foot week

The Best Tools, Creams, and Balms for Calluses, According to Podiatrists

Illustration: Chaimae Khouldi. Photos: Courtesy of the Retailers

If you’re dealing with calluses — rough, hard dry-skin buildup across the foot known medically as hyperkeratosis — you’ve no doubt tried an endless list of things to treat the problem. But it may help to know that calluses aren’t something you can tackle alone. Experts told us that the best action plan is to see a foot-health practitioner and then follow up with at-home after-care. “If you’ve got calluses, it’s actually quite difficult to get on top of them yourself — you need to have a head start by seeing someone like myself to remove those,” says Jonathan Small, lead podiatrist of Health First Foot & Gait Clinic. Professor of podiatric medicine Dr. Sarah Curran agrees: “Any patient that’s struggling with their skin, we would recommend they go and see a HCPC-registered practitioner.” Once the bulk of the issue has been removed, “you then stand a chance of keeping it away by using various instruments and creams,” adds Small. Dr. Curran’s main piece of advice for dealing with calluses is simply to be consistent. “If you need to apply emollients or balms, you’ve got to be really regular with it,” she says. “There’s no point putting it on once a week. You need to be doing it daily and have it become part of your routine, like cleaning your teeth.”

Before discussing the best tools and lotions for all kinds of calluses, there are some products that our experts strongly advise patients avoid. The first is chemical peels. “They can be very dangerous for skin if they’re acid based,” warns Small. “They’re designed to burn away hard skin, but they don’t know the difference between the hard skin and the healthy skin, so they burn them both.” Dr. Curran agrees, finding that peels are often used more “from a beauty perspective, as opposed to a health perspective.” Small also advises patients away from the once wildly popular trend of fish pedicures, which he calls “absolute codswallop — they’ve been shown to be completely ineffective and unsterile.” Below, a selection of the best tools and products for tackling calluses and maintaining healthy, smooth feet.

Best insoles for preventing calluses and dry skin

“If a callus is, say, on the ball of the foot, we might look at how the foot is functioning via insoles and orthopaedics,” says Dr. Curran. “Inappropriate footwear can add pressure to the ball of the foot, which can produce calluses.” To alleviate some of this pressure, Small recommends cushioned insoles to be worn within a patient’s shoes. These insoles in particular come recommended by Small as the best to “order directly, without needing a prescription.” The insoles come on a sheet and can be trimmed to fit a particular shoe size or foot shape, and their three-millimetre-thick cushioning reduces the burden on the foot.

Best balm for treating calluses and dry skin

When dealing with calluses, basic moisturising creams won’t cut it, according to Small. “You need something with urea in it,” he explains. “Urea acts as a humectant, which actually draws moisture into it, not just providing moisture that it’s got in the cream. The stronger the percentage of urea, the more effect it has on hard skin.” Creams are available with a content of 10 percent to 40 percent urea, but as a mainstay, Small recommends purchasing a balm with a 25 percent concentration. Dr. Curran also recommends looking out for creams with urea as an active ingredient, which she prefers to an ingredient such as lanolin, which is far greasier and slower to absorb. In initial stages of treatment, both experts recommend using the urea-containing balm at least once a day.

Best file for calluses and dry skin

Once the skin has been softened, you can begin to file away areas of intense dry-skin buildup with a foot file. According to Small, this dual file is the one he recommends to his patients. “It has a rougher side, and a smoother side, for filing hard skin,” explains Small. “It’s a very safe foot file; it’s not going to damage normal skin.” The more damaging types of files are what Dr. Curran calls cheese-grater-type files: “I certainly don’t promote the cheese-grater files. I think they’re too harsh and can cause a lot of damage, particularly if you have diabetes or lack sensation in your feet.” The reason these files are so damaging is that, as with chemical peels, they don’t discern between healthy and dry-skin tissue, so they’ll tear away both. And whilst this tapered dual foot file is a far safer alternative, there are still some safety tips to bear in mind when it’s in use. “We would ask people to do it in one direction (up and down, not crisscross) and be gentle with it, too — don’t go too rigorously,” says Dr. Curran. “Never share a foot file either, not even with your partner.” Our experts recommend filing away dead skin no more than twice a week.

Best cream for preventing calluses and dry skin

After a few weeks of balming and filing the feet, it’s important to move to a cream that will simply maintain the new moisture within the feet. “In patients that use the 25 percent urea cream after a few too many weeks, their skin starts to peel — it becomes too harsh for them,” finds Dr. Curran. “So it’s important to have that balanced approach.” For a long-term cream, she recommends the Skin Relief lotion from Aveeno: “I actually use it myself. It’s quite water based, and it soaks in very well.” The product is designed for those tackling intensely dehydrated skin and is suitable for people with diabetes, who often tend to find callus buildups and a loss of sensitivity within the heels of their feet. Dr. Curran strongly advises patients to continue applying a lotion such as Aveeno long after their problem of calluses has subsided to prevent their reemerging. As always, when dealing with calluses on the foot, prevention is the best cure.

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