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How to Keep Your Feet Soft and Smooth All Summer

Photo by Alena Ozerova/Adobe Stock Images

Summer is the best season to step up your pedicure game. With all its beach days and open-toed shoes, this is the time of year to keep your bare feet looking top-notch. But a great pedicure may require more than just polishing your toes. More than likely, your calluses will benefit from some love, too. Below we'll dive into more about what exactly calluses are, what causes them, and some tips on how to safely maintain them.

About the Expert:

Amy Lin is the founder of Sundays, an NYC-based nail care brand focused on wellness.

What are calluses?

Put simply, a callus is a patch of built-up, hardened dead skin. It's your body's natural way to protect underlying tissues. Calluses can form anywhere on the body that experiences friction or pressure. That's why they appear most frequently on the hands and around the heels and balls of the feet. If left unmaintained, calluses can become extremely thick, sometimes itchy, and can feel tight on the skin. 

Corns and calluses are similar but have a few key differences. A corn is a callus that usually forms in a circular shape and penetrates deep into the skin. While calluses are rarely painful, corns can cause pain when pressure is applied. Corns sometimes need to be removed differently than calluses, often requiring spot treatment or specialized pads on the affected area. 

When it comes to maintaining calluses on the feet, you want to be sure that you're thinning them as opposed to removing them entirely. "People sometimes go too rough when filing their feet and they hurt their skin and cause more damage, essentially making their skin rougher," says Amy Lin, founder of Sundays in New York. "Being gentle when filling is my number one advice. Calluses grow for a reason, they might be there to create a barrier from rubbing against your shoes."

Here are five easy home remedies to use next time your feet could use a little bit of polishing.

How to remove and prevent calluses

1. Soak your feet.

Before you begin exfoliating the feet, be sure to do a foot soak. This will help make the callused skin soft and easier to remove. There are a few different popular home remedies for foot soaks. One is a simple Epsom salt bath; another includes a mix of warm water and baking soda; another boasts mixing apple cider vinegar with warm water. These can help soften and breakdown calluses before you even begin exfoliating.

2. Exfoliate your feet with a pumice stone.

Most of the time, when you physically exfoliate the feet, you will want to do it while the feet are still soft and wet from the foot soak. There are a few different methods you can try. One of the most popular callus removers is a pumice stone, a porous stone that can effectively yet gently brush away dead skin when it's rubbed against calluses on the feet. If you don't have much callus build-up, pumice stones are a great tool to keep in the shower for a quick daily polish. If your calluses are super thick, you may want to try a more aggressive method like a foot file.

3. Exfoliate with a foot file.

Foot files are handheld devices that are typically two-sided: One side includes a coarse sandpaper-like surface and the other contains a finer sandpaper-like surface. The courser side can quickly file away calluses while the finer side can polish and smooth skin. While foot files are still relatively gentle, they're slightly more aggressive than a pumice stone and can file away thick calluses faster. Lin also adds, "You may use a foot file when you 'dry' file your feet."

When deciding between these two methods, Lin says, "A pumice stone is definitely more gentle as it’s a natural exfoliant. I would recommend using it if your feet aren’t too rough to touch to remove dead skin. A foot file is more effective for removing, dry, thick skin. Regardless, you should always be gentle when filing!"

You may also see electric foot files. In these devices, the file comes in a roller shape that spins when you turn it on. Instead of manually buffing the skin, all you have to do with an electric foot file is glide the roller along the skin. The spinning motion will take care of the hard work. Just make sure to be gentle and not to over-exfoliate.

4. Try a foot peel treatment.

"Applying acids such as glycolic, lactic, and malic can help speed up the dead skin cell removal and help to achieve the results of fresher skin underneath that rough layer," says Lin. "Based on the strength of the acid and how many calluses you have, the strongest acid would be glycolic (derived from sugarcane), followed by lactic (derived from fermented milk), and then malic (derived from apples)." The one that's right for you will depend on how callused your feet are and how sensitive your skin is.

One of the simplest ways to use exfoliating acids on the feet is via a peeling treatment like the GRACE & STELLA Dr. Pedicure Foot Peeling Mask. Most peeling treatments come with plastic booties filled with a peeling solution. Allow your feet to soak in the solution for the amount of time specified on your specific foot peel (for the GRACE & STELLA peeling mask it is one hour). Then, for the next six to 10 days you'll see dead skin start to fall away revealing smooth, soft skin.

Lin warns that if you have sensitive skin, exfoliating acids may cause irritation. At Dear Sundays, "we use gentle ingredients such as mineral sea salt, lemon, and oil to soften the skin and remove the dead skin manually with a foot file," she says. "The natural method is not as effective as acids but it doesn’t cause any redness or irritation on your skin."

5. Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize.

After any exfoliation treatment, it's important to remember to hydrate the feet to promote healthy skin. When the skin is well moisturized it forms a strong moisture barrier, which prevents dry, tough skin. Moisturizing can be done with a rich foot cream, a body lotion, or an intensive hydrating foot mask like the NAISTURE 15 MIN Foot Mask.

While it's extra important to moisturize immediately after exfoliating, it's also a great habit to moisturize the feet daily to keep them supple and soft.

6. Wear the right shoes.

If calluses or corns continue to form even though you're treating them regularly, it could be due to your footwear. Tight shoes and high heels can put pressure on specific points of the feet. As a natural reaction, calluses will form on those spots that protect the tissue.

Try wearing comfortable shoes as often as possible and maybe even consider using insoles to minimize the potential of calluses forming.

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About the author
Cortney Clift
Cortney is a New York-based freelance writer who has written about beauty and wellness for more than six years. She was previously the senior writer and special projects editor at Brit + Co where she covered a wide range of news and lifestyle topics.
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Article Last Updated November 3, 2020 12:00 AM