Calluses on the feet can be painful and unsightly, but these podiatrist-recommended products can help.
Calluses may be common, but that doesn’t make them any less annoying. There's nothing like leaving your nail salon with baby soft feet to find hardened skin on your heels or balls of your feet a couple of weeks later. ~The worst.~ Whether you're getting calluses on your feet from uncomfortable shoes or even walking barefoot on rough surfaces (like around a patio or pool), they seem to be practically unavoidable. However, there are foot callus treatments you can do at home to help soften the areas, so that they're smoother and a lot less scratchy. Here, experts explain what plantar calluses are, what causes them, and share some of their favorite methods for getting rid of them.
What is a plantar callus?
In the plainest words, a plantar callus is a formation of thickened skin on the bottom of the foot, says Velimir Petkov, DPM, founder of Premier Podiatry in Clifton, New Jersey. "Plantar calluses can either be flat or they can occur in the form of a so-called “porokeratosis," he adds. Porokeratosis is an ingrown corn (read: very deep callus, typically under the ball of the foot), which has a flat head but a core lesion pointing into the skin, explains Dr. Petkov.
What causes a plantar callus?
There's a reason why the thick lesions usually turn up on the heels or balls of your feet: They love to form under bony pressure points on the feet. "They are the body’s way of forming a natural cushion against the rubbing of shoes or other bones like in the case of hammertoes," says Jackie Sutera, DPM, a New York City-based podiatrist and member of the Vionic Innovation Lab. "Then that cushion, or callus, can become swollen, painful, and unsightly," she adds. Not only can they be painful to the touch, but, if left untreated, they can also grow thicker and eventually cause the skin to break down and ulcerate, warns Dr. Petkov.
To avoid foot calluses, opt for shoes that accommodate your foot shape (AKA avoid narrow, pointy, or high heeled shoes). "Once a callus has already developed, shoe gear becomes even more important," notes Dr. Sutera. Consider padding the area and applying soothing creams that can help soften the skin.
Another way to keep plantar calluses at bay is by wearing custom-molded orthotics, says Dr. Petkov. "The orthotics can offload the underlying pressure areas and therefore prevent the reoccurrence of calluses."
How do they differ from other skin growths?
If you've recently acquired hardened skin on the bottom of your foot, but aren't sure whether it's a plantar callus or something a bit more concerning, there are a few ways to tell the difference. While foot calluses typically appear to have a tone that is similar to your overall skin color, they also have extra layers of skin built on top of them, explains Dr. Petkov. "Upon proper debridement (removal of damaged skin) by an experienced podiatrist, the underlying skin will appear to be normal," he adds.
These skin lesions differ from wart lesions where once the thickened skin is removed, the underlying tissue appears white, says Dr. Petkov. "This is due to the fact that that there is a verruca plantaris virus that lives underneath the callus." In normal calluses, that is not the case, he adds.
The best callus removers and treatments
"The best way to treat a callus would be to have it evaluated by your podiatrist who can professionally thin it down and sometimes administer an anti-inflammatory medication (oral, injectable, or topical) to reduce the pain and swelling,” advises Dr. Sutera. The specialist can also determine the underlying cause for the callus and treat that condition, as well, notes Dr. Petkov.
Not sure what to use in the meantime? Below are the seven best products to use if you have calluses on your feet.