What are corns?

Corns are hard, thickened areas of skin that typically occur on the feet. They’re similar to a callus, but are usually harder, smaller, and more painful.

Corns aren’t dangerous, but they can cause irritation. They’re also more likely to affect women than men.

There are three main types of corns:

  • hard
  • soft
  • seed

Hard corns are the most common type of corn. They’re small, concentrated areas of hard skin, usually found within a wider area of thickened skin. Soft corns, on the other hand, are whitish or gray, and are rubbery in texture. They often appear between the toes. Seed corns are small and usually found on the bottom of the foot.

As they thicken, corns can become quite painful.

Corns aren’t a skin disease. They’re your body’s response to pressure or friction on the skin. Here’s how to prevent and treat them at home:

Photos of corn

corn on foot

Diagnosing corns

Specialized tests aren’t necessary to diagnose corns. Direct observation of the corn and the surrounding skin is all that’s necessary.

Corns are typically round and occur on the sides and tops of the feet. The main difference between corns and calluses is that a callus isn’t painful to touch. A corn may be painful to touch because the skin is inflamed, and it may have a hard or soft center.

How to prevent corns

To make sure your corns don’t develop or come back after treatment, you have to eliminate the conditions that caused them. Here are some tips to help eliminate friction and prevent corns from forming:

  • Get shoes and socks that fit properly. To get the right fit, ask a clerk to measure your foot, and then choose shoes that aren’t too loose or too tight. A tip for getting the correct size shoe is to shop for shoes at the end of the day, when your feet may be slightly swollen.
  • Trim your toenails. If your toenails are too long, they can force your toes to push up against your shoe. This can create pressure that causes a corn to form over time.
  • Use corn pads. Corn pads help protect against excess pressure or friction around your corn. They come in a variety of materials including foam, felt, and moleskin. Typically, these pads are donut-shaped — to redistribute the pressure around the corn — with an adhesive backing. They should be positioned so the corn is in the center hole.
  • Keep your feet clean. Wash your feet daily with soap, water, and an appropriate scrub brush.
  • Keep your feet moisturized. Use foot cream on a regular basis to prevent dryness and friction.

How to get rid of corns

Before treating corns, you must first evaluate the cause of your friction. In many cases, they’ll go away on their own when the pressure or friction causing them stops.

If protecting the corn from further irritation doesn’t solve your problem, dermatologists recommend the following steps to get rid of corns:

1. Soak your foot in warm water

Make sure the corn is fully submerged for about 10 minutes or until the skin softens.

2. File the corn with a pumice stone

A pumice stone is a porous and abrasive volcanic rock that’s used for sloughing away dry skin. Dip the pumice stone in warm water and then use it to carefully file the corn. Gentle circular or sideways motions help remove the dead skin.

Tip: Don’t take off too much skin. Too much filing could cause bleeding and lead to infection.

3. Apply lotion to the corn

Use a moisturizing lotion or cream with salicylic acid. Salicylic acid dissolves the keratin protein that makes up the corn and the surrounding dead skin. However, salicylic acid is generally not recommended for people with diabetes, poor circulation, or frail skin.

4. Use corn pads

Protect corns from making contact with your shoe, with these donut-shaped adhesive pads.

Don’t attempt to cut or shave away your corns as this can lead to a potentially dangerous infection of the surrounding tissues. Cutting or shaving corns should only be done by a doctor.

When to see a doctor

If you have a very painful corn or if you have diabetes, fragile skin, or peripheral arterial disease, you should consult a doctor before pursuing home treatment. Seek medical attention if your corn shows signs of infection with symptoms including:

  • worsening pain
  • pus or drainage
  • swelling
  • redness

Outlook

Corns are a noncancerous condition that can be managed with home remedies or medical treatment — surgery is rarely necessary. Following successful treatment, corns may return if the affected area continues to be irritated by friction or pressure.

You should wear properly fitting shoes to prevent corns from developing and remember to treat your feet right.