Are Callouses Good Or Bad At Preventing Blisters?

by Rebecca Rushton 1 Comment

Do callouses prevent blisters?

Some athletes swear they keep them blister-free and build their callouses with pride. Others get regular pedicures to keep the hard skin away, especially just before a race.


What is a callous?

Callouses are a thickening of the stratum corneum – the very outer layer of the skin. Thickening of the corneum is one adaptive change research has shown to occur when the skin is subjected to repeated low level frictional forces. I go into further detail in this post.


Imagine a blister under callous like this - ouch!Callouses image credit


Do callouses protect against blisters?

Callouses protect against abrasions. An abrasion occurs when something wears through the skin - from superficial layers into deeper layers. Like when you fall off your bike and scrape your knee along the road. A callous protects against this because there is more corneum to wear through before getting to raw skin.

But blisters are not a superficial-to-deep wear injury. They're a mechanical fatigue of a skin layer a few layers deeper than the corneum (the stratum spinosum). When there's too much skin stretching of the skin, the structural connections hear tear. Fluid then fills the injured space to form a blister. A callous doesn't prevent this mechanical fatigue. Skin shear happens in exactly the same way whether there's a callous over top or not.


Blister under callous

In fact, the presence of a callous often makes blisters worse. You get callouses where there is a concentration of pressure, as well as other blister-causing forces. So to have a blister under a lot of pressure is never going to be nice! They often turn into blood blisters, too.

The reality is, callouses are far from protective. And a blister under a callus are nasty! They’re very painful and they’re difficult to manage.


How much callous?

We want to benefit from the adaptive thickening that makes the skin more resistant to blisters. But we don’t want to have to build chunky callouses that make blisters more likely. The right amount of skin thickening is barely noticeable.


How do you get rid of callouses?

To reduce the likelihood of blisters, it is advisable that you either see a podiatrist to debride callouses to the right degree. Or maintain them yourself with the use of a pumice stone or emery board.


A final blister tip

Moisturisers won’t make calluses any less blister-causing. That’s because the moisturiser will increase friction levels, which cause blisters. The aim is not to keep a callus soft, but to reduce its thickness.


Got a blister right now? Want to treat it right? Find out how!



Rebecca Rushton
Rebecca Rushton


Podiatrist, blister prone ex-hockey player, foot blister thought-leaderauthor and educator. Can’t cook. Loves test cricket.

1 Response

Julie Heinze
Julie Heinze

June 12, 2019

I have a callus on the dorsal side of my right great toe. When I walk too much, I get a blister under the callus. What do I do during that time and how do I prevent it in the future?

Leave a comment

Also in Blister Blog

foot blister risk factors
Risk Factors For Foot Blisters

by Rebecca Rushton BSc(Pod)

Ever wondered if you’re more likely to suffer foot blisters because of your age, weight, gender or ethnicity? Here's what the blister risk factor research tells us.

View full article →

taking blister action sooner rather than later
Sooner Rather Than Later: Lesson #6 From Adelaide 2019

by Rebecca Rushton 2 Comments

At the risk of sounding repetitive, it’s much smarter to take action on blisters sooner rather than later - before they're in a bad state. Here's why and an example of the difference it can make.

View full article →

posterior heel edge blisters from orthotics
When Orthotics Cause Posterior Heel Edge Blisters [And What To Do About It]: Lesson #5 From Adelaide 2019

by Rebecca Rushton

Foot orthotics can cause posterior heel edge blisters when they sit ever so slightly out-of-place in the shoe. Find out the easy fix to this problem (you'll need some double-sided tape).

View full article →