “Ensure that the wart is properly treated until it is clear. For common warts, such as those that occur on the feet, reduce the risk of acquiring warts by wearing slippers in areas such as public swimming pools or the gym. Practising safe sex can reduce the risk of genital warts, and there are also vaccines that can be taken to prevent acquisition of certain sexually transmitted warts. Stopping smoking can also reduce risk of recurrence of warts.”