Callused Feet? Here's What You Need to Know

July 04, 2019

A woman curls her toes in embarrassment after taking off her high heels.
Bana Jobe

As summer and warmer days approach, lots of people are reaching for their flip-flops and sandals. You might be excited to enjoy the cooler freedom from life without socks — but what if you look down and see a not-so-nice spot of thick skin on your foot?

Calluses aren't anything to worry about — until they are. But how do you know when to see a podiatrist or doctor? These answers can help.

What Is a Callus?

Calluses on the feet are dead layers of skin that build up when your foot repeatedly rubs against something, like shoes. With that friction, the skin tends to get thicker to prevent irritation or blisters. It's kind of like learning to play guitar: At first, your fingertips may hurt as you strum the strings, but in time, the skin develops hard spots to protect them from damage.

So that means that calluses are a good thing, right? They do your skin a service by protecting it from painful sores? Well, not quite.

Why Are Calluses Harmful?

As they get worse, calluses can start to hurt — especially if you prolong the friction by wearing incorrect footwear. But if you have diabetes or have poor circulation, the problem can worsen because of nerve damage or points of high pressure in the feet. In time, calluses can turn into ulcers, which are open blisters that make it hard to wear shoes and get around.

Can I Treat a Callus at Home?

If you don't have a more serious underlying issue like diabetes or poor circulation, most calluses on the feet don't call for extensive treatment — especially not with over-the-counter medicines, which may do more harm than good. Still, experts suggest several at-home treatments that may help without the need for medication:

  • Moisturize your feet and toes with a hydrating lotion that has ammonium lactate, urea or salicylic acid.
  • Gently file off dead skin with a pumice stone moistened with warm water, but be careful not to remove too much of the callus, or it may bleed.
  • Put your feet in a tub of warm water for about 10 minutes, or until the skin gets softer.

How Will I Know When to See a Podiatrist?

If you have diabetes or poor circulation, you'll likely want to schedule an appointment with your primary care doctor or a podiatrist to get your feet looked at. But even if you don't have an underlying condition, calluses shouldn't get in the way of daily life. If they do, it's time to call the doctor, who can listen to your concerns and offer medical treatments, like a cortisone shot or shaving away dead skin with a surgical blade. Usually, these procedures don't require anesthesia for major surgery and can be done directly in the exam room on an outpatient basis.

How Can I Prevent Calluses?

The best way to prevent calluses is to take good care of your feet, from minding your footwear to practicing good foot hygiene:

  • Wear supportive, comfortable shoes.If your shoes irritate your toes and feet, they may be the wrong size or shape. For women, high heels are notoriously to blame for calluses because they direct pressure to the ball of the foot, so try to avoid them if you can — or switch up your wardrobe with flats and other comfortable shoes.
  • Try therapeutic inserts or pads. Some people may find comfort in wearing therapeutic shoes, gel inserts or pads to help redistribute pressure from the foot.
  • Trim your toenails regularly.When toenails grow too long, they can change the way the toes are positioned in the shoe, which can cause problems and lead to calluses.
  • Wear socks. Not wearing socks with closed-toe footwear such as athletic shoes can lead to increased friction and calluses.

What About Pedicures?

Pedicures can be a great way to take care of your feet, but take caution. Make sure the salon avoids the use of a foot razor to shave off the extra skin. This can lead to infection or lasting damage to the feet.

You shouldn't have to hide your feet or feel embarrassed because of calluses. Work to treat the ones you have with at-home care, and prevent against future unsightly calluses with good footwear. You'll be showing those toes off in no time!

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