Blisters, Calluses, and Corns
Did you ever get a blister from a new pair of shoes? Maybe you play guitar and have calluses on your hands, or you’re a dancer and have corns on your toes.
Blisters, calluses, and corns can be uncomfortable, but they’re also pretty common and easy to prevent. All three happen because of friction — when two surfaces rub against each other. In the case of these skin problems, one of the surfaces is your tender skin.
What’s a Blister?
A blister is an area of raised skin with a watery liquid inside. Blisters form on hands and feet from rubbing and pressure, and form a lot faster than calluses. You can get blisters on your feet the same day you wear uncomfortable or poor-fitting shoes. You can get blisters on your hands if you forget to wear protective gloves when you’re doing things like using a hammer or riding a bike.
Areas on your body that form blisters and continue to be rubbed every day can go on to form calluses.
What’s a Callus?
A callus is an area of thick skin. Calluses form in places where there is a lot of repeated rubbing for a long period of time. The skin hardens from the pressure over time and eventually thickens. It gets a hard, tough, grayish or yellowish surface that may feel bumpy.
Calluses can be a form of protection for the hands. Gymnasts who perform on uneven parallel bars and other apparatus often get calluses on their hands. Guitarists can get calluses on their fingertips from the guitar strings. Once formed, calluses may make it easier for the person to swing around the bars or play the guitar.
But what about calluses on the feet? They can be painful because you’re stepping on them all the time. Foot calluses usually form on the ball of the foot (the roundish part on the bottom of your foot, just behind your big toe). Some calluses also form on the outside of the big or little toe or the heel.
Tight shoes and high heels often cause calluses because they put a lot of pressure on your feet at points that aren’t used to all of that stress.
What’s a Corn?
Like calluses, corns are also areas of hard, thick skin. They usually look like a soft yellow ring of skin around a hard, gray center. Corns often form on the tops of the toes or in between toes, and they can hurt.
Like calluses, corns come from pressure or repeated rubbing of the toes. Corns usually develop after wearing shoes that are tight around the toe area.
Preventing Blisters, Calluses, and Corns
The best way to deal with blisters, calluses, and corns is to avoid getting them altogether. So how do you do that?
- To avoid getting blisters and calluses on your hands, wear the right kind of gloves or protective gear. For instance, you might use work gloves during yard work or palm protectors called “grips” for gymnastics.
- To keep your feet callus free, choose your shoes wisely. Try to shop for shoes in the afternoon because that’s when your feet are their largest. They get a little swollen from you walking on them all day! Try on both shoes and walk around a little bit before buying them. Even if shoes look really cool, don’t get them if they don’t feel right. Often, a different size or width can make a big difference.
- Even if you love a pair of shoes, it’s best not to wear them all the time. Mix it up by wearing a variety of shoes. That way, your feet will get a break and won’t always be rubbed in the same places.
Caring for Blisters, Calluses, and Corns
If you do get a blister, callus, or corn, you can usually take care of it at home:
- Blisters usually heal on their own. Keep a blister clean and dry and cover it with a bandage until it goes away. While it heals, try to avoid putting pressure on the area or rubbing it.
- You can help a callus go away faster by soaking it in warm, soapy water for 10 minutes, then rubbing it with a pumice stone. The stone has a rough surface and can be used to rub off dead skin. Go easy when you do this. Rubbing too much can make the skin raw and tender. You can also wear shoe pads inside your shoes to relieve pressure so foot calluses can heal. You can buy pumice stones and foot pads in many grocery stores and drugstores.
- Corns take a little bit longer to go away. To help, you can buy special doughnut-shaped pads that let the corn fit right into the hole in the middle to relieve pain and pressure. Ask a nurse, doctor, or a parent about trying pads that contain salicylic acid. This acid takes off the dead skin to help get rid of the corn, but people with some health conditions (like diabetes) will want to avoid using these. If a corn sticks around for a while and keeps hurting, you may need to see a podiatrist (the fancy name for a foot doctor).
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: February 2015