I was born and raised in Kentucky, which means among other things that my first reaction when I noticed a small wart on the back of my hand waaay back in December was to pull out my pocketknife and cut the thing off. I then poured rubbing alcohol in the bloody little hole and put a band-aid on it. When it grew back about four days later I did the same thing, and then did it again a few days after that. On went this cycle for several weeks until I gave up on hacking at the thing and decided to actually try, you know, a real treatment.
A friend of mine had a simple solution: Go to the doctor and have it removed. Thing is, I don’t really like going to the doctor. It’s not that I’ve got some sort of weird vendetta against “Big Medicine” or anything, it’s just that I hate to blow a personal day waiting around until noon for my eleven o’clock appointment. No sir, I was going to get rid of this thing myself. It was with this in mind that I drove to the nearest Rite-Aid and bought a “Freeze Away” kit.
Alas, it didn’t freeze anything away but about $20 out of my wallet. Despite dire warnings that over-application of the product would cause the user to freeze solid and shatter like the T-1000, the home freezing kit did little more than mildly irritate the wart, turning it white for a few minutes and sometimes causing the very top layer to drop off after a few days. I fooled around with the Freeze Away until mid-March, at which point I decide to take a more direct approach: acid.
The active ingredient of liquid wart remover is salicylic acid. It’s the same stuff that they put in acne pads, but in a much higher concentration. (Something like 16% in wart remover compared to around 2% in acne pads.) I dropped $8 on a bottle of the stuff and began using it. It was effective in the sense that it kind of stung and would occasionally cause bits of the wart to peel and fall off before immediately growing back. It also irritated the hell out of the nearby skin on my hand. As I am unfortunately wont to do, I bolstered my acid treatments with an embarrassing amount of picking and gouging at the thing. Twice I managed to gouge/burn pretty significant divots into my hand, but damned if the wart didn’t regenerate before the skin around it did. If the rest of my body had been as tough as the wart I could’ve been a superhero.
I eventually gave up on the liquid treatment and bought a package of “wart remover pads”. Hell, I thought, if the liquid is 16% acid and the pads are 40% acid then surely the pads will work. Not so. In fact, the pads did little but make my rapidly growing friend kind of spongy and white. (To their credit they really are waterproof at least.)
It was at this point that I started looking online for wart treatments. Stupid, I know, but honestly a certain sense of desperation had set in – I had what looked like a half-formed chicken head growing out of the back of my hand and it seemed to be completely outside of my power to get rid of it. You wouldn’t believe all the silly wart remedies floating around on in the internet. Somewhere in between “let a dog lick it off” and “put a slice of garlic on it” (or maybe it was halfway between “rub a potato on it, then bury the potato” and “have someone buy it from you for a penny”) I realized I was being daft and called my doctor.
It stung for two days then fell off. Now I’ve got a shiny pink scar the size of quarter on my hand, but no wart. I could’ve been done with this whole thing before it even started.
So what’s the point of this story, other than that I’m pretty hardheaded sometimes? Well, what it comes down to is that I can now better understand the reasons people buy into folk cures and alternative medicine. That’s not to say that acupuncture and crystal therapy actually work (any more so than rubbing a wart with a tuber), but the allure of them is very real. Imagine having an actual dangerous disease and not being able to shake it. None of the real treatments you’ve tried seemed to have helped, so why not let some weirdo jab needles into your chakras or perform psychic surgery? What have you got to lose?
It’s that sense of I’ll-try-anything desperation that charlatans prey upon. There are few things more frightening and frustrating than poor health and I can only imagine the level of anxiety felt by victims of chronic or incurable diseases. Couple that with our society’s endemic distrust of the medical establishment and you have a recipe for disaster for everyone but the ne’er-do-wells and blackguards who make their living peddling snake oil. That's why it's so important to support organizations like QuackWatch - By the time someone is a position to consider undergoing alternative treatment for a serious disease, they're likely to be past the point of being able to evaluate that treatment objectively. Skeptical organizations dedicated to combating quackery and chicanery serve as the first line of defense for these desperate folks.