Learn about symptoms and causes of corns, self-help treatment options, medication and when to seek medical help.

What are Corns?

Corns are typically small and thick areas of hardened skin on the hands and feet. They develop when the skin receives too much friction and pressure, causing it to protect itself by building up skin over time. 

There are usually 2 types of corns: 

  1. Hard foot corns that usually occur on the bony part of the foot (e.g. toes) 
  2. Soft foot corns between toes where skin may be wet (whitish/gray in colour)

What are the possible causes of Corns?

When subjected to friction and pressure, the skin cells in the affected area will respond by dividing and growing more than usual. This results in thicker skin due to a higher amount of keratin produced. Over time, a round area of hard skin called a callus would develop from this. If not treated and subjected to more friction and pressure, this would develop into a painful corn.

The most common cause of corns is wearing shoes that are incorrectly fitted to one’s size. Footwear that is too tight would squeeze the toes together and cause excessive friction for the feet. On the other hand, wearing loose shoes can cause the foot to easily rub against the shoe, which can be painful and uncomfortable. 

Having flat feet can lead to more pressure on the inner parts of the foot. This may cause corns to develop more often on the inner side of the heel as well.

What are the symptoms of Corns?

The symptoms of corns can include the following:

  • Thick, rough area of skin
  • Hardened, raised bumps that may be painful
  • Dense hard skin at the center surrounded by irritated skin
  • Tenderness or redness of skin

If there are some black or brownish dots in the affected skin, it may be a wart instead.

What can I do to treat Corns?

Corns can be treated in the following ways and you can approach your pharmacist to get the following medications.

  • Solutions containing salicylic acid such as Duofilm or Collomack may be used daily to soften the corn, causing it to peel off. Apply Vaseline or a foam pad around the corn to prevent the medication from irritating healthy skin.
  • Corn caps or plasters containing salicylic acid may be applied every 2 days for 10 days for easy removal.
  • Creams that contain ingredients such as urea or ammonium lactate may be applied daily to soften skin.

When do I need to see a doctor?

If you have a history of diabetes, you should seek a podiatrist or doctor’s advice and not self-treat, as you are more likely to have slow wound healing and infections. Although corns may be treated without a doctor’s consultation if you do not have diabetes, there are times where the condition might be more serious. 

If your condition does not improve after 10-14 days of self treatment or gets worse, you should see a doctor. You should also see a doctor if you have any of the following:

  • Discolouring of the skin around the corn
  • Any signs of bleeding, pus or discharge from the corn
  • Extreme or severe pain in the affected area
  • Fever or chills

What else can I do to manage this condition?

Other than using medications to treat the condition, corns may also be managed by the following methods:

  • Soak the foot in warm water for 20 minutes to soften skin and use a pumice stone or foot file to thin the thick skin weekly.
  • Applying moisturising creams regularly after filing may help soften the skin to ease skin removal. However, do not apply moisturisers between the toes.

The following are some suggestions to prevent corns from happening again:

  • Wearing shoes that are nicely fitted may help to prevent any unnecessary friction to occur
  • Wearing socks with footwear may further reduce friction
  • Adopting proper posture when walking or standing to reduce pressure on the feet
  • Wearing fitted insoles or shoe inserts may help to prevent recurring corns if you are flat-footed



This article is jointly developed by members of the National Medication Information workgroup. The workgroup consists of cluster partners (National Healthcare Group, National University Health System and SingHealth), community pharmacies (Guardian, Unity and Watsons) and Pharmaceutical Society of Singapore. The content does not reflect drug availability and supply information in pharmacies and healthcare institutions. You are advised to check with the respective institutions for such information.

The content above is solely for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician, pharmacist or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment. Always speak with your physician, pharmacist or other healthcare professional before taking any medication or supplement, or adopting any treatment for a health problem.

Last updated on April 2024

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