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Corns, calluses, hard skin: what are the differences?

Corns, calluses, hard skin: what are the differences?

Corns, calluses, and hard skin refer to often painful lesions formed on the feet. They are generally a result of pressure and friction during walking. While they are recognized by their hardening and thickening of the skin, they do have notable differences. Discover how to distinguish them in your daily life.

Published February 16, 2024, by Manon, Scientific Editor — 4 min read

What is a corn?

Corns typically present as hard growths located on the soles of the feet or as the formation of soft skin tissue between the toes, known as heloma molle or soft corns. They generally emerge in areas subjected to repeated friction or excessive pressure. These stresses prompt the epidermal cells (keratinocytes) to increase their production of keratin in order to protect the skin, which results in its thickening.

Firstly, dead skin cells accumulate in the form of a cone. This then penetrates the deep layers of the skin, exerting pressure on the nerve endings. Sometimes, this can lead to a sensation of discomfort or even pain.

There are two types of corns:

  • Hard corns.

Quite common, they appear directly in areas exposed to pressure and friction from shoes. These are generally located on the top of the toes or on the outer part of the little toe.

  • Soft corns.

They form as a result of the compression between two joints at the level of two toes and therefore occur in pairs. They are distinguished by their spongy consistency and their whitish color.

Calluses: What are they?

Similar to corns, calluses represent thickened areas of the skin on the feet. They are distinguished by their extent and less defined contours. Calluses also exhibit a yellowish hue and a hard consistency. However, unlike corns, calluses do not have a hard core at the center. These skin growths also appear in the pressure areas of the foot, and bilaterally:

  • On the sides of the foot, particularly around the heel or the sole;

  • Underneath the feet, at the junction between the front of the foot and the toes.

In their early stages, calluses are painless and underdeveloped. As they progress, these can form patches or cracks, splitting at the heel level. This leads to pain.

And what about the callus?

The term callus also refers to a thickening of the skin, this time on a broad area. Subjected to intense and regular pressures or frictions, the skin responds by thickening. It hardens and creates a sort of hemispherical outgrowth, with a crumbly roughness, which gradually yellows and can sometimes turn gray. In some individuals, this area becomes sensitive, even painful. The feet are generally affected due to improper ground support or ill-fitting shoes.

Corns often appear on the heels, under/on the toes, or under the forefoot, thus causing sharp plantar pain.

What should we remember?

In summary, corns are characterized by hard, thick bumps with a hard core, calluses are broader thickenings of the skin without a hard core, and hard skin areas are typically caused by repeated pressure. Calluses generally have a more regular and smooth surface than hard skin areas. The latter often form in a more targeted and limited way on specific parts of the feet, such as the heels, the sides of the toes, or the joints. Compared to corns or hard skin areas, calluses tend to be less likely to cause pain, although they can cause discomfort if they become excessively thick. However, there are solutions to alleviate these types of skin thickening.


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