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Leading Dermatologist Dr. Joshua Fox on Removing Unsightly, Painful Corns and Calluses 

Sarah Brown, wife of U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown, made headlines recently when she removed her shoes at a Hindu temple, displaying the corns and calluses on her feet. She joined celebrities including Katie Holmes, Amanda Bynes and Rihanna, who are known for having less-than-perfect-feet.

In fact, nearly 10 percent of American women and five percent of the population as a whole suffer from unsightly, often painful corns and calluses that make their feet best suited for boots and other winter shoe styles. But according to dermatologist Dr. Joshua Fox, “by taking care of these problems now, woman and men can enjoy the summer in sandals or their bare feet.”

“Corns and calluses are caused by friction and pressure on the feet, either from wearing shoes that don’t fit properly or from conditions such as arthritis, trauma, bunions or various deformities,” says Dr. Fox, founder of Advanced Dermatology and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Dermatology.

“While most corns and calluses are unsightly, only some cause pain. If you are in good health, you don’t have to see a professional for corns and calluses unless they hurt or bother your walking. But, if you don’t like the way your feet look, if you are having pain or if you have certain medical conditions including diabetes, poor circulation or numbness in the feet, it’s important that you see a doctor or podiatrist who can evaluate the problem and help you remove the corns and calluses.”

According to Harry Baldinger, M.D., an esteemed podiatrist in Monsey, N.Y., “Most people do not get calluses or corns. People do get them when there is extra friction at some point during the gait cycle. Sometimes the cause is the structure of the foot which could be adjusted with devices, biomechanical and padding devices.” “Sometimes, surgical intervention is needed if the foot structure is out of the ‘normal’ range. Usually, this type of surgery is NOT cosmetic in nature but rather to make the foot fit the shoe,” adds Dr. Baldinger.

Dr. Fox explains that the yellow or gray, thick, hardened, dead skin on the feet known as calluses and corns form to protect the skin from pressure, friction and injury. While both calluses and corns are less sensitive to the touch than surrounding skin and may feel bumpy, the two are different. Both calluses and hard corns are hard, dry and thick, while a soft corn looks like an open sore. Corns that are neglected can turn into sores which may become infected. Both corns and calluses are diagnosed during a physical exam; your doctor may want to x-ray the foot if he or she suspects a problem with the underlying bone which can be treated by a podiatrist or orthopedic surgeon.

“The best way to remove a corn or callus is to prevent it from forming in the first place,” says Dr. Fox, who offers several at-home suggestions to prevent corns and calluses from forming. “Wear shoes that fit well and give your toes plenty of room,” he says. “Wear protective coverings such as felt pads, lambs wool, cotton balls or bandages over the parts of your feet that rub against your shoes. If that doesn’t work and you’ve developed a corn or callus, you can try an at-home treatment,” he adds.

If you start to feel pain, Dr. Fox says, the first thing to do is to remove the pressure or friction that is causing the problem, giving it time to heal. This is done by wearing shoes that fit properly and using protective padding, which can be purchased at a drug store, to cushion the callus or corn. Podiatrists can make a specialized shoe for your foot to remove pressure. “Don’t use liquid corn removers containing salicylic acid,” he says. “This can irritate healthy skin and promote infection. Soaking your feet in warm, soapy water can soften corns and calluses, making it easier to remove the thickened skin.”

Dr. Fox also recommends rubbing corns and calluses with a pumice stone or washcloth during or after bathing to help remove a layer of thickened skin, and following that with moisturizer. “Never cut or shave calluses or corns yourself, as this could cause infection.”

Dr. Baldinger advises, “An evaluation by a professional is a worthwhile investment for the future in any case. Until a patient can get to their doctor (dermatologist/podiatrist is best), a useful over-the-counter product that works to remove the hardened skin and soften the underlying skin is KERASAL’s One-Step Exfoliating and Moisturizing Ointment ™, which is available in most pharmacies or doctor’s offices (KerasalPro Ointment)”.

For stubborn, painful corns and calluses or those that you feel are particularly unsightly, see your podiatrist or dermatologist, who can evaluate the problem and remove the dead skin safely, Dr. Fox says. “It’s important to call your doctor if you cut a corn or callus, which could cause infection; if it oozes pus or clear fluid, both of which mean it is infected; or if you develop a corn or callus and you suffer from diabetes, heart disease or other circulatory problems.” During an office visit, he says, your doctor may trim the thickened skin with a scalpel, apply a patch containing salicylic acid and may recommend applying an antibiotic ointment to reduce the risk of infection. In severe cases, your doctor may recommend surgery to correct the alignment of the bones in your feet that are causing the problem.

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