Status: 30.05.2024 15:54 | from Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg logo

Most people have calluses on their feet. They can be annoying, but also painful. How can you remove calluses safely and effectively? What is the best solution?

by Carola Welt

Calluses most commonly form on the feet – more specifically on the heels, balls of the feet and toes. People who like to walk barefoot have more calluses on the soles of their feet. This protects against sharp stones, for example. But calluses can also form on the knees, elbows, palms or fingers.

Removing calluses: The most important facts

Calluses are natural and useful; they protect the skin.

What is cornea?

The outermost layer of the skin is called the stratum corneum. It is naturally made up of dead, keratinized skin cells and is usually around two millimeters thick. Certain areas can become thicker and harden. This is then referred to as calluses or corns. They form where the skin is subjected to greater stress, as a result of pressure or friction. The body protects itself against this by forming certain new skin cells. Calluses appear as slightly yellowish areas. Compared to the surrounding skin, they are painless and can be removed.

Cause: Why do we get calluses?

On the feet, the culprit is usually shoes that don’t fit properly. Shoes that are too tight, but also too wide or too big can lead to more pressure or friction on the foot when walking. Misalignment of the toes also promotes the formation of calluses. A round thickening of calluses can grow, known as a corn. If you notice calluses on other parts of the skin than the heels, you should pay attention. This can be an indication of a misalignment of the foot or toes that is not yet visible.

Calluses often form on the fingers and hands of musicians. Anyone who plays the guitar, for example, needs some calluses on their fingers. Athletes and people who practice a trade are also familiar with the phenomenon. Calluses develop more frequently in people with very dry skin and in people with certain metabolic diseases such as diabetes.

Callus removal – yes or no?

A small amount of callus does not need to be removed. If it bothers you aesthetically, you can remove it. If you have very thick calluses on your feet and they are not removed, new pressure points and pain can appear. Cracks (rhagades) can also form in the callus at some point.

When does a callus become dangerous?

Cracked callus on a big toe © imago / CHROMORANGE Photo: Martina Raedlein
Cracks in the callus (rhagades) should be treated by a podiatrist.

The calluses should be removed as soon as cracks are visible in the feet. The cracks, also called fissures, are wedge-shaped and extend about one centimeter deep into the sole of the foot. They can be painful with every step. Bacteria can penetrate and cause an infection such as erysipelas or even sepsis.

If the cracks have become infected, you should go to a dermatologist or a podiatrist. Diabetics in particular need to be careful because they are prone to cracks but cannot feel injuries to their feet very well.

Remove calluses with home remedies

The classic home remedy for removing calluses is a ten-minute, lukewarm foot bath. You can add 100 milliliters of apple cider vinegar or a little sea salt to the warm water. The calloused skin layers on the feet soften and are then prepared for treatment.

Then dry your feet thoroughly. Now rub off the calluses with a pumice stone, a callus file or a callus sponge. Finally, pamper your skin with a moisturizing foot cream. You can tackle the calluses in this way once or twice a week at most.

Instead of the pumice stone, you can also do a gentle peeling, for example by rubbing the hardened areas with coffee grounds. A sea salt peeling with a tablespoon of olive oil and a tablespoon of sea salt is also suitable. Dried chamomile flowers, moistened in a cloth or as a tea bag, are also said to gently loosen hard skin after 15 minutes of application.

Various creams can help

Special creams (chapped skin cream) from the pharmacy or drugstore noticeably reduce calluses. They remove calloused skin cells using citric acid, urea, lactic acid or salicylic acid. But you need perseverance: apply the cream to the affected areas twice a day for four weeks. You should then wash your hands so that the ointment does not get into your eyes.

Remove light calluses overnight

If you only have a small amount of calluses, you can also “remove” them overnight, for example with urea cream. It contains artificially produced urea. It provides the skin cells with a lot of moisture and has a gentle callus-removing effect. The proportion of urea should be at least 20 percent. It is recommended that you apply urea to calluses on your feet or other parts of your body before going to bed. This gives the cream plenty of time to absorb and work overnight. Urea has no side effects. However, urea should not be applied to wounds.

When do electric callus removers help?

Callus is removed with an electric callus remover. © imago/Bihlmayerfotografie Photo: Michael Bihlmayer
Calluses are removed with an electric callus remover.

If you can’t manage with a pumice stone and a callus file or are in a hurry, you can use an electric callus remover. It looks like a razor with a roller at the front that rotates. The sandpaper-like coating removes the calluses. A callus remover is only used dry; you don’t have a foot bath beforehand. Modern callus removers switch off if too much pressure is applied and can be cleaned under running water.

Plaster for the feet

Callus plasters contain salicylic acid, which softens the callused skin. You wear the plaster for a few days and replace it every two days. The callus can then be gently removed with a pumice stone or callus file. The advantage of callus plasters is that you can treat the area in a targeted manner without damaging the surrounding skin. The disadvantage is that you may leave the plaster on for too long, which softens too much callus.

What are the benefits of anti-callus socks?

Callus socks are disposable foot covers and are also known as foot masks. They are enriched with callus-removing substances such as fruit acid, lactic acid or salicylic acid and skin-care ingredients. You wear them for between 20 and 60 minutes. Depending on the product, you repeat this for several days. The disadvantage of callus socks: They also loosen the skin in places where there is no excessive callus. This can lead to irritation.

Does toothpaste help against calluses?

Toothpaste often contains sodium bicarbonate, which is used to remove plaque. However, toothpaste also contains other ingredients. These can irritate the skin and even trigger allergic reactions. Applying toothpaste to calluses to remove them is therefore not advisable.

Risk of injury with thick cornea

Podiatrist removes thick calluses with a sharp knife. © imago images / Panthermedia Photo: masterpic
Podiatrist removes thick calluses with sharp knife.

If you have a thick layer of callus, you can combine a callus-reducing cream (crack cream) with other aids such as a foot bath or callus file. You should avoid using a callus plane. It cuts off the callus using large blades. The risk of injury is too high.

The application should therefore be carried out by podiatric trained specialists. In any case, if you have thick calluses, it is advisable to go straight to a foot care (pedicure). There, the calluses will be systematically and thoroughly removed without any risk of injury.

How often should you go for a pedicure?

Medical pedicurists are called podiatrists. Cosmetic pedicurists are also allowed to remove calluses. For smooth feet without calluses, it is recommended to have a pedicure treatment once a month.

The costs for medical foot care are covered by the health insurance company under certain conditions. The price for cosmetic callus removal is between 20 and 40 euros.

More growth through distance?

Calluses do not disappear on their own. When removing them, you should proceed carefully and not remove too much, as the callus has a protective function. If you remove too much callus at once, the skin can become too thin in places. This can cause painful pressure points or injuries.

There is no evidence that calluses grow back stronger the more often they are removed. This is at least true if they are removed gently. Intensive treatment with devices such as callus planes or even nail scissors can lead to injury. This stimulates blood circulation, which may increase the formation of calluses.

In the long term, you should ensure that the strain, i.e. the pressure, on the hardened areas of skin is reduced. Then less hard skin will form there. Applying cream daily will provide the skin with sufficient moisture.

Further information

Corn on the foot causes pain. Symbolic image shows the sole of the foot with a red circle, which is supposed to symbolize pain. © Photo: Andriy Medvediuk

A corn on the foot can be extremely painful. How can you remove it yourself? And when is medical help advisable? more

A pedicurist treats a customer's feet. © Dron/fotolia Photo: Dron

Nail fungus is not painful, but it is long-lasting. If left untreated, the fungal infection can destroy the entire nail plate. more

Female foot with bunion (hallux valgus) standing on grey floor © imago images/CHROMORANGE

Hallux valgus causes pain in the foot. If special exercises, splints or shoes do not help, surgery may be necessary. more

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SWR | Doc Fischer | 03.04.2023 | 8:15 p.m.