Dead skin and calluses on the feet tend to form as a result of repeated friction, pressure, and rubbing. "The thickened skin is a physiological response to protecting deeper structures underneath the skin’s surface, such as bones, says Melanie Palm, a board-certified dermatologist in San Diego.
Some of the most common places we see calluses appear are on our feet, the palms of our hands, and our fingertips, but dead skin on the feet can be particularly bothersome. So to learn the best methods for removing stubborn calluses and dead skin, we reached out to some leading dermatologists. Here's what they had to say.
Buff Away With a Pumice Stone
Pumice stones are one of the most popular methods for getting rid of calluses. For the best results, soak your feet in warm water for 15-20 minutes before gently buffing the callused area with your pumice stone. Be careful not to overdo it, as this can irritate your skin and cause soreness. If you notice your skin is getting red or starting to bleed, that's a sign it's time to stop. You can also try adding Epsom salt to the water when you soak your feet. Debra Jaliman, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City and Assistant Professor of Dermatology Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai says this softens the skin and helps with callus removal.
Epsom salts are composed of magnesium sulfate. Magnesium sulfate can help reduce inflammation and help with skin detoxification.
Use a Salicylic Acid Pad
For a fix that doesn't require all that much effort, you may want to try a callus pad containing 40% salicylic acid. You can place one of these callus pads on your foot in the morning and leave it there all day. Loretta Ciraldo, a board-certified dermatologist based in Miami explains that these work by breaking up and exfoliating away many layers of the callus. To use a salicylic acid pad, soak your foot in warm water for five minutes or so, dry it thoroughly (if your foot is left wet, you may have trouble getting the pad to stick), and apply the pad.
Try a Heel File
A file or emery board works similarly to a pumice stone in smoothing your skin and removing calluses. As with a pumice stone, you'll start by soaking the affected area with warm water. Next, use the file or emery board until the skin starts to soften or get red. When you're finished, don't forget to moisturize. Dr. Palm suggests wearing gloves or socks after applying moisturizer to help the moisturizer penetrate your skin.
Protect Your Skin From Friction
One of the simplest ways to address calluses is to prevent friction so the callus doesn't even have the opportunity to form. "Anticipate problem areas and wear a piece of moleskin on them under your socks before you give your shoes a chance to rub and create a blister or callus," says Tsippora Shainhouse, a board-certified dermatologist in Beverly Hills, California. "Bandaids are okay in a pinch, but they don’t stick once your foot is sweaty and they can come off with mild shoe friction."
Make Sure Your Shoes Fit Properly
"Remember that we are not born with calluses—they evolve over time due to our behavior and activities," Palm says, adding that the most meaningful way to permanently address calluses is to eliminate the cause.
Making sure your shoes fit well is another technique that falls into the prevention category. If you're buying running shoes, they should have about an inch of space from the longest toe. Any smaller and your toes will hit the front of the shoe, any bigger and your heel will lift and rub along the back of the shoe, eventually causing a blister of callus, Shainhouse says. Shoes that are too narrow can contribute to rubbing and calluses, too. Another tip for preventing friction is to rotate your shoes rather than wearing the same pair each day.
Try an Electric Callus Remover
A quick online search reveals a number of electric callus removers, so you definitely have options here. Jaliman mentions the Emjoi Micro Pedi Callus Remover, which contains a soft textured roller that spins 360 degrees and gently buffs away your calluses.
Try BabyFoot—the Viral Foot Peel
You've probably heard about Baby Foot from at least a few of your friends. If not, Baby Foot is a gel-based foot peel product. Basically, you wash your feet, put on a pair of booties filled with a peeling gel, and leave them on for an hour before washing off. Then you wait for the peeling to begin—and when we say peel, we are not kidding around.
Shainhouse says this product can help remove the dead skin, but be aware that you may not love the process involved. "Just know that this product can be irritating and may make the skin on your feet shed like crazy," she says. If you can deal with the excessive peeling, you'll be able to say goodbye to the calluses and hello to baby soft skin.
Draw Yourself a Warm Apple Cider Vinegar Bath
This simple DIY soak uses just three items that you may already have at home—apple cider vinegar, bread, and plastic wrap or an elastic bandage. Basically, all you need to do is soak a slice of bread in apple cider vinegar for a few hours, allowing it to form into a paste. Then you place the paste on your calluses, wrap in the bandage or plastic, and leave it overnight, allowing the magic to happen.