Calluses & hard skin

We ask a lot of our feet, which means they often show signs of daily wear and tear.

Something as simple as walking more than usual or buying new shoes can put extra strain on them. When an area of skin is subject to this increased pressure or friction, it can thicken to form a stronger barrier against injury. 

While this hardened skin may feel uncomfortable, it's the body's attempt to offer specific and targeted protection. However, if a callus becomes too thick and causes pain or discomfort, it may be time to treat it and think about what's causing it to develop.


What are calluses & corns?

Hard skin develops when the skin forms extra layers, creating a thicker area of skin that hardens from the outside. There are a number of types of hard skin, but the most common are calluses and corns.

Corns

A corn is a small area of hard skin, often with a centre of dead skin. There are both hard and soft corns. Soft corns usually develop between toes and become soft with sweat. 

Hard corns are commonly found on toes and the soles of the feet. Pressing on them often causes discomfort so they can make walking difficult and painful.

Calluses

Calluses are often larger than corns and are less well-defined, with thick skin fading into normal skin. They are usually painless, but can become painful. Calluses are often found on bony parts of the foot that support weight or experience friction, which is why they are quite common on the soles of feet and under toes.  


What do calluses & corns look like?

Corns are often yellow with a thick white centre. They feel rough and may even form a 'horn' of thick dead skin. 

Calluses usually feel smoother. Skin lines continue across normal and thickened skin uninterrupted. Calluses vary in colour and can look grey or yellow or brown. They may feel less sensitive to touch than normal skin.


What causes hard skin?

Hard skin protects against injury from pressure or friction. It often develops for the following reasons:

• Badly fitting shoes. Shoes that fit too tightly can cause pressure, while shoes that are too large may allow the foot to slide and rub, causing corns. Shop for shoes in the afternoon when your feet are slightly swollen to make sure you'll get a good fit throughout the day

• Certain shoe designs. High-heeled shoes or flip flops can cause corns in particular areas

• Activities that involve repeated pressure in a particular area of the foot, such as running or dancing, may cause calluses

• Repeated use of an area of skin. Gardening, lifting weights or playing tennis can cause calluses on the palms

• Bone deformities like bunions and hammer toes can increase your likelihood of developing corns


Why should I treat a corn or a callus?

You may not be experiencing any distressing symptoms from your corn or callus, so you may wonder whether you need treatment. In fact, it may be worth leaving small painless calluses alone if they don't bother you. 

However, corns and calluses are usually treated when they become painful. Many people also seek treatment if they consider their hard skin to be unsightly. 

If you have diabetes, heart disease or circulation problems, you should always seek advice from your GP or a podiatrist or chiropodist on the treatment of your corn or callus.

People with compromised immune systems or certain long-term conditions are at increased risk of developing complications from corns or calluses. These lesions can sometimes become infected, requiring antibiotics to prevent the infection from spreading. Untreated calluses can also develop wounds that take a long time to heal.


How should I treat hard skin?

There are plenty of treatments available, but these simple measures may also help you:

• Consider what could be the cause of the callus. You will need to eliminate the cause, if possible. Check the fit of your shoes and wear protective gloves for repetitive tasks

• Wash your feet daily and dry them well

• Use a pumice stone to rub away thick skin. Wash the stone carefully and leave it to dry before using it again. Store it carefully to make sure it doesn't harbour any bacteria

Don't try to cut away a corn or a callus as you could injure yourself seriously or cause an infection. Instead, speak to your pharmacist who will be able to recommend a suitable over-the-counter treatment, such as:

• Hydrating moisturiser creams that soften hard skin

• Protective cushioning pads that may be applied over a corn or callus

• Small foam wedges that fit between toes

• Customised  insoles or heel pads for your shoes

• Corn removal plasters that contain salicylic acid which eats away dead thickened skin. Apply these after washing and drying the area well. However, these plasters should not be used on broken or inflamed skin, or if you have a poor circulation or diabetes – if you're unsure, your pharmacist will be able to advise you if this is a suitable option for you


When should I see a GP or podiatrist?

If you find that your hard skin is not improving in spite of treatment, visit your GP. They may be able to safely remove your corns and calluses, or refer you to a specialist for treatment. If they remove your corns or calluses, you shouldn't find the procedure painful.

If you have diabetes or poor circulation, make sure you have regular visits to your GP or podiatrist for check-ups, and seek early appointments if you notice a corn or callus developing. 

Make an appointment with your GP if you notice that you spreading redness around a corn or callus. If you also have symptoms like fever or increased pain, you may be suffering from a skin infection, which requires treatment – your GP can advise you.


What are the next steps?

• Consider possible causes for your hard skin and eliminate them where possible. Wear shoes that fit well and use protective gloves for repetitive work

• Speak to your pharmacist about over-the-counter treatments including moisturising creams, pumice stones, cushioning pads and salicylic acid plasters

• Visit your podiatrist if you are unable to treat a corn or callus. Never try cutting off hard skin yourself