What Causes Foot Calluses and Corns? Tips for Prevention and Treatment

What Causes Foot Calluses and Corns? Tips for Prevention and Treatment

We’ve all dealt with pesky patches of thick skin on our feet--but what causes them to form? And what are they actually made of?

Calluses and corns on the feet are caused over time by repeated friction on one area of the skin. This friction and pressure causes the outer layer of skin to die in this location, and then the dead skin builds up to form a hard surface that contains a tough, protective protein called keratin. The medical term for this thickening of skin is hyperkeratosis.

In general, calluses on your feet aren’t necessarily bad. After all, if we walked barefoot 100 percent of the time we would still develop calluses on the bottoms of our feet from the repeated friction of our feet on the ground. This is a natural response that would serve as a protective layer for our feet.

Calluses and corns can become a problem, however, when they form excessively or in inopportune places that may result in gait problems or poorly fitting footwear.

The Differences Between Calluses and Corns

While some people use these words interchangeable, calluses and corns are not the same thing. Calluses tend to be larger patches of skin that generally form on the bottoms and sides of feet, such as on your heels, under the balls of your feet, and along the side of the big toe. Calluses often appear yellowish or grayish in color and will be less sensitive to the touch than surrounding skin. They’re rarely painful--although if a thick callus becomes very dry and cracked then you may experience pain around this cracked area.

Corns, on the other hand, tend to be small formations that are roughly circular in shape. A corn is similar to a callus in that it’s a build-up of dead skin caused by friction, but a corn has an inner “core.” This core can either be hard or soft. A soft core occurs when sweat becomes trapped where the corn develops. Soft corns often form between toes (where moisture is more common) and hard corns are common on the tops of toes and bottoms of feet. A hard corn is a firm bump that may have a yellowish ring around the edges. A soft corn may by whitish in color and look like a sore. Oftentimes reddish, inflamed skin can appear around either type of corn, and they’re usually painful when pressed.

How Shoes Play a Role

Footwear is a major factor in callus and corn formation. Shoes that are too tight, too narrow, and/or that don’t give your toes adequate space are common culprits. If you can’t wiggle your toes easily inside your shoes then the toe box is too small.

What Causes Foot Calluses and Corns? Tips for Prevention and Treatment

At Softstar, we only make shoes that allow your feet to move naturally and freely. Our shoes are flexible, spacious and soft, and this minimal design prevents excess friction and pressure. If footwear caused a corn or callus to develop, switching to a different, better-fitting pair of shoes may help it simply go away on its own.

If you’re already dealing with calluses and corns then you may have a harder and harder time fitting into the shoes you already own. Rather than trying to cram your feet into such shoes (which will only compound the problem), it may be more beneficial to seek out shoes that properly accommodate your feet without leading to any pinching or pressure.

Some of our favorite Softstar styles for healthy feet:

Other Causes of Calluses and Corns

If you have certain kinds of foot abnormalities, such as a bunions, hammertoes or bone spurs, then you may develop a callus or corn as a secondary condition. That’s because the abnormality may be leading to a protrusion that causes excess friction from your shoes or from walking, and then a callus or corn may form in that spot.

If this is the case for you, it is a good idea to see your doctor or podiatrist to address the underlying foot condition. Sometimes it may seem that a corn or callus itself is causing pain, but it may be an underlying issue that’s actually causing the pain.

An abnormal gait pattern could also be causing you to put increased pressure on a certain part of the foot, and this in turn could be causing a callus or corn to form.

Removing Calluses and Corns

To remove calluses and hard corns, try soaking your feet in warm water and then use a pumice stone or specially designed callus remover to gently rub away some of the dead skin. While some people try to cut away calluses with razor blades, we do not recommend trying this yourself, especially if you take blood thinners or have any condition that causes numbness in your feet, such as diabetes. Calluses and corns already cause decreased sensitivity, and it’s easy to accidentally cut too deep. If needed, ask your doctor to pare the dead skin down for you.

Pumice stone

Another option is a medicated “corn remover” patch. These patches are commonly found over-the-counter at pharmacies and work via a compound called salicylic acid. This substance softens the corn and causes it to eventually come off. Note that some doctors advise against these patches because the acidic substance could damage the surrounding healthy skin. Removing the corn in this way is also unlikely to get to the root of the issue that caused the corn in the first place, such as poorly fitting shoes, a gait abnormality, or an underlying foot condition.

In the end, your best bet against corns and excess callus formation is prevention--and prevention starts with great shoes. Choose shoes, such as Softstars, that give your feet and toes plenty of space and don’t cause too much pressure and friction. And, of course, go barefoot when you can!

If you’ve had calluses and corns, let us know your tips for dealing with them in the comments below. Did a switch in footwear help clear up the issue for you?


  1. jo
    since barefoot walking with the fantastic barefoot shoes from soft star shoes I have summer and winter calluses (wih painfully dry places). With 'common' shoes, I did only have this in summer. Do you know any other reasons why calluses can take excessively grows? Has it something to do with 'less drinking', food or other reasons?
  2. Renee
    Another great way to soften callused skin on the bottom of the foot is by taking a small cotton ball soaked in apple cider vinegar and duct tape it on for 20 min. Then use the pumice stone. This technique is much better than just plain soaking in water.
  3. Haley T
    Thanks for providing these useful tips for preventing callus and corns problems. Last month, I was started gym so facing the same problem. My friend recommend me use the callus performance tool and it was really helpful.
  4. Shannon
    Hi I get calluses and corns constantly on the balls and heels of my feet. I have a tendency to walk on the balls of my feet too. I've noticed when I take off my shoes that sometimes the dry skin which may be one of the 2 that I mentioned peels and gets loose in the socks. Also my feet hurt at the balls too and I am not sure I have the proper support for the shoes I am currently wearing. Last most of my shoes start getting worn out at the inside heels and then I am notorious for getting holes on the outside parts where the pinky sits. I don't know if I have the proper size or not. Any suggestions tips or tricks for this? Thank you in advance
    1. Elf Ian
      Hi Shannon, I'm sorry to be late getting back to you! Getting shoes that are sized appropriately is SO important and different for every individual. As part of our process of becoming Softstar Elves, we learn how our own feet fit into every different type of shoe we make. To find the best fit for you, dive in with our customer service team, who have a ton of useful knowledge--either at www.softstarshoes.com/contact or on the phone at 541-753-5845. We'd love to get you the best-fitting shoes you have ever owned.

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