If you have thick, dry skin on your feet, you might be tempted to pull out a callus-removing tool and go to town. But, before you start sloughing your heels with abandon, it’s a good idea to know how to use a callus shaver properly so that you don’t damage your skin or cause any pain.
You’ve definitely dealt with this all-too-common form of buildup before: A callus is a layer of thick skin that forms on the foot to protect it from excess friction and pressure, says board-certified podiatrist Nelya Lobkova, DPM. These will typically form on the ball and/or heel of the foot, and it becomes way more likely if you walk around barefoot, wear sandals, or jam your feet into ill-fitting shoes. As for the latter culprit, it may take a while to notice the excess skin form on your heels. According to Dr. Hadley King, M.D., a New York City-based dermatologist, the ongoing friction causes your skin to blister, but if the friction continues, the skin will respond by forming a callus for protection.
If you want to leave your calluses alone, that’s a-OK. “A small amount of callus, such as patches of dry skin, is normal,” says Lobkova. It will definitely make your feet feel tougher, which can come in handy for protection whenever you’re, say, walking on hard surfaces or wearing shoes with little support. It’s only when a callus becomes large, tight, dry, or cracked — or if you hate the way it looks — that using a callus remover might start to sound like a good idea.
Both electric and manual callus removers are effective, says King, but electric ones tend to be easier to use since they require less physical effort. Whichever you go with, King cautions to not use excess pressure. “Only dead skin should be removed,” she says. If it hurts even for a second, stop using the tool. With that in mind, keep reading for expert tips on how to use a callus shaver properly for super-smooth heels.
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How To Use A Callus Shaver
1. Prep Your Skin The Night Before
Properly removing calluses begins the night before. “If there is very rough skin on your feet, with or without cracks, I would advise to properly exfoliate overnight prior to using an electric callus remover,” Lobkova says.
She recommends using a lotion that contains urea, an active ingredient that’s been shown to help separate dead skin from healthy skin, making the callus removal process easier. Generously slather it on — focusing on the toes, heels, and sides of your feet — and then pull on a pair of socks to trap moisture in.
2. Soak Your Feet
The next day, before you start filing, you’ll want to get your feet wet either in a warm shower, bath, or basin à la the kind you find in a nail salon. Dr. Morgan Covington, M.D., a dermatologist at Westlake Dermatology, recommends soaking the affected foot for 15 to 20 minutes to soften the callus and prime it for easier removal.
3. Manual File
A manual callus file will allow you to control how much pressure is applied to your skin, says Covington, thus giving you more control. You can also use it right in the shower. “Gently scrub the affected area using a back and forth motion for one to two minutes,” she tells Bustle. Again, be careful not to scrub too vigorously or cause pain, as that’s a sign you’ve gone too deep and are removing fresh skin.
4. Electric File
Electric callus removers use a coarse roller head that spins to slough off skin. To use it correctly, allow your feet to fully dry before removing the callus. Then, turn on the file and gently touch it to the area you’re exfoliating. (You’ll likely see a plume of dead skin fly off, which is oddly satisfying.)
“The dry and dead skin, known as cornified skin, should come off and leave behind skin that feels smooth and healthy,” Lobkova says. Be sure to follow the instructions included with your particular file, which will likely suggest applying light pressure to the callus for only a few seconds at a time.
5. Check The Callus
Once you’ve removed a thin layer of dead skin, call it quits. “The goal is not to remove the entire callus in one session,” Covington says. “Instead, you should expect to see the callus soften and thin out over time.”
How often you file will depend on how much dead skin has accumulated, Lobkova says. You might find that filing once or twice a week does the trick. It’ll also help to use a pumice stone in the shower daily, she says, to maintain or prevent the over-accumulation of dead skin.
6. Rinse & Dry Feet
If you used a manual shaver, pat your feet dry. If you used an electric file, give your feet a quick rinse to remove any dead skin flakes that have accumulated.
7. Apply Moisturizer
Once you’ve finished filing, Lobkova recommends applying a lotion that contains ceramides to restore your skin’s natural lipid levels (aka natural fats that coat the skin’s surface for protection and hydration), such as the Eucerin moisturizing cream.
Shop Callus Removing Essentials
A Gentle Exfoliating Cream
This lotion contains that all-important urea to help break down the calluses on your feet, and can be used all over your body. The formula is fragrance-free, super-gentle, and absorbs quickly without leaving any sticky residue.
The Drugstore Buy
Snag this foot-softening lotion at the drugstore — an A-plus buy as it contains all the ingredients experts recommend for healthier feet. That means urea for soft exfoliation along with ceramides and glycerin to replenish dryness.
An Ergonomically-Designed Manual File
The Ped Egg is a classic choice in the manual callus shaver category with its easy-to-hold shape, grater-like surface, and built-in reservoir to catch skin flakes. King also recommends other manual files like the Diamancel Foot Buffer and the GEHWOL Pedicure File to remove rough skin.
An Electric Callus Remover
This electric file spins at a high speed to buff away calluses with its diamond crystal-studded tip, and it’s another foot-smoothing tool you can grab at your local drugstore.
A Soothing Skin Butter
Apply this luxe body butter to your feet after sloughing away calluses to infuse moisture back into your skin. Its formula uses shea butter, cocoa butter, jojoba oil, vitamin E, and other hydrating botanicals to help make cracked, dry heels a thing of the past.
Freeman DB. Corns and calluses resulting from mechanical hyperkeratosis. Am Fam Physician. 2002 Jun 1;65(11):2277-80. PMID: 12074526.
Parker, J., Scharfbillig, R., & Jones, S. (2017). Moisturisers for the treatment of foot xerosis: a systematic review. Journal of foot and ankle research, 10, 9. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13047-017-0190-9
Dr. Hadley King, M.D., NYC-based board-certified dermatologist
Nelya Lobkova, DPM, board-certified podiatrist
Dr. Morgan Covington, M.D., dermatologist with Westlake Dermatology