Calluses and corns

Calluses and corns are areas of hard, thick skin caused by friction rubbing or pressure.

Key points about calluses and corns

  1. Calluses usually occur on the feet or hands. Repeated rubbing or pressure on parts of the hands or feet may occur when you wear shoes that are too tight or loose, too much walking or running, or playing musical instruments such as a guitar.
  2. Corns are found on the feet, and are caused by wearing tight fitting shoes. Hard corns form on the tops of the toes and soft corns are found between the toes.
  3. In most people corn or calluses are not usually painful and do not cause too much discomfort. In such cases they are usually treated by correcting the cause such as wearing proper-fitting shoes.
  4. If you develop a painful corn or callus, or have diabetes or circulation problems, it is best to get expert advice from a person qualified to diagnose and treat foot disorders (a podiatrist).
  5. You should not trim corns or calluses yourself, especially if you are elderly or have diabetes.   

What causes calluses and corns?

Calluses and corns are caused by constant pressure or friction on an area of skin. This causes the skin to form a hard, protective surface. A soft corn develops in the same way, except that when sweat is trapped where the corn develops, the inside of the corn softens. These usually occur between the toes. Calluses and corns are not caused by a virus and are not contagious (passed from person to person).

Calluses on the hand

Calluses on the hand are caused by constant handling of an object that causes friction and puts pressure on the hand, such as playing instruments, handling tools (gardening hoe or hammer) or sports equipment (tennis racquet).

Calluses on the feet and corns

Walking barefoot or wearing shoes without socks can cause calluses. Also, calluses and corns may be caused by friction or pressure from footwear such as:  

  • Tight shoes and high heels which can compress areas of your foot. When footwear is too loose, your foot may repeatedly slide and rub against the shoe. Your foot may also rub against a seam or stitch inside the shoe. 
  • Due to sports (such as a callus on the bottom of a runner's foot), an odd way of walking, or a bone structure, such as flat feet or bone spurs (small, bony growths that form along joints).
  • Calluses and corns often form on bunions, hammer, claw, or mallet toes, or on the bumps caused by rheumatoid arthritis. 

Treatment for calluses and corns

Pumice stone or emery boards

Calluses or corns that cause mild discomfort and are not red, swollen or painful, may be rubbed down with a pumice stone or emery board. Many people can do this themselves. It is best to soak your foot in warm water for 20 minutes to soften the thick skin before using a pumice stone or emery board. Thereafter, use a moisturising cream to keep the skin soft.

Trimming (also called parring)

Trimming of a corn or callus must be done by a trained person qualified to treat foot disorders (a podiatrist). The hard, thick skin of a corn or callus is trimmed down using a scalpel blade. This reduces the pain caused by the corn or callus. Sometimes, repeated or regular trimming sessions are needed. Once a corn or callus has been pared down, wearing good-fitting footwear may prevent it from returning.  

Medicated products

Medicated creams, pads, drops or patches to treat corns and calluses can be bought from the pharmac. These usually contain a chemical called salicylic acid. Salicylic acid is a keratolytic (which means it dissolves the thick layer of dead skin). It is important to use these products as directed in the package directions; these products are gentle and safe for most people. 

These products should not be used if you have diabetes or have poor circulation. This is because your skin is less likely to heal well after using salicyclic acid and there is a risk that an ulcer may develop.

How can calluses and corns be prevented?

In some people, calluses and corns can be prevented by reducing or eliminating pressure and friction on the skin and keeping the skin soft, using simple measures such as:

  • Wearing gloves to protect your hands, such as when gardening or lifting weights.
  • Wearing shoes and socks that fit well and have a wider toe box.
  • Appling a non-medicated pad or inner-sole to protect the areas of your feet that are exposed to friction. These can be bought from your pharmacy. 
  • Soaking your hands or feet, and apply moisturizer to help keep the skin of your hands and feet soft.

The way you walk can be affected by the bones in your feet or even tight calf muscles. This may lead to foot problems such as calluses and corns. A podiatrist may be able to help you make changes that can prevent these problems.

Learn more

Calluses and corns Patient Info. UK