Hard skin typically occurs on your hands, feet or other areas prone to friction, dryness and irritation. These areas of hard skin may be painless—as is usually the case with calluses—or they may be painful and inflamed. You can reduce or remove hard skin by avoiding sources of pressure and friction, removing areas of thickened skin and applying medicated creams and moisturizers to those areas.
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Salicylic acid creams are the most commonly used in the treatment of corns and calluses. These creams are available in over-the-counter and prescription strength formulas and can effectively soften and remove areas of hard, thickened skin when you use them consistently over long periods. Creams containing lactic acid or urea are also beneficial in the treatment of hard skin, according to the New Zealand Dermatological Society. Urea creams offer multiple benefits; they soften hard skin, attract and retain moisture and increase the penetration of other medications.
Read the instructions that came with your cream carefully before using it and discuss any concerns you have with your doctor or pharmacist. Apply cream containing salicylic acid directly to the area of hard skin and rub it in gently. Drugs.com recommends soaking the affected area in warm water for five minutes prior to applying the cream to help soften the skin. Continue using the cream once or twice each day -- according to the manufacturer's instructions -- for up to two weeks. If you are using a cream containing urea with or without salicylic acid, apply the cream directly to hard skin as directed by your doctor.
Salicylic acid softens a skin protein called keratin and works to promote the shedding of the skin's outer layer. Urea creams work by breaking down hard, dead skin cells. Urea may also help the skin draw in and retain moisture to treat hard skin resulting from dryness. Lactic acid helps treat hard skin by increasing its moisture level. This makes the skin more pliable, softer and more receptive to other treatments.
Side effects of creams with salicylic acid include skin irritation, dryness, peeling, and redness. Children may be at higher risk for side effects due to an increased absorption rate of salicylic acid through the skin, according to Drugs.com. Overdose may cause diarrhea, confusion, rapid breathing, headache, nausea, drowsiness, stomach pain, lightheadedness, ringing in the ears or hearing loss. Report these symptoms to a medical professional immediately. Common side effects of urea creams include skin burning, irritation and itching.
Creams for hard skin are only a temporary solution, according to Podiatry Network. It is necessary to uncover and treat the underlying cause of the hard skin to prevent symptoms from recurring. Wearing shoes that fit properly, correcting structural abnormalities that may be contributing to hard skin and regularly using a pumice stone and moisturizer on affected areas are important factors in both preventing and treating hard skin.
Salicylic acid and other creams for hard skin removal may not be suitable for those with diabetes, blood vessel disease, skin irritation or inflammation, chicken pox, kidney or liver disease, or influenza. Use of salicylic acid cream may also increase the risk of Reyes syndrome in children. Additionally, do not use abrasive skin cleansers, alcohol-based products or topical acne medications on areas being treated with salicylic acid creams. Doing so can significantly increase skin irritation and other side effects, according to Drugs.com.