Corns and calluses are two extremely common foot complaints. In one study of women between the ages of 50 and 70, 83 percent had some sort of foot problem, and corns and calluses were at the top of the list (June 2002, Journal of Public Health Medicine; July 2007, Clinical and Experimental Dermatology).
While corns and calluses are not harmful to your health, they can be unsightly and sometimes uncomfortable. And with sandal season well underway, the desire to have attractive feet is a big reason to address these concerns head on. But first, let me explain how corns and calluses develop.
First of All, Don’t Blame Your Feet
Corns and calluses are not technically a foot problem. They’re actually a reaction to the real problem: excessive pressure and/or friction on your feet, most often due to abuse from poorly fitting shoes that are often cheaply made of inferior materials, too narrow, too short, and/or have heels higher than one inch.
A good fit is even more critical if you plan to use the shoes for high-level athletics, travel, or other prolonged activities that put stress on your feet.
Calluses are the result of pressure from shoes that are too tight and lack cushioning in the sole. A common callus is a broad, evenly distributed, rough, non-painful thickening of the skin on the bottom of the heel or the ball of the foot. An exception is the less-common plantar callus, which is very painful to the touch and looks more like a protruding wart on the bottom of the foot (although it’s not a wart).
Corns come in two varieties, as well. The more common type is the hard corn, which looks like a small pea-sized bump under the skin. Hard corns are painful to the touch, and they occur most often on the outer edge of the pinky toe or on top of one of the toes as a result of friction from poor-fitting, unyielding shoe uppers.
The second type, the soft corn, is also painful, but it’s located between the toes (usually the fourth and fifth toes). Rather than looking dry and thick, soft corns look inflamed—as if the skin is “melting.” Soft corns are the result of sweaty feet that have been trapped in shoes that hold in moisture.
Four Steps to Smooth, Sandal-Ready Feet
The good news is that you don’t have to pay money for a pedicure to have sensational sandal-ready feet. You can do it right at home with the following four steps:
Step 1: Moisturize the right way. Dry skin tends to be slightly inflamed, fragile, less resilient, and more vulnerable to damage from pressure and friction than well-moisturized skin. The dry skin reacts to the inflammation by thickening.
The Ayurvedic practice of an oil foot massage twice a day can reverse this trend and significantly improve the health and texture of the skin on your feet. Use a natural penetrating oil such as jojoba. Work one or two teaspoons of oil thoroughly into each foot, including the spaces between the toes, the margins of the nails, and any areas that feel thick and rough. Continue massaging until your feet are no longer oily. Because oiling reduces inflammation and slows reactive skin thickening, you’ll be amazed at how healthy your feet will look and feel within just one week.
Step 2: Exfoliate gently and persistently. Twice weekly, soak your feet for at least 20 minutes in mineral salts to soften your corns and calluses. Just toss a handful of salt, such as Masada Dead Sea Mineral bath salts in a foot bath. (If you’re using a bathtub, use 2 cups.) After soaking, pat your feet dry and gently scrub the excess dead skin on your feet with a pumice stone or pedicure file. Don’t try to remove too much skin at once or you’ll cause inflammation and trigger additional skin thickening. Follow with the oil massage.
Step 3: Sock it to your feet. Many times, wearing supportive socks can provide the cushioning your feet need to stave off corns and calluses. Two brands I particularly like are Jobst trouser socks and Sensifoot athletic socks. They not only provide excellent foot support and padding in all the right places, but also wick away moisture and have an antibacterial/antifungal finish. Another good brand to wear during athletic activities like hiking and skiing is SmartWool socks.
Step 4: Make sure your shoes are the best possible fit. No matter what you do to keep your feet moisturized and exfoliated, corns and calluses will keep coming back unless you start wearing shoes that fit your feet perfectly. Here are some rules of thumb when buying new shoes:
- Shoes made of synthetic materials are more likely than leather to hold moisture in, which will increase your risk of developing soft corns.
- Try to wear flats the majority of the time. If you must wear heels, make sure they are no higher than one inch.
- If you need padding to protect against calluses, bring gel inserts that fit your foot and test the fit of shoes with the inserts before buying them.
- To protect the sides and tops of your feet against corns, choose shoes that have soft uppers and a toe box that is roomy enough to allow you to flex and move your toes, but not so roomy that your feet slide around in them when you walk.
- If your “pinky toes” are crowded, choose a wider shoe.
- If you think you have hammertoe (where the affected toe is chronically flexed and frozen in that position), bunions (the joint at the base of the big toe progressively sticks out to the side), or any other kind of foot deformity, I recommend that you see a podiatrist before buying any more shoes. Deformities make even good shoes fit badly (June 2002, American Family Physician).
Now it's your turn: What's your favorite foot-care tip?