Calluses and Corns
n every pharmacy you’ll find a section devoted to tender care of corns and
calluses. This is a good aisle in which to start your search for relief. But the quest
for treatment ingredients can take you much farther afield. If your feet are afflicted,
you’ll need the right oil to soften hard skin, customized patches for all-day
protection, along with the socks, shoes, and insoles that protect you from pain. For
hands, the right gloves count for a lot. Here’s how to make corns and calluses take
When your body tries to defend itself from injury, it sometimes creates strange
armor. The outermost layer of skin piles up a thick fortress of dead cells
whenever it’s rubbed too much or too often. That’s what happens when an illfitting
shoe keeps rubbing the same toe, or a metal-handled rake puts friction
on the inside of your thumb. The epidermis gradually builds up a callus. That, in
turn, can evolve into a corn, which is simply a callus with a hard core. Calluses
on the hands and feet can be painless and protective. But if a callus or corn
presses on a bone or nerve underneath your three layers of skin, it can be as
painful as a pebble between your toes.
Wield a Stone and Board
- If a callus is causing you pain or aggravation, you need to scrape away some
of those dead cells so the callus won’t put so much pressure on your nerves.
Immediately after a warm shower or bath, when your skin is wet and softened, rub a pumice stone on the callus to remove dead cells. A pumice stone, available
at pharmacies, is simply a rough piece of volcanic mineral. Don’t try to grind the
whole callus away in one sitting, as you’ll rub your skin raw. Instead, sand it
down a little every day, and be patient. If the callus is very thick or hard, the
sanding project might take a few weeks.
- For what are called “soft corns,” use an emery board. Soft corns occur
between your toes. They arise when the bones in adjacent toes rub until the skin
thickens. A pumice stone won’t fit in that tight space between toes. Instead,
purchase the same kind of emery board that’s designed to pare down fingernails
and file away a little bit after every bath.
Soften Up the Opposition
- Instead of filing corns and calluses, you can soak and moisturize them until
they grow soft. For corns on your toes, use castor oil as a softener with a corn
pad as protector. To protect the corn, you want nonmedicated, doughnut-shaped
pads, sold at pharmacies. Place one of these pads around the corn, dab a few drops
of castor oil onto the corn with a cotton swab, then put adhesive tape over the
top of the pad to hold it in place. The little padded doughnut encircles the corn
and shields it from pressure while also holding in the moisturizing castor oil.
(Since the castor oil can leak out through the bandage, causing stains, wear some
old socks when you’re using this treatment.)
- Another good way to soften calluses and corns is to soak them in water
containing Epsom salt. Follow the directions on the package.
Should I call the doctor?
For anyone with diabetes, calluses and corns on the feet are particularly
hazardous. Poor circulation puts you at high risk of foot infections, and it’s
dangerous to attempt self-treatment with nonsterile instruments that could
introduce bacteria. So if you have diabetes, be sure to call your doctor
whenever you have a callus or corn that needs attention. Others can probably
try home treatments first, with the proviso that you need to get in touch with
your doctor at once if the corn or callus becomes inflamed-looking. That’s a
sure sign of infection.
Stalk the Corn with Acid
- Look for medicated corn-removing patches that contain salicylic acid.
Apply the patch after you’ve taken a shower. You might be able to leave on the
patch until you shower again. But be sure to examine the area around the corn
when you change the pad. The salicylic acid can cause sores on normal skin, and
these can become infected.
- Another source of salicylic acid is plain old aspirin. To create your own
corn-softening compound, crush five aspirin until they turn into a fine powder.
Mix the powder thoroughly with one-half teaspoon of lemon juice and one-half
teaspoon water. Dab the paste onto the thickened skin, circle it with a piece of
plastic wrap, then cover the plastic with a heated towel. Remove everything after
10 minutes and gently scrub away the loosened skin with a pumice stone.
Create Some Non-Friction
- To help protect a callus or corn on your foot from pressure, custom-design a
protective “doughnut” using a piece of adhesive moleskin. Cut a circle larger
than your callus or corn, fold it in half, and cut a half-circle in the center. When
you open it up, you’ll have a padded ring. Apply it over your corn or callus.
- If you have a soft corn between two toes, stick a foam toe separator
between them to keep them from rubbing each other. Look for these in the footcare
section at the pharmacy.
- Try socks that have very thick, cushioned soles. They could keep your
calluses from getting worse.
- Sometimes, adding an over-the-counter insole to your shoes—such as a Dr.
Scholl’s product—can decrease the pressure on the area with the callus, and help
to resolve it more quickly.
The Power of Prevention
- Apply a lotion containing urea to rough spots before they turn into troublesome calluses. Carmol is one brand. Start with a small amount, as ureabased lotions can sting.
- Another way to prevent skin from toughening up is by soaking your feet in a
tub of warm water once a week. Afterward, apply a moisturizing lotion such as
- Choose shoes that fit well. You should have a thumb’s width of distance
between your longest toe and the end of the shoe. Shoes should be wide enough
so that your toes and the balls of your feet aren’t cramped from side to side. If
shoes are too roomy, your feet slide around and rub against the sides
- Since feet naturally swell during the day, shop for shoes late in the
afternoon when your feet are plumpest. If you shop in the early morning, you
might get stuck with a pair of shoes that are too small.
- For women, it’s advisable to save the high heels for special occasions.
Even for the grand soiree, however, you should choose high heels that have a lot
of cushioning in the front to reduce pressure on your toes.
- Don’t play tennis in your running shoes. For each sport, select the
appropriate type of shoe. A lot of research and engineering has gone into the
development of shoes that are perfect for particular foot motions
- To prevent calluses on your hands, wear thickly cushioned gloves when
you’re doing work such as raking, painting, or pruning.
Some people may advise you to trim corns and calluses yourself, using a razor
blade, scissors, or tweezers. Don’t believe it! No matter how awesome your
surgical skills, you have better things to do than practice on your own flesh.
There’s real danger of infection from mishandling sharp instruments.