Corns and Calluses

Corns and calluses develop from repeated friction, rubbing or irritation and pressure on your skin. They most frequently occur on your hands, feet and toes. The most common cause is shoes that don’t fit properly. With a little bit of attention and care, you can prevent most cases of corns or calluses.


What are corns and calluses?

Corns and calluses are a buildup of hard, thick areas of skin. Although these hardened areas of skin can form anywhere on your body, you’ll usually see them on your feet, hands or fingers.

What’s the difference between a corn and a callus?

Corns and calluses are essentially the same tissue. Corns tend to be small and round. You’re most likely to see corns on the top or sides of your toes.

Calluses are hard, thick patches of skin. Compared with corns, calluses are larger and have a more irregular (more spread out) shape. You’re most likely to see calluses on the bottom of your feet on the bony areas that carry your weight — your heels, big toes, the balls of your feet and along the sides of your feet. Some degree of callus formation on the bottom of your foot is normal.

You’ll also see calluses often on your hands. For instance, a callus forms where there’s repeated friction or rubbing — like on the tips of fingers of guitar players or the hands of gymnasts, weightlifters or craftsmen.

What are the different types of corns?

There are several types of corns:

  • Hard corns: These are small, hard dense areas of skin usually within a larger area of thickened skin. Hard corns usually form on the top of your toes — areas where there’s bone pressure against your skin.
  • Soft corns: These corns are whitish/gray and have a softer, rubbery texture. Soft corns appear between your toes.
  • Seed corns: These corns are small and usually form on the bottom of your feet.


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Symptoms and Causes

What do corns and calluses look like?

Corns and calluses have many distinct features. Corns look like:

  • Small, round, raised bumps of hardened skin surrounded by irritated skin.
  • Raised areas or bumps that may be painful or cause discomfort.

Calluses are:

  • Thick, hardened, larger and typically more flattened patches of skin.
  • Less sensitive to touch than the surrounding skin.

Both corns and calluses can cause:

  • Hardened areas of skin where there’s repeated friction or pressure on your skin.
  • Pain, redness and blisters.

Are corns and calluses painful?

Corns and calluses may or may not be painful. Some corns and calluses aren’t painful when they first develop but then become painful over time as they thicken. The raised areas of skin — especially of corns — can be tender or sensitive to touch or pressure. Calluses tend to be less sensitive to touch than the normal skin around them. Sometimes, cracks (called fissures) form in a callus. Fissures can be painful. If you have a corn or callus that becomes infected, you’ll likely feel pain or at least some discomfort.

What causes corns and calluses?

Corns and calluses have many of the same causes. These include:

  • Shoes that don’t fit properly. This is the most common cause of corns on the top of your feet. Shoes that are too tight or have areas that rub against your skin cause shearing, friction and pressure. People who frequently wear high-heeled shoes often develop calluses on the balls of their feet from the downward pressure on this area when walking.
  • Standing, walking or running for long periods of time.
  • Physical hobbies, sports activities or work/labor that puts pressure on your feet and/or causes repeated friction on an area of skin on your hands or fingers.
  • Going barefoot.
  • Not wearing socks with footwear.
  • Having socks and/or shoe linings that slip and bunch up under your feet while in shoes.
  • Walking with improper posture — walking too heavily on the inner or outer edge of your foot.
  • Structural foot deformities or changes to the shape of your foot (hammertoes, tailor’s bunions, bunions or deformities from birth).


How do corns and calluses form?

Corns and calluses develop from repeated friction, rubbing, pressure or irritation and pressure on your skin. Corns and calluses typically form on the bony, walked-on areas of your feet. On your hands, they (more likely calluses) form on the areas where there’s ongoing rubbing against your skin.

The hardened layers of skin of corns and calluses are actually your body’s way of protecting the underlying skin from irritation and pressure.

Who is more likely to get corns and calluses?

You’re more likely to develop corns and calluses if:

  • You already have medical conditions that change the normal alignment of the bones in your feet. For example, arthritis in your feet, bunions, bone spurs or hammertoes.
  • You walk without socks.
  • You wear shoes that are too narrow for your foot.
  • You have atrophy or loss of your natural cushioning/padding.

What are the complications of having corns and calluses?

Untreated (or unsuccessfully) treated corns and calluses might grow larger until you fix what caused them to develop in the first place.

Corns or calluses can cause infections. This can be painful and make walking difficult. You may need antibiotics or even surgical treatment.


Diagnosis and Tests

How are corns and calluses diagnosed?

A healthcare provider can diagnose corns or calluses by looking at your skin. No tests are required. A simple visual exam of your skin is usually all your provider needs. Your provider may ask you questions about your job, how much walking and standing you do, and in what activities you participate. If your corn or callus is on your foot, your provider may ask you to walk to check your posture and the way you walk, ask about your footwear and ask how you take care of your feet.

Management and Treatment

How do I remove corns and calluses?

Treatment depends on your symptoms and what caused the corn or callus. But for the typical corn or callus, removing the buildup of skin is an effective treatment. Follow these steps:

  1. Soak the area with the corn or callus (let’s use your foot as an example) in warm water until the skin softens — usually five to 10 minutes.
  2. Wet a pumice stone or emery board.
  3. While the skin on your foot is still soft, gently move the pumice stone or emery board across the corn or callus to remove dead tissue. Continue to file down the corn or callus, moving the stone or board in one direction. Be careful. Don’t remove too much skin. This could lead to bleeding and an infection.
  4. Apply a moisturizing cream or lotion to the corn or callus and surrounding dead skin every day. Look for products that contain urea or ammonium lactate. These ingredients will soften the skin over time.

Other care tips include:

  • Surround your corn or callus with donut-style adhesive pads or make your own donut pad from moleskin. (The corn should be in the center hole area of the donut.) You can purchase moleskin padding and other corn and callus products at your local drugstore. Padding helps protect the corn or callus from irritation and relieves pain and pressure.
  • Wear properly sized and shaped footwear. Wear shoes with increased width and height in the toe area. Consider buying footwear at the end of the day when your feet are slightly swollen.
  • Keep your toenails trimmed. Long toenails can make your toes push against the top of your shoe causing friction and increased pressure. Cut toenails straight across. Don’t round the corners.
  • If your corns or calluses are painful, apply a cold pack to reduce the pain and swelling for no more than 10 to 20 minutes at a time.
  • Never try to cut out, shave away or remove corns or calluses with a sharp object.
  • Don’t try to treat corns or calluses if you have diabetes, have poor circulation, are prone to infections or have delicate skin. See your healthcare provider.

Should I try over-the-counter medications to treat my corns or calluses?

Over-the-counter products used to dissolve corns and calluses contain harsh chemicals. If you aren’t precise in applying the chemical, it can injure the surrounding healthy skin. If you have diabetes, don’t self-treat. See your healthcare provider, due to the foot complications possible with diabetes.

Is surgery ever needed for corns and calluses?

You can manage most corns and calluses by following the simple tips listed in this article — namely, remove any corns or calluses with a pumice stone after soaking your feet in warm water.

Your healthcare provider may consider surgery if you have a structural deformity in your foot or toes that results in the repeated development of corns or calluses. In this case, a surgeon may need to remove or realign bone tissue. Other reasons for surgery are if the corns or calluses are extremely painful, if they prevent you from walking comfortably or normally, or if they cause reoccurring infections, wounds or tissue breakdown.


Can corns and calluses be prevented?

Your feet are an often overlooked part of your body until a problem develops. With a little bit of attention and care, you can prevent most cases of corns and calluses. Things to keep in mind include:

  • Wear shoes that are comfortable and fit well. Shoes should support your feet, be well-cushioned and have shock-absorbing soles. The toe area of shoes should have enough length and width so your toes aren’t rubbing against the shoe or other toes. This would also mean avoiding high-heeled narrow-toed shoes that push your toes forward causing them to rub against the shoe or each other. Avoid hard-soled or leather-soled shoes unless they have enough padding (or you add padding) to cushion your feet.
  • Wear socks with your footwear. Make sure socks are snug enough that they don’t bunch up under your feet.
  • Use cushioned or padded insoles. If you had corns or calluses in the past, you may want to ask your healthcare provider about customized insoles. These inserts can even out weight-bearing forces on the bottom of your foot to prevent calluses from forming. Also, use lamb’s wool (not cotton) between your toes to relieve friction and soften corns.
  • Wear gloves when you’re doing manual labor or working with heavy or rough materials that can damage the skin on your hands or fingers.
  • Inspect your feet daily and keep them clean. Wash your feet in warm, soapy water, dry them and apply a moisturizing foot cream. This helps keep your skin soft and supple.

In addition, keep your toenails trimmed, don’t walk barefoot and apply a daily foot powder to keep your feet dry if you have sweaty feet.

Outlook / Prognosis

After corns and calluses heal, can they come back?

As corns and calluses are the result of friction, irritation or pressure against your skin, they can return at any time if you haven’t addressed the cause. In other words, if poorly fitted shoes were the cause and you continue to wear those same shoes, the corns and calluses will likely return.

Fortunately, you can successfully manage most corns and calluses at home with a little care and attention. If you’re concerned about a growth on your foot, see a healthcare provider. They’re in the best position to examine your feet, ask about or test for other medical conditions you may have, treat your feet and advise you how to take care of them.

Living With

When should I see my healthcare provider if I have corns or calluses?

You should see your healthcare provider if:

  • You have diabetes. People with diabetes can have a lack of feeling, or peripheral neuropathy, making it difficult to detect appropriate pain sensations. People with diabetes may have poor blood circulation in their legs and feet, which makes healing more difficult. Corns and calluses could even become infected.
  • You have other underlying diseases or conditions that increase your risk of infection or if you have delicate skin.
  • Home treatments don’t work to manage your corns or calluses.
  • You think you may have abnormal bone structure or alignment as the reason corns and calluses have repeatedly formed.
  • Your corns or calluses are painful, the pain worsens or you think you have an infection. Signs of infection include redness, pain, swelling and oozing/pus from the corn or callus.
  • Your foot pain is intense or you have discomfort when walking and don’t know what might be causing it.

What questions should I ask my healthcare provider?

Questions you may want to ask your healthcare provider include:

  • Do I have a corn or a callus?
  • How do you think I got a corn or callus?
  • What home remedies do you recommend for treating my corn or callus?
  • How can I prevent getting corns and calluses in the future?

Additional Common Questions

What’s the difference between a wart and a callus?

A type of wart called a plantar wart may appear on the soles of your feet. These warts look like calluses with tiny black dots in the center. But warts develop when the human papillomavirus, or HPV, enters a cut or break in your skin and causes an infection. Calluses don’t develop due to a virus, but rather just from friction on your skin.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Those shoes may look cute, but if they’re too tight, you shouldn’t wear them — you could develop a corn or a callus. If it’s too late and you already have one, the good news is, most corns and calluses aren’t serious. You can typically treat them at home. But if you have diabetes or another underlying condition that increases your risk of infection, call your healthcare provider for treatment.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 07/25/2023.

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