Our hands reveal what we do, what we grip, and even how we move from point A to B. For those who travel the world grabbing bars and bracing against concrete, caring for the hands demands extra attention. Luckily, you possess built-in protection, thanks to layer upon layer of skin.
But when your body identifies an area that needs additional assistance, it creates a callus. “All a callus is is extra layers of skin your body lays down because there is repetitive, extra friction,” says Amanda Rice, a certified athletic trainer with California State University-Fullerton. “So your body needs to beef up that layer of skin in that high-friction area and for that, it makes calluses.”
Unfortunately, calluses, which can form on the feet and the hands, take time. Rice says the process of developing the optimal amount of skin for a callus can take about two weeks. “It starts off like a blister, so to build the callus is sometimes not an enjoyable process,” Rice says. During this window of time, it is a natural instinct to want to cover the callus, but Rice recommends leaving them alone. Using tape to cover your callus-in-progress may worsen matters. “As you add tape to that skin area, it has a chance of actually increasing the amount of friction because there’s more layers of materials between you and the surface,” Rice says.
Instead of taping, Rice recommends the use of a liquid bandage (like New-Skin) that can be sprayed onto a blister, where it hardens to create a protective temporary layer. Other than this, Rice says to try to be patient during the two weeks the callus forms.
Thomas Rohrer, M.D., a member of SkinCare Physicians in Boston and the chair of the Sports Committee at the American Academy of Dermatology, agrees with Rice. “The callus is there to protect you, “Rohrer says. “If you’re doing repeated activities, it’s probably a reasonable thing to keep the callus there to protect your hands from the trauma.”
Once the callus reaches its optimal thickness, it still requires care. If the callus gets too thick, blisters can develop underneath the raised skin. “Now you have this giant, thick pad of skin that then becomes counterproductive,” Rice says. The layers of thickened skin act just as the tape would, creating a friction point, which leads to blisters under the skin. If the callus becomes too thick or too dry, it could also split open.
“Once you start seeing blisters underneath your calluses, or they simply become too large, you need to take a simple callus shaver and take down a couple of layers,” Rice says. When shaving down skin, stick to a shaver or pumice stone and avoid the power tools that are sometimes referenced in online forums. “The problem is that it’s just so uncontrolled, and it moves so fast that you can get yourself into trouble more quickly with something like that then you would with any of the other less abrasive techniques,” Rohrer says. Using the shaver or pumice, shave the callus until the skin begins to feel sensitive. But avoid shaving the skin down too far, because you may need to restart the two-week formation period.
Calluses play a critical role in protecting hands if properly cared for, so be patient while they’re developing. Keep them moisturized and shorn — and stay away from those power tools.