Corns (clavus, heloma) and calluses are thick, hard growths of skin formed in response to excessive pressure and chafing. Corns, which usually appear on the toes, are thickenings of skin around a core, whose apex points inward. Most hard corns appear on the little toe; soft corns (heloma molle) appear on the web between toes.
Calluses (tyloma) are thickened pads of skin, usually on weight-bearing portions of the sole. They also can develop on the hands if excessive pressure and friction occur.
Symptoms of Corns and Calluses
- Corns: patches of hardened, thick, tough skin that appear on the tops of toes or between the toes, and may or may not be tender or painful
- Calluses: hardened, tough, thickened areas of skin that typically appear on the soles of the feet, palms, and fingertips
What Causes Corns and Calluses?
A hard corn, which often develops on the toe joint, is generally caused by pressure from ill-fitting shoes. Soft corns are generally caused by excessive moisture between toes or from pressure of toes rubbing against each other. Other causes include socks that don't fit well and toe deformities, such as claw toe or hammer toe.
With calluses, rubbing against the skin, typically from ill-fitting shoes, first causes blisters. If these aren’t treated, continued rubbing causes the skin to thicken into a callus as a layer of dead skin builds up. On the hands, calluses often develop from the pressure of repetitive motion.
What If You Do Nothing?
Corns and calluses are minor inconveniences and need no special care. (However, if you have diabetes mellitus, special care must be taken because of the possibility of infection.) Once the cause is eliminated, corns and calluses generally go away within four weeks.
Home Remedies for Corns and Calluses
- Soak. The best way to treat corns and calluses at home is to soak the area in warm (never hot) water until the hardened skin softens, then gently apply a pumice stone or callus file; don’t rub the area raw. It may take several treatments.
- Apply oil or lubricating ointment. To soften calluses, apply wheat germ oil, castor oil, sesame seed oil or olive oil several times a day. Use petroleum jelly or antibiotic ointment to help relieve pain.
- Protect the area. Use a corn plaster, light pad or bandage. Moleskin comes with adhesive and can be trimmed to fit the spot and relieve pressure.
- Separate toes. Use lamb’s wool, web spacers, soft cotton or moleskin to cushion and relieve pressure.
- Remove the corn. Many over-the-counter corn remedies are available, most containing salicylic acid. Though the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved these products, most doctors advise using them only with caution; they can burn the surrounding healthy skin.
- If possible, walk barefooted in the sand, especially in wet beach sand. Sand serves as an abrasive and sloughs off the dead skin that leads to calluses and corns.
- Make sure shoes fit properly. Have your feet accurately measured by an experienced shoe salesperson. Shoes should be wide enough and sufficiently cushioned to protect the feet.
- Avoid extended high-heel use. These shoes put pressure on the toes and can lead to corns.
- Wear protective gloves. Gloves will protect your hands during gardening or other activities.
Beyond Home Remedies: When To Call Your Doctor
Contact your physician if a corn or callus becomes infected or inflamed.
What Your Doctor Will Do
After a close examination your physician may remove the callus or corn with a scalpel. In some cases an orthotica special shoe insertmay be recommended to correct abnormal foot mechanics that are causing the problem.
The Complete Home Wellness Handbook
John Edward Swartzberg, M.D., F.A.C.P., Sheldon Margen, M.D., and the editors of the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter
Updated by Remedy Health Media