I’ve struggled with skin picking my whole life. When my skin picking was at it’s worst, calluses on feet were a favorite target. It got so bad at times, I would have large, bleeding wounds and be in so much pain that I couldn’t walk. If this sounds too familiar, I’m here to tell you that you aren’t alone and that there is a way out.
Is it Bad to Pick Calluses?
As tempting as it is to pick calluses on your feet, calluses are adaptive. This means that your body created them to protect you from something. Usually the cause of foot calluses is friction from poorly fitting shoes, abnormal walking patterns, or high levels of physical activity. They form to create extra cushion to protect your skin and soft tissues.
So picking or removing calluses before addressing the cause of them is not helpful to your body. In addition, aggressively stretching or pulling to remove calluses can backfire because it can signal to your skin that you need more protection there, creating even thicker calluses next time.
And with picking in particular, you are likely to tear skin at some point, causing pain, bleeding, and making your skin susceptible to infection.
What to Do When Picking Calluses Causes an Injury
If you pick your calluses pretty regularly or obsessively, you have probably experienced pain, bleeding, or some other form of an injury. This sucks, but thankfully, it’s usually something you can treat at home and will get better really quickly. Here’s some tips to keep in mind when you get an injury from picking calluses:
Stop the Bleeding
Your first priority is to stop any bleeding. Apply pressure with a clean, dry towel or bandage for several minutes. If the bleeding doesn’t slow down, lie down and prop your foot up so it’s higher than your heart until the bleeding stops.
Clean the Wound
Once the bleeding has stopped, it’s time to clean your wound. Start by washing and drying your hands well first. Then wash your foot under running water and pat it dry gently with a clean towel. If you have no running water nearby, use a topical antiseptic spray such as Bactine and let the area air dry.
Dress the Wound
Once your wound is clean and dry, you can begin to dress it. To help with pain and prevent infection, you can apply a wound cream such as Neosporin, but this is optional. Then put on a clean bandage.
Replace yoru bandage everytime it gets wet, dirty, or if blood soaks through it. To help remove the sticky parts of the bandage, you can soak it in water first.
Reduce the Pain
To reduce pain, take a simple over-the-counter pain medication such as acetaminophen. Another option is to use a topical spray with Lidocaine. My favorite is Bactine.
In addition, wear well-cushioned and roomy shoes until your wound heals. You can also reduce discomfort by wearing thick, soft socks. Try to stay off your feet as much as possible.
When to Contact Your Doctor About a Foot Injury
Most wounds from picking calluses can be easily treated at home, but if you experience any of the following, it’s best to contact your doctor for medical advice:
- Bleeding that won’t stop with direct pressure.
- A wound deeper than ½ inches. This may require stitches to heal properly.
- Signs of infection. These include an increase in pain, swelling, or redness or pus draining from the wound.
- Fever of 100.4 degrees F or higher.
- You have diabetes, Raynaud’s disease, or another condition that affects circulation or wound healing in the feet.
Is it Normal to Pick Calluses?
Most people pick their skin, including scabs, acne, and even calluses from time to time.
However, if you have tried to stop picking and have not been able to stop and it has caused significant problems in your life, your picking is more severe than the average person’s and you may need to seek help from a doctor or mental health professional.
In addition, sometimes medications can cause picking as a side effect, so check side effects of the medications you are taking or talk to your doctor.
Either way, know that you are not alone. Everyone picks skin from time to time and it’s nothing to be ashamed about.
There is a lot you can do to stop your picking on your own. If that doesn’t work, know that this is a well-known disorder that you can get professional help for as well.
How to Stop Picking Calluses
The secret to stopping picking calluses is to identify what triggers you to start picking and then avoid those triggers.
Think about when you pick your feet and where you are when you pick them. These are your skin picking triggers.
You probably have multiple triggers. Common triggers include feelings such as stress, anxiety, anger, or boredom.
You may also be triggered by sedentary activities such as watching TV, browsing social media, or reading. Being tired, hungry, or otherwise out of balance can trigger you to pick as well.
Figure out a strategy to avoid your triggers. Reduce stress in your life and learn better strategies for emotional self-regulation. Change up your routine and environment so common triggers aren’t in your day to day life.
Quick Tips to Stop Picking Calluses
Identifying triggers and avoiding them is a journey that isn’t going to happen overnight. However, here’s a few quick tips to get your started that apply specifically to picking calluses from feet:
- Keep your nails short. If you have short fingernails, it’s almost impossible to pick skin.
- Get rid of tools you use to pick your calluses. If you use manicure tools, tweezers, or other items to pick at your feet, get rid of them or hide them in an inconvenient location. The more hoops you have to jump through to get to them, the better.
- Keep your hands busy. When you are feeling bored or need stimulation to help regulate your emotions, it’s good to have alternatives such as play foam, kinetic sand, or a squeeze ball handy.
- Wear socks or shoes as much as possible, even to bed. This can sometimes stop picking in its tracks without any other strategies.
- Get rid of calluses on feet in other ways. The calluses themselves are often a huge trigger, so getting rid of them may be the best thing you can do to stop your foot picking. I go into how to do this in the next section.
- Give yourself self-compassion. You are not weird. You are not bad. Everyone has bad habits. EVERYONE. This is just your bad habit. If you beat yourself up over it, your emotional regulation will get worse, which will make it harder to stop.
Get Rid of Calluses on Feet without Picking
As we’ve established, picking calluses on feet can cause injury and infection. But gently removing them the right way and then preventing new ones from forming can help eliminate your number one trigger for picking, which are usually the calluses themselves.
Remove the Callus Gently
To get rid of a callus on your foot, first soak your foot in warm water for 15 to 30 minutes.
Then use a pumice stone, washcloth, or sandpaper to gently rub off a layer of skin on the callus. You don’t want to rub too much off at once because it will trigger your body to make another callus. This process may take up to a week.
For some people, this step is impossible because the action of rubbing the skin off triggers your compulsion and you end up rubbing too much off at once.
If this sounds like you, try a pedicure instead. If that’s not an option, you can probably skip this step and go straight on to moisturizing. It will just take longer to get rid of the callus.
Use a foot cream designed for calluses to soften the skin. This will slowly get rid of calluses and prevent new ones from forming. My favorite foot cream for this purpose is O’Keeffe’s Healthy Feet Foot Cream (click to check out the before and after photos in the reviews on Amazon).
Adjust Your Lifestyle and Clothing to Prevent Calluses
Since calluses form to protect soft tissue from excess friction, you need to address the sources of that friction. Often this is as simple as wearing non medicated callus pads, cushioned socks, or shoe inserts that keep your feet from rubbing against your shoes.
You should also be avoiding shoes that don’t fit well or cause a lot of friction such as flip flops, high heels, or sandals.
American Family Physician: Common Questions About Wound Care
American Family Physician: Corns and Calluses Resulting from Mechanical Hyperkeratosis
American Family Physician: Skin and Soft Tissue Infections
Fairview Health Services: Foot Laceration: All Closures
Mayo Clinic: Home Treatment Options for Corns and Calluses
National Health Service: Cuts and Grazes
National Health Service: Skin Picking Disorder
Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment: Excoriation (Skin-Picking) Disorder: a Systematic Review of Treatment Options
Safer Care Victoria: Care of Open Wounds