Corns and calluses

Corns and calluses

Introduction

Corns and calluses are areas of hard, thickened skin that develop when the skin is exposed to excessive pressure or friction. They commonly occur on the feet and can cause pain and discomfort when you walk.

Corns

Corns are small circles of thick skin that usually develop on the tops and sides of toes or on the sole of the foot. However, they can occur anywhere.

Corns are often caused by wearing shoes that fit poorly or certain designs that place excessive pressure on an area of the foot.

Corns often occur on bony feet as there’s a lack of natural cushioning. They can also develop as a symptom of another foot problem, such as:

  • bunion – where the joint of the big toe sticks outwards as the big toe begins to point towards the other toes on the same foot
  • hammer toe – where the toe is bent at the middle joint

Calluses

Calluses are hard, rough areas of skin that are often yellowish in colour. They can develop on your foot, most often around the heel area or on the skin under the ball of the foot.

They can also develop on the palms of the hands and knuckles.

Calluses are larger than corns and do not have such a well-defined edge. As callused skin is thick, it is often less sensitive to touch than the surrounding skin.

Calluses develop when the skin rubs against something, such as a bone, a shoe or the ground. They often form over the ball of your foot because this area takes most of your weight when you walk. This is particularly the case when high heels are worn regularly.

Excessive pressure on bony areas of the foot, badly fitting shoes, dry skin and reduced fatty padding are all possible causes of calluses.

Treating corns and calluses

If you have a corn on your foot, you should see a podiatrist, also known as a chiropodist, who can advise you about treatment. In most areas of the UK your GP will be able to refer you on the NHS.

Find foot care specialists in your local area.

Corns on feet will not get better unless the cause of the pressure is removed. If the cause is not removed, the skin could become thicker and more painful over time.

A corn is a symptom of an underlying problem. You should only treat it yourself when you know what has caused it and after you have spoken to a specialist about the best way to manage it.

Over-the-counter treatments for corns, such as corn plasters, are available from pharmacists. However, they do not treat the cause of the corn and may affect the normal, thinner skin surrounding the corn.

Corn plasters may not be suitable for certain people, such as those with diabetes, circulation problems or fragile skin.

As with corns, you should only treat calluses yourself after a podiatrist has identified the cause and advised you about treatment.

The podiatrist may be able to treat corns or badly callused areas using a sharp blade to remove the thickened area of skin. This is painless and should help reduce pain and discomfort. They can also provide advice on self-care and prescribe special insoles.

Read more about treating corns and calluses.

You can also help prevent corns and calluses by looking after your feet and choosing the right shoes to wear.

Read more information about preventing corns and calluses.

Causes of corns and calluses

Treating corns and calluses

Treating painful corns and calluses involves removing the cause of the pressure or friction and getting rid of the thickened skin.

You may be advised to wear comfortable flat shoes instead of high-heeled shoes. If calluses develop on the hands, wearing protective gloves when you do repetitive tasks will give the affected area time to heal.

If you’re not sure what’s causing a corn or callus, see your GP. They may refer you to a podiatrist (also called a chiropodist). Podiatrists specialise in diagnosing and treating foot problems. They will examine the affected area and recommend appropriate treatment.

See below for more information about podiatry and how to access it on the NHS.

Hard skin removal

A podiatrist may cut away some of the thickened skin using a sharp blade called a scalpel. This will help relieve the pressure on the tissue underneath.

Do not try to cut the corn or callus yourself. You could make it more painful and it might become infected. You can use a pumice stone or foot file to rub down skin that is getting thick.

Read more about preventing corns and calluses.

Foot care products

Pharmacies sell a range of products that allow thick, hard skin to heal and excessive pressure to be redistributed. Ask your GP, podiatrist or pharmacist to recommend the right product for you.

Examples of products that can be used to treat corns and calluses include:

  • special rehydration creams for thickened skin
  • protective corn plasters
  • customised soft padding or foam insoles
  • small foam wedges that are placed between the toes to help relieve soft corns
  • special silicone wedges that change the position of your toes or redistribute pressure

Salicylic acid

Some over-the-counter products used to treat corns and calluses may contain salicylic acid. Salicylic acid is used to help soften the top layer of dead skin so that it can be easily removed. The products are mild and should not cause any pain.

Salicylic acid products are available for direct application (such as a liquid or gel) or in medicated pads or plasters.

It is important to avoid products containing salicylic acid if you have:

This is because there is an increased risk of damage to your skin, nerves and tendons.

Salicylic acid can sometimes damage the skin surrounding a corn or callus. You can use petroleum jelly or a plaster to cover the skin around the corn or callus.

Always read the instructions carefully before applying the product. Speak to your GP, podiatrist or pharmacist first if you are not sure which treatment is suitable.

Podiatry

Podiatry is available free of charge on the NHS in most areas of the UK. However, availability may vary depending on where you live.

Your case will be assessed individually, which may affect how long you will need to wait to be seen. For example, people with severe diabetes are often given priority because the condition can cause serious foot problems to develop.

If free NHS treatment is not available in your area, your GP can still refer you to a local clinic for private treatment, but you will have to pay.

If you decide to contact a podiatrist yourself, make sure they are fully qualified and registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) and that they are an accredited member of one of the following organisations:

Preventing corns and calluses

Looking after your feet will help prevent problems such as corns and calluses.

Follow the advice below to help stop any hard dry skin developing:

  • Dry your feet thoroughly after washing them and apply a special moisturising foot cream (not body lotion).
  • Use a pumice stone or foot file regularly to gently remove hard skin. If you use a pumice stone, make sure that it dries completely between uses and does not harbour bacteria.  
  • Wear comfortable footwear that fits properly. Always shop for shoes in the afternoon, because your feet swell as the day goes on. This means shoes that fit in the afternoon will be comfortable. You should be able to move your toes inside the shoe with a small gap between the front of the shoe and your longest toe. If possible, avoid wearing heels as they increase the pressure on the front of your feet. 
  • Do not put up with foot pain as if it is normal. Either see a podiatrist directly or go to your GP, who may refer you to a podiatrist. They will be able to investigate the underlying cause of your foot pain.