After all, a pedicure just won’t have the same effect if your client has beautifully groomed and polished toes—but also has unsightly calluses. Calluses are caused by repeated friction and pressure from skin rubbing against bony areas or against an irregularity inside a shoe.

“A callus is the body’s way of protecting that area,” says Patti Glick, a Cupertino, Calif.-based registered nurse who calls herself The Foot Nurse. Calluses can be caused by several factors, but the most common one usually involves wearing shoes that are too tight or too high. Calluses tend to form around the edges of the heels, the joints of the big toes, and on the small toes.

They can also develop on the balls of the feet, which Glick says occur when you wear high-heeled shoes. The high heel forces the weight on the foot to move forward and onto the ball of the foot. Although anyone can develop calluses, Glick says older clients have a tendency to develop them on the balls of the feet, which become thinner as a person ages.

Not all callusing is bad, however. Some callus or thickened skin around the heels is normal and protects the living tissue. If this normal buildup is removed, the skin around the heel may become painful. When treating clients with calluses, it’s extremely important to make sure they do not have a medical condition, such as diabetes, which could present a problem. Diabetics suffer form poor circulation, which means it takes the body longer to heal itself and heightens the risk of infection. In diabetics with poor circulation, even a small nick can lead to serious health problems (see “Pedicures and Diabetes: Can You? Should You? In the October 2001 issue for more information on this topic).

If a client comes to you with callused skin that is bleeding, recommend she see a podiatrist. And don’t attempt to shave off a callus with a blade. Leave that to a podiatrist and instead stick with a pumice stone or a foot file. Also, make sure your client does her part to keep her feet callus-free. Glick suggests that clients use a softening agent at night and then use a pumice stone or foot file in the shower regularly.

Jan Nguyen, a nail technician at Michelle’s Nails in Redondo Beach, Calif., began the service by having the client soak her feet for a few minutes in a footbath to soften the calluses. Then, she trimmed and shaped the nails and applied a cuticle softener on the cuticles, allowing it to soak in for a few minutes. She then pushed the cuticles back with a pusher. The nails were then buffed. Our client frequently wears high heels, so as a result, had developed painful calluses on the balls of her feet, particularly the left one.

“Calluses that develop on the heels tend to crack and become drier,” Nguyen says. “Calluses that develop on the balls of the feet aren’t as dry, but they tend to be harder.” Before Nguyen began working on calluses, she applied a callus remover to the problem areas and left it on for about five minutes.

According to Nguyen, the remover helps remove excess dry skin. She then took a coarse 80-grit file and began filing down the calluses, making sure not to use excessive speed or force, which can cause the client discomfort.

She was careful not to scrape the surrounding tissue. Too much filing can break the skin, creating a portal of entry for an infection to begin. And if you file too lightly, you really haven’t done anything to reduce the callus. Nguyen then wiped the client’s feet with a towel and had her place them in the footbath for a few minutes. Nguyen took a pumice stone and began scrubbing the feet, using a vertical motion on the problem areas.

Then, she applied a foot scrub on the feet and massaged it in. Next, she applied a moisturizing lotion on the feet and legs.

"Make sure you let clients know you won’t be removing all of the callus,” Nguyen says. “Sometimes they expect that, but you need to leave some.”

Follow the procedure with an application of polish. Depending on the severity of the callus, have the client come back every few weeks. Also, make sure to stress the importance of at-home care. It’s important to recognize what the normal amount of callus for protection is and remove only the amount necessary. Removing too much of the callus may cause your client unneeded pain and discomfort.

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