Developing calluses on your fingertips is a crucial part of learning to play the guitar. Without this hard skin, the guitar strings would continue tearing through the flesh on your fingers and causing you unimaginable pain. The problem with calluses only comes in when they start peeling and getting caught on the guitar strings.
Here are 8 tips on how you can stop guitar calluses from peeling:
- Continue playing the guitar.
- Keep your fingers and hands moisturized.
- File away the rough edges of the calluses.
- Don’t play the guitar when your hands are moist and supple.
- Use softer stringed guitars
- Avoid picking and biting the calluses.
- Apply superglue.
- Have shorter but regular guitar-playing sessions.
It’s also worth mentioning that peeling calluses are quite unattractive, and they often tempt you to peel them off using your teeth. If you struggle with peeling calluses and are looking for a solution, then this article is exactly what you need. I’ll get into details explaining each of the tips to stop guitar calluses from peeling.
1. Continue Playing the Guitar
This may sound like a cliché, but it’s really the only way to get to the other side safely. If you stop playing the guitar, the formed calluses will dissipate, and the fingers will go back to normal. That means you’ll need to build the calluses again from scratch and endure all that pain again.
But there’s another reason you should continue playing. The more you play the guitar, the more your fingers get used to the friction and learn to deal with it.
With time, the calluses won’t grow back up again because they won’t be required anymore. The end goal is to reach that point where your fingers have developed a thick skin, quite literally, so the strings can’t hurt them anymore.
2. Keep Your Fingers and Hands Moisturized
Moisturizing your hands with close attention to the fingertips and callused areas will keep them from drying out and cracking. Ideally, you should do this at night when you aren’t playing.
Wash your hands and take time to apply a moisturizer on each finger individually. Any hydrating cream, lotion, or petroleum jelly will do the trick.
You can still moisturize during the day as long as it’s not too close to playing time. Ideally, your calluses should be as dry and as tough as possible when you’re playing to avoid ripping them. Once you’re done playing, you can wash your hands and apply the moisturizer again.
3. File Away the Rough Edges of the Calluses
Let me begin by emphasizing that the goal here isn’t to get rid of your guitar calluses. This hard skin forming on your fingertips is necessary and helpful for your guitar playing as it prevents you from feeling pain when pressing on the strings. Therefore, don’t be tempted to groom your fingertips to get rid of the calluses.
Nonetheless, when rough edges form on the calluses and start catching on the guitar strings, that may lead to tears and peeling. To avoid this, you should file your calluses only to level out the rough edges.
To file the rough edges, it’s advisable to use a pumice stone and not an actual file, electric trimmer, or emery board.
The pumice stone will help get rid of any rough edges and rips. Ensure your skin is wet before using the pumice stone to avoid further ripping off your calluses when filing.
4. Don’t Play the Guitar When Your Hands Are Moist and Supple
If you’ve laid in the bathtub for some time, washed the dishes, or went swimming, you’ll notice your hands are soft and have the appearance of raisins. The worst thing you can do is play the guitar when your skin is that soft.
The guitar strings will quickly shred through those calluses and cause immediate peeling. Instead, give your hands some time to completely dry before picking up that guitar. An hour or so will suffice unless you have spent too much time in the water.
5. Use Softer Stringed Guitars
When building the calluses, you’re advised to use an acoustic guitar because of the thicker, rough strings.
When the calluses are good and ready, you should switch back to nylon strings that are smoother and require less pressure to manipulate. Alternatively, use lighter gauge strings until your calluses stop peeling. A great option is the Ernie Ball Earthwood Acoustic Guitar Strings (available on Amazon.com). They’re extra soft and will therefore be gentle on your skin.
Some players detune the strings a whole step, so instead of playing EADGbe, they play DGCFad. This reduces the tension of the guitar strings and the pressure required to push them down.
6. Avoid Picking and Biting the Calluses
Like most people, guitar players tend to pick at their skin imperfections, especially on their fingers. Calluses can feel uncomfortable or foreign to your body, which triggers the urge to pick or bite them. This happens more often when they start looking ugly, and you feel the need to groom them.
Leave them alone unless you are filing off only rough edges of the dead skin that are getting caught on your guitar strings and risk peeling.
Picking on calluses and biting the hard skin will encourage peeling and make them look even worse. The only time you should touch your calluses is when applying a moisturizer on them before bed.
7. Apply Super Glue
If the callus has started to peel, but it’s not torn all the way, you can press it back in place using super glue or liquid band-aid ointment. Repeat this process every day until the loose callus drops off.
This hack buys your skin time to develop a new pad beneath the one that has ripped. By the time you let it go, the replacement will be good and ready to serve you.
Don’t rip off the old callus, though. Instead, use a pair of scissors to make a clean cut and remove the callus gently. If you have trouble removing it, soak the finger in the water for a few minutes to soften the skin and then cut off the torn callus from the skin.
8. Have Shorter but Regular Guitar-Playing Sessions
There’s a misconception that more is better when playing the guitar and dealing with calluses.
Ideally, you should continue to play regularly even when the calluses start peeling. That, however, doesn’t mean you should play for hours in a bid to toughen up the fingers. The only thing you’ll achieve with this is more peeling and eventually blisters.
Therefore, keep your playing sessions under an hour daily and stop when you start feeling pain.
In the same breath, don’t use too much strength when pushing the strings. Relax your hand and form your chords with only the necessary amount of pressure. If your hand or fingertips hurt after playing, then you are pushing down too hard.
Why Guitar Calluses Peel
Guitar calluses are a thick plastic-like layer of skin that develop on your fingertips when you start playing the guitar. It’s the body’s way of protecting your fingers from bruising and everyday pain.
These calluses peel off after some time for many guitarists and leave them with unsightly and uncomfortable fingers. With time, a new layer of calluses comes out, and the process continues.
So, why do calluses peel off? Here are some reasons:
- Overgrowth. As you continue playing the guitar, the new calluses get thicker and thicker and eventually separate from your fresh. Once that happens, the body has to shed off the dead skin, and that’s when peeling occurs.
- Moisture. Have you ever tried pinching the skin on your hand after washing the dishes or coming out of a bath? The skin is quite delicate at this point because of the moisture, and it’s easy to tear it off. The same happens when you try to play the guitar when your hands are wet, moist, and supple.
- Dryness. When the skin is too dry, it tends to crack and peel off. Calluses are no exception, and they act the same way your skin does if you neglect them.
- Too much friction. One of the most effective tricks to hasten the development of calluses is to play an acoustic guitar because its strings are tougher. However, unfortunately, once the calluses develop, those tough strings will only irritate the skin and cause peeling.
The bottom line is, calluses may peel off at one point or another. The thing to do is control how often the peeling happens, prevent it from happening, and use any of the eight tips above to stop the peeling so you can enjoy playing the guitar more.
By keeping your calluses well moisturized, filing away the rough edges, and overcoming the urge to pick at them with your teeth, you can have smooth and problem-free calluses for a long time.