Guitar Calluses Peeling? Guitarist Explains What To Do

I started playing guitar and it took some time to develop calluses on the fingertips of my fretting hand.

Now that I’ve been playing for 5 years, but have taken some time off every now and then for a week or so when I didn’t feel like playing or didn’t have time.

So, I thought I’d explain what to do when the calluses on your fingertips are peeling.

Peeling guitar calluses will go away on their own after a few weeks to a month without any action on your part. Pieces of calluses can stick out, and interfere with playing the guitar. They can be removed by gently filing them down with an emery board.

Below, I’ll explain whether it’s bad to pick your calluses, whether it’s normal for calluses to peel, as well as, whether you should moisturize your guitar calluses.

Is It Normal for Guitar Calluses to Peel?

In my experience, I’ve found that it’s perfectly normal for calluses to peel. Other guitarists have also reported that it is very common. It usually occurs after you take a few weeks off from guitar. Or, if you’re new to playing guitar and haven’t developed calluses yet. 

As the calluses develop they will peel for a time. But, after you continue to play every few days for a few weeks to a month they will harden and smoothen, and no longer peel.

Issues that arise with calluses and how to ensure they develop well

In my many years of guitar playing, I have developed all shapes and sizes of guitar calluses on my fingertips as well as the thumb. A thumb callus generally develops if you use your thumb to play and occurs on the corner of your thumb. 

Whereas, if you use a pick you’ll only develop calluses on your fretting hand. Calluses that are peeling on your fingertips can get caught on the guitar strings and make it difficult to play.

The thumb is mostly used in fingerstyle guitar, classical and flamenco guitar. Many people are familiar with fingerstyle guitar, but I hadn’t heard of flamenco guitar until I started learning guitar. 

You may be wondering whether it’s hard to play flamenco guitar. I recently explained this topic in this article about whether flamenco guitar is hard.

If you pick you calluses and pull at them, part of it can come off and cause a relatively large piece to stick out. Because as you try to pull the edges off it can be too painful once you get closer to the middle of the callus. And you have to leave it there.

For that reason, I experimented with other methods and here’s what I found are the best ways to look after peeling calluses.

  1. File down the parts that are sticking out with a nail file/emery board
  2. Use a nail clipper or small pair of scissors to trim the parts that are sticking out

Rubbing the entire callus a lot with an emery board/nail file can cause your calluses to become much thicker, which isn’t generally desirable on guitar, because it reduces the feeling in the tips of your fingers.

Therefore, it’s best to only rub them with an emery board to remove the parts that are sticking out, and interfere with your playing.

1. File down the parts that are sticking out with a nail file/emery board

A pain free method that removes the unsightly and inconvenient pieces of the peeling callus is to place an emery board on top of the area, and gently run it back and forward.

As you do that it will wear down the excess parts of your calluses that are sticking out and stops them from interfering with your playing. You may still notice they catch a bit when you pull-off, depending on where the calluses are peeling.

2. Use a nail clipper or small pair of scissors to trim the parts that are sticking out

Before filing them down you can also trim the edges using a nail clipper. Be careful not to trim them too closely, as it can be a bit painful. Trim a little bit as close to the skin as you feel comfortable. And then file down the rest with a nail file/emery board.

Medical professionals recommend soaking calluses first, or filing them down after a shower or bath. But, in my experience this generally makes them too soft, and as you file them down you can remove too much of the callus.

Which makes it too sore to play guitar, and you’ll need to take a few days off from playing. Whereas, if you file them down without softening them first you can play again straight away.

Part of the callus can come off but not all of it

It’s also very common that you can pull a part of the callus by mistake. The inner part of the callus in the center of your fingertips is thicker. So, as you peel it you can only peel it so far. And you’ll get a piece sticking out. If that does happen you can trim it off with nail clippers, generally without any pain.

But, be careful and trim the smallest amount off that you can. And take a little bit more off little by little. As you use the nail clippers you can gently close the clippers without closing them completely. And then feel if it’s painful or not. It’s sometimes hard to tell what part of the callus is still fully attached, and what part can be removed.

If it’s painful when you close the nail clippers on the callus but not all the way, then don’t clip it off, and start further out towards the edge of the piece that’s sticking out.

Key Takeaways:

Use an emery board/nail file gently to sand them down until the parts that are sticking out are reduced.

Big parts can also be trimmed off using a nail clipper, or with pair of fingernail scissors.

Be extra careful when trimming them with fingernail clippers, or nail clippers, and remove the smallest amount you can at a time.

Should You Moisturize Guitar Calluses?

Moisturizing flakey skin is a good solution that improves the appearance until the excess skin heals on its own. But, is it a good idea to moisturize guitar calluses?

Overall, you should not moisturize guitar calluses. Moisturizer will soften them, and cause them to peel more. Not moisturizing guitar calluses will cause them to develop perfectly fine. Balm can also be used before bed, or when not playing guitar for more that a day.

I never used moisturizer on my calluses, and the developed really well. But, I was curious what other thought about using moisturizer. I also learned that everyone’s skin is different. And some people have found using moisturizer works better for them.

So, I compiled some data from peoples responses to this question. Here’s a table that shows what people have recommended to do for calluses based on their responses on a reddit forum:

Recommended solution for calluses Percent of people that recommended it
Rub them with an emery board/nail file41.9%
Leave them/don’t do anything29.0%
Use moisturizer 29.0%
Number of responses, n = 31

Based on peoples recommendation, in my opinion, it’s definitely worth trying moisturizer to see if it works well for your type of skin.

When you use moisturizer before playing your guitar it will leave moisturizer on the strings. And make your fingers slide around a bit, making them slip off the strings. It will also leave moisturizer on the strings.

So, it’s a good idea to apply moisturizer in the evening before going to bed, or when you know you won’t play your guitar for a while, to let it soak into your skin. Or wipe your fingertips after you apply it before playing.

I’m generally a bit lazy with cleaning my guitar strings, and have found my guitar strings last long enough that I’m not too bothered by how often I need to replace them. 

If you regularly clean your guitar strings, it shouldn’t be an issue.

Is It Bad to Peel Calluses?

In some cases I’ve found when calluses get to a certain stage it’s possible to peel the entire callus. But, generally this will remove a few layers of the underlying skin. And make your fingertips much more sensitive.

As a general rule, you should not peel calluses on your fingertips that develop from playing the guitar. It can take longer for them to heal, and it’s easy to pull too hard and cause a small tear in your skin. You should file them gently with a nail file to remove any parts that are sticking out.

That way they won’t interfere with your guitar playing, and they will develop as fast as possible. Once they’re fully developed from playing consistently they will be smooth and hard. And won’t peel unless you take a week or more off from playing. Even when they start to peel, it’s not a major issue and it’s very easy to make them smooth by sanding them using a nail file.

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