A callus, also known as callosity, is a toughened skin area that has become thick and hard due to repeated friction, pressure, or other irritation. Your body triggers the development of extra layers of skin on the friction site to protect your skin from getting ruptured or exposed to irritants.
As such, calluses tend to develop on areas of the body that are prone to constant or repeated friction. Some of the common problem sites are the feet, especially on the bottoms of the feet and the underside of the big toe where the bony parts of your feet rub against your shoes. It is also common on the palms of a mechanic or a guitar player’s fingertips.
Unlike corns, calluses do not usually hurt when pressed. Also, calluses vary in size and shape but are usually bigger in size than corns.
According to the American Family Physician, there are two basic types of calluses: diffuse shearing and discrete nucleated.
Causes of Calluses
- Calluses on the feet are typically due to dry skin or too much friction on one area, such as the repeated rubbing caused by ill-fitting shoes. High-heeled shoes are the worst offenders. Even wearing shoes or sandals without socks can cause calluses.
- Playing instruments or using hand tools are typical causes behind the formation of calluses on the palms or fingertips.
- There are certain factors that may increase your risk of calluses: bunions, hammertoe, and other foot deformities like a bone spur can cause constant rubbing inside your shoe.
- Also, people who have diabetes and other health problems that cause poor blood flow to the feet are at a higher risk of developing calluses.
Signs and Symptoms of Calluses
- In addition to thick and hardened skin, calluses may have flaky and dry yellow skin patches. They are usually not painful but feel bumpy and less sensitive to touch than the surrounding skin.
- Nevertheless, a callus can cause discomfort when any type of pressure is applied to it, such as while walking. It may also throb or burn sometimes.
- While this problem is generally not serious, if not treated it can lead to other issues like skin ulceration or infection and can cause tenderness, pain, and swelling.
Simple Ways to Deal with Calluses at Home
Here are some home remedies for calluses on the feet.
1. Choose Proper Footwear
When it comes to treatment of calluses, eliminating the source of friction or pressure is a must. This is especially true for calluses on the feet that often result from wearing ill-fitting and high-heeled shoes.
You must try to look for low-heeled shoes with a soft upper portion and enough wiggle room for your toes. Make sure that the shoes are neither too roomy nor too constricted. It is imperative that your footwear choice ticks all the boxes; don’t just mindlessly buy the first pair that looks pretty.
In order to size up and gauge shoes properly, it’s best to go shoe shopping in the afternoon. The reasoning behind this is that your feet may have a little swelling from walking around all day and this will help you fit into the size that suits you best. Before making a final decision, try both shoes on and walk around a bit to see whether they’re comfortable or not.
Keep 3–4 pair of shoes to prevent your feet from getting aggravated in the same place continuously. Another pro-tip is to always wear well-fitting cotton socks along with shoes for added protection.
2. Comfort Your Feet with a Little Padding
Many dermatologists recommend using some kind of padding to provide extra cushioning to callus-ridden feet. Padding helps protect calluses from further irritation during activity, which in turn aids in the healing process.
A 2015 study published in the Journal of Vascular Nursing extends support to the use of crest pads in patients with lesser-toe deformities like corns or calluses.
Metatarsal pads are recommended for calluses caused by weight-bearing stresses. These pads are easily available on the market. You need to cut each pad into two half-moon-shaped pieces and place them around the callus.
3. Try a Warm Water Soak
One of the easiest ways to treat a foot callus is to soak the affected area in warm water. This healing technique is highly recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology.
Soaking in warm water helps soften the area, making it easier to scrub the hard skin away without inflicting wounds, thus avoiding the risk of infection.
- Put some warm water in a tub.
- If you want, you can add a little Epsom salt to the water.
- Soak your feet in this solution for 10 minutes.
- Use a soft brush to rub the affected area in a circular motion for a few minutes.
- Wash your feet with clean water to remove the dead skin cells.
- Pat dry and rub a thick foot lotion on your feet.
- Repeat this remedy as needed until the callus heals completely.
4. Scrub Your Feet with a Pumice Stone
Another simple yet effective home treatment recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology is to file the thick skin on your feet due to the formation of calluses with a pumice stone.
The coarse nature of the pumice stone is very useful for sloughing away dead skin and keeping your feet free from calluses and corns.
- First, soak your feet in warm water for 10 minutes and dip the pumice stone in the water.
- Remove your feet from the water and use the stone to gently file the callus in circular or sideways motions.
- Finally, wash your feet with clean water, pat dry, and apply a thick layer of cream.
- Do this 2–3 times a week.
5. Apply Aspirin
Aspirin can help soften the hardened skin around a callus. This is mainly due to the presence of salicylic acid in it, which helps scrub away dead skin cells.
- Crush five or six aspirin tablets into powder form.
- Add ½ teaspoon of lemon juice and ¼ teaspoon of water to the powder and mix these well.
- Apply this paste to the affected area and cover the area with a plastic bag.
- Wrap the area with a warm towel for 10 minutes.
- Remove the coverings and wash off the area with warm water.
- Scrape off the dead skin cells with a pumice stone.
- Repeat once daily for a few days.
6. Moisturize Your Feet with Castor Oil
Natural oils like castor oil are also good remedies for different types of foot problems, including calluses. Castor oil is a viscous and thick lubricant that helps moisturize dry, rough skin, which makes it effective in softening calluses.
Moreover, castor oil helps stimulate blood circulation around the problem area. Because problems related to blood or lymphatic circulation put you at high risk of developing calluses, this beneficial property can prove especially helpful in managing this condition.
- Soak your feet in warm water for 10 minutes and then scrub the area with a pumice stone. Cover the affected area with a cotton ball soaked in castor oil. Secure the cotton ball with a small piece of tape. Continue this daily until the callus disappears.
- Mix equal parts of castor oil and apple cider vinegar in a large bowl or foot tub. Heat the mixture until it is comfortably warm. Soak your feet in the warm mixture for at least 10 minutes. Rinse with warm water and then get rid of the dead skin using a pumice stone. Do this once daily for three or four days.
7. Exfoliate Using Apple Cider Vinegar
You can also use apple cider vinegar to treat a callus. Rich in malic acid, apple cider vinegar aids in the exfoliation of dead skin cells and speeds up the healing process. It also has astringent and antibacterial properties that reduce the risk of infection.
- Soak a cotton ball in apple cider vinegar and tape it to your callus before going to bed.
- Leave it on overnight.
- The next morning, exfoliate the affected area with a pumice stone.
- To keep the area moisturized, apply some olive oil or coconut oil.
- Repeat once daily until your callus is gone.
8. Baking Soda is a Good Exfoliant
Baking soda has natural abrasive properties. Hence, it is a very good remedy for calluses. The minute crystals in baking soda help exfoliate the hardened skin.
- Add 3 tablespoons of baking soda to a tub filled with warm water. Stir thoroughly and soak your feet in it for at least 10 minutes. Wash your feet and scrub the softened skin with a pumice stone. Do this once daily.
- In a bowl, put 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and 2 teaspoons of olive oil and mix properly. Then, add 1 tablespoon of baking soda and mix again. Soak a cotton ball in the paste and apply it on the affected skin. Repeat once daily until the callus disappears.
- Moisturize your feet regularly to keep them soft and callus-free.
- File your toenails regularly to avoid undue irritation.
- If your shoes suddenly feel constrictive such that your feet don’t have space to breathe, take them to a shoe shop in order to get them stretched.
- Never try to remove calluses by cutting or slicing them as it increases the risk of infection.
- Sprinkle a small amount of cornstarch on the inside soles of your shoes. This will help keep your feet dry and free from infections.
- Applying lemon juice on the affected area a few times a day can also help.
- You can also cover the callus with a banana peel overnight.
- Apply moisturizing lotion or cream to the area daily to gradually soften hard corns and calluses.
- You can even use callus caps available at your local drugstore. Callus caps contain salicylic acid that removes dead skin cells.
- If you have diabetes or any circulatory problems, consult your doctor for proper foot care.
When to See a Doctor
In most cases, calluses do not pose any harm. However, if you observe a pus-like discharge from the affected area or signs of color change and bleeding, you should seek medical attention.
Also, if you have diabetes and develop calluses, it is well advised to bring your condition to your doctor’s attention. According to the American Podiatric Medical Association, a simple case of calluses can escalate into a more serious foot problem in people suffering from diabetes or decreased circulation.
Most of the time, calluses don’t indicate a medical problem and there is no need to seek emergency care. You can easily treat the problem at home with some simple remedies and some lifestyle changes.
See a physician, however, if your calluses do not respond to these home remedies and tips or if your skin is painful or inflamed.
Expert Answers (Q&A)
Answered by Dr. Sonia Badreshia-Bansal, MD (Dermatologist)
Do calluses go away eventually?
Most will gradually disappear when the friction or pressure stops, (hands or feet) although your doctor may shave the top of a callus to reduce the thickness.
Does removing a foot callus worsen them?
If people try removing their own calluses, there is potential for harm and making the condition worse. In such cases, it is very easy to take off enough skin to draw blood mistakenly, and hence, the feet may feel more tender after removing the calluses. Treating them properly by a medical professional is important; the condition will improve as long as there is no friction.
Can calluses grow back?
Calluses can recur and grow back if there is an introduction of continued friction with ill-fitting shoes or activities.
What is the major difference between corn and calluses?
Corn is a build-up of hard skin near a bony area of a toe or between toes. A callus is a build-up of hard skin, usually on the underside of the foot.
Can calluses cause numbness in the area?
Calluses can cause pain, pinched nerves, and numbness.
Why are people with diabetes more prone to getting calluses?
In people dealing with diabetes, calluses occur more often and build up faster on the feet. This is because people with diabetes are prone to neuropathy, a condition characterized by numbness or a tingling sensation due to nerve damage. Plus, diabetes can lead to reduced blood flow to the feet. Both these factors affect your ability to feel high-pressure areas under the foot, thus masking the pain or discomfort that any calluses may be causing.
Plus, calluses, if not trimmed, get very thick, break down, and turn into ulcers (open sores) which can hide under the thick skin and masked by their numbness from neuropathy.
Please provide some tips or inputs on calluses to our readers.
- Prevention means to avoid wearing tight and ill-fitting shoes. Wear properly fitting shoes daily.
- Recurrences may require therapeutic shoes and inserts.
- Use padding in shoes to protect any existing corn or callus from further friction.
- Never try to cut calluses or corns yourself – this can lead to bleeding, pain, ulcers, and infections.
- Home care- you can soak your feet in soapy water for 10 minutes, and then gently smoothen the skin with a pumice stone by rubbing it in circular motions. Look for moisturizing lotions with salicylic acid, ammonium lactate, or urea. These ingredients will help gradually soften hard corns and calluses.
- See a dermatologist or podiatrist who can help treat the problem.
About Dr. Sonia Badreshia-Bansal, MD: She serves as the CEO, co-founder, and medical director of Elite MD. Dr. Badreshia-Bansal is a board-certified dermatologist trained at the prestigious Penn State, College of Medicine and the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, where she served as Chief Resident.
Dr. Badreshia-Bansal is an expert in anti-aging skin treatments, Botox, cosmetic fillers, skin care, and laser treatments, as well as acne, rosacea, and ethnic skin. Author to over a dozen medical publications, she is also a co-editor to a medical textbook on ethnic skin, and a speaker at national and international academic conferences.
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