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Foot Calluses: How to Remove Them?

Foot Calluses: How to Remove Them?

Wearing overly tight shoes, standing for extended periods, long walks... these are all factors that contribute to the development of calluses. These skin growths can be painful and particularly unpleasant when they are located on the feet, affecting daily activities. How can they be removed? The answer is provided in this article.

Published February 16, 2024, by Manon, Scientific Editor — 5 min read

What are calluses?

Whether it's a long hike, prolonged standing, or wearing unsuitable shoes on a daily basis, there are many reasons that can lead to an unsightly and sometimes painful thickening of the skin on the feet. This is referred to as calluses also known as corns. They primarily appear on the sides or soles of the feet, as well as on the heels and sometimes even the toes.

A characteristic of calluses, this hardened skin is a natural defence mechanism of the stratum corneum. Indeed, it gradually thickens to protect the feet from friction, pressure and other repeated aggressions. When these frictions are less recurrent, they cause simple blisters or small open wounds.

Leading to a yellowish discolouration of the skin, or even redness if irritation and itching are felt, calluses can be painful. Their emergence is often accompanied by a diffuse burning sensation and can cause sharp to acute pain. Moreover, if they are truly thick, they can flatten under the weight of the body, thus making walking uncomfortable.

How do they appear?

As previously discussed, calluses form on areas of the foot subjected to regular hyperpressure. This can stem from shoes, daily or sporting activities, or potentially a unique characteristic, such as a deformity as this can lead to changes in the distribution of weight and pressures on the feet.

To protect the outer layer of the skin, skin cells known as keratinocytes produce an excess of keratin. This phenomenon is referred to as plantar hyperkeratosis and is the cause of these skin outgrowths. The stressed parts of the foot thicken in order to better withstand aggressions.

How to remove calluses?

There are various remedies available for removing calluses:

  • Gentle exfoliation.

    Firstly, immerse your feet in warm water for 10 to 15 minutes to soften the skin. Magnesium sulphate, also known as Epsom salt, can be added to the water. This salt, rich in magnesium, is widely used because it has the ability to promote osmosis, a process by which water is drawn out of the skin cells to balance the salt concentration. This can help to soften the upper layer of the skin, including calluses.

    After a foot bath, use a pumice stone, a file, or a foot brush to gently remove dead skin and calluses by making soft, circular movements. Do not press too hard to avoid damaging the skin. Finish by applying a moisturising cream to maintain the skin's suppleness.

  • Use topical treatments containing keratolytic agents.

    Keratolytic agents help to remove dead cells present on the skin's surface and gently exfoliate the skin, thereby reducing calluses. For instance, you might consider treatments based onsalicylic acid which promotes the skin's natural exfoliation process, allowing calluses and thickened skin to shed more easily. Salicylic acid also has anti-inflammatory properties that can reduce the irritation and discomfort associated with calluses.

    This feature was confirmed by a study which demonstrated that the application of a solution containing 1% cantharidin and 30% salicylic acid activated the enzyme serine protease, enabling the breakdown of connections between cells (desmosomes), thus promoting exfoliation.

  • Consult a podiatrist.

    If the calluses are thick, painful, or do not improve with home treatments, it is advisable to consult a podiatrist. They can perform a more precise sanding of the calluses.

How to prevent the onset of calluses?

The prevention of calluses involves daily actions aimed at reducing friction, excessive pressure, and skin dryness.

  • Avoid wearing overly tight shoes.

    The daily wearing of narrow shoes exposes the feet to regular friction, promoting the development of calluses. Instead, choose well-fitted, comfortable shoes that are suitable for the activity you are undertaking.

  • Regularly hydrate your skin.

    Dry skin exhibits heightened sensitivity and is more likely to form skin outgrowths in response to pressures exerted during walking or friction caused by wearing narrow shoes. Therefore, it is important to regularly hydrate the feet to prevent the formation of calluses.

  • Use of orthopaedic insoles.

    Specially designed insoles can help redistribute weight and reduce pressure on certain areas of the foot, thereby preventing the occurrence of hyperkeratosis, which is the cause of calluses.

  • Avoid excessive activities.

    If you engage in activities that result in excessive pressure or repeated friction on your feet, try to take regular breaks to alleviate the pressure.


AKDEMIR O. & al. New alternative in treatment of callus. Journal of Dermatology (2011).


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