fingers in petroleum jelly

Q. When the skin on my fingertips cracks open, the splits are painful and take a long time to heal. I went to a dermatologist for a series of different pills and lotions but nothing has worked.

This problem seems to happen more in the winter months. It just started again, with cracks on two fingertips of my left hand. What can you suggest?

A. Dermatologists sometimes recommend moisturizers, “the greasier the better.” By these standards, plain petroleum jelly should work great. But many readers tell us that Vicks VapoRub is especially helpful against splitting skin on the fingertips. The herbal oils in the petrolatum base seem to add a little extra power.

Another great greasy remedy for cracked fingertips is A&D Ointment. This contains vitamins A and D in a petrolatum base and seems to help fingertips heal fast.

A couple of other old-fashioned approaches to this problem include Bag Balm (again, this uses petrolatum as the base) or Udder Cream (which sponsors our radio show). Both products were originally designed to keep cows’ udders from chapping in cold weather. If you apply any of these moisturizers at night, wear light cotton gloves like the ones photographers use for handling negatives. They’ll keep the sheets from getting too greasy.

One last approach readers have recommended is sealing the cracks with instant glue. A liquid bandage product from Band-Aid is formulated for skin and less likely to be irritating than a household adhesive.


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  1. James C.
    Olean, NY

    Read all suggestions-tried the Bag Balm with little results and then tried the Neosporin with Pain Relief! IT WORKED!!!! Thankyou all for my intense pain is GONE! Put liberal amounts in tip of large finger cots and slide them on leaving the tips loose-you don’t want them tight on skin. Did that about 4-5 days n nights and my fingers finally healed-not 100% but the rawness and pain are gone! Thank God for the Internet-eh? Good luck all-try it! Worked for me! James

  2. James C.
    Olean, NY

    I have Spinal Canal Stenosis, DDD and Ferminial Stenosis along with Arthritis and am in constant pain! Gradually my fingertips now make that pain minimal! I woke up this morning and struggling to pour a coffee I thought………is it worth it getting old?????????
    Kinda scary thinking that way but the pain is so overwhelming that’s how I thought!
    Thank God for Peoples Pharmacy and this section for I realize I’m not alone! My fingers crack from the tip and up under the nail-so painful it feels like there’s a piece of glass or metal sliver in there!
    I’m trying the Bag Balm now and headed to the DrugStore for Lip Balm and Neosporin Pain cream! Thank you all so much!

  3. Rick

    I am trying a theory right now that my skin cracking on thumb and finger tips is actually being caused by my toothpaste. When I brush my teeth my thumb and two fingers get wet as well as around the knuckle of my little finger. All those places split and crack in winter after the skin thickens. At first to help I was using Burt’s Bees lip balm and that helped but now I am brushing without toothpaste and it seems to be healing. I have been using a sensitive teeth type toothpaste.

    • James C

      Could very well be Rick-like our soaps n shampoos, everything has dyes and chemicals in it-WHO on this earth really cares what color their toothpaste is-COME ON manufacturers-get with it! I like Puritans Pride, Tea Tree Oil products! Soap, Shampoo and Conditioner are all 100% natural! Excellent and a dab will do Ya! Good luck to all and I’m so happy I found Peoples Pharmacy-We need to all stick together and boycott all these products with dyes and such in them-no, not a radical-just sounds like a good idea! :”)

  4. Kate
    Las Vegas, NV

    WOW! I had no idea there were so many people with the exact same problem!

    I’ve had this problem for many years, but this past year has been the very worst! It’s gotten so bad that I can hardly do anything because, of the pain and as you all know it’s very scary when you’re out in public (unless, you wear gloves or you’re all bandaged up, like I do) for fear of getting an infection!

    I am so glad to have found this site in hopes that I can try some of the suggestions here to see if something works!

    Thanks to everyone and I’ll be sure to let everyone know if something works!

  5. David
    Minnesota, USA

    If there is a split despite all efforts, you might want to try: [1] applying a small bandage to the end of the finger; [2] using a fingertip cot to hold the bandage in place (otherwise it can be a lost cause trying to keep a bandage on the end of a finger or thumb since these digits tend to be actively-in-use).

    • Jessica

      If you cut a regular bandaid the long way in half, effectively creating two bandaids, then criss cross them over the the wound, they stay in place better. Cut finger tips off rubber gloves and put them over to help ease the woes of hand washing after bathroom so you don’t have to keep changing them out. Make sure you use an ointment on the wounds also.

  6. shawna

    I have been trying to find something that would help my fingers on both hands the top of my fingers are all split they bleed, I’m a housekeeper Im pretty sure it’s the bleach in the linen that’s doing it. I never have time to let them heal I tried gloves but it’s really hard to take the pillow cases off with them on. What can I do? Any suggestions to help me at all? My hands hurt so bad it brings me to tears.

    • john

      what I have found most useful is applying a liberal amount of really greasy hand cream. I use Vaseline baby jelly and then put on some cotton gloves and sleep with them on. The gloves stops moisture evaporating away from the skin as you know you can get quite hot at night.
      bet of luck

  7. agnes farthing
    United States

    What about finger nails with the same problem – vertically, horizontally, center, etc? Already use lotion, vaseline after every hand wash.

  8. Rose

    I have a painful crack at tip of thumb on right hand and used tea tree oil. It stopped the pain and I will continue with it and see if promotes healing.

  9. Suzi

    Thanks for this info.
    I have had cracked fingertips for many years. It is painful and difficult to resolve. Previously I have found lanolin covered with a bandaid for 2 nights usually resolved the cracks.
    After googling different cures and putting them to test I have found smearing the cracks regularly with a good quality lip balm not only relieves the pain but resolves the cracks within 1.5 days.
    Hope this helps!

  10. Joe Ritz

    The ONLY thing that cured my never ending cracked fingers was an old remedy a nurse told my Mother.
    It will work within 5 or 10 minutes…
    Take a teaspoon of butter, add one half teaspoon of cooking (or olive oil) and mix well. Add a little bit of mayonnaise and spread on a paper towel. Cut into strips and wrap around your fingers. Leave on for 5 minutes.. This is the important part…wash and dry your hands gently, then rub vaseline on your fingers…

    • shawna

      thanks will try, I’m willing to try anything at this point

  11. JB

    I have tried several things listed here for the very painful cracking & bleeding of my fingers, this is a year round thing for me. I have to be very careful in touching anything because my hands are sensitive, it’s like avoiding papercuts when working with paper. And it has happened for 3 or 4 yrs now.
    I use Neosporin plus pain cream, (or the generic plus pain version) and they are wonderful to help deal with the pain (my mom also used Neosporin pain cream for her Shingles, and it seem to be the thing that helped her most with her Shingles pain), but Neosporin pain does nothing for healing my hands. My son uses the Neosporin plus pain cream to help with shaving bumps and loves it for that problem. Bandaids won’t stay on if using anything wet, so I use paper tape to keep fingers wrapped. I only wish over the years I had owned stock in bandaids! I have tried the following measures, and I’m sure I’ve forgotten to list a few.
    -DR prescribed ointments & creams to no avail-been told I had both eczema & psoriasis as well as the painful fingers and bleeding.
    -bag balm,Vaseline petroleum jelly,Vick’s vaporub, and A&D ointment (are gross feeling-but would used anything if it worked), and udder cream (loved the feel of the udder cream that I bought @ Walmart-it felt good on, but didn’t help)
    -Heeltastic foot cream and Zim’s hand crack cream, also used O’Keeffe’s-a hand crack cream for concrete workers, didn’t help.
    -Vaseline Intensive Care lotion, Eucerin lotion, coco butter lotion, Kroger hand lotion, and vitamin E lotion, baby lotion, Cornhuskers lotion, and many other lotions (also have used with gloves at bedtime).
    -Vitamin E capsules, as well as vitamin E oil applied directly to the skin. Was told by Dr had vitamin D deficiency-so was taking 5,000 IU’s daily as prescribed by DR, still not helping with the problem.
    -Have tried a daily Multivitamin,Vitamin B12,Vitamin C, tried zinc capsules, & fish oil capsules and Biotin capsules.
    -I drink plenty of water, plus I’ve taken green tea capsules, I keep my diabetes in control by doing Atkins type low carb dieting (have lost down from about 280 pounds to 230 pounds).
    -used liquid bandage/super glue (not a fan-it did burn, and I don’t like the feel of super glue on my skin-when I get it on my skin by accident, I dig at it until it’s off).
    -Have used gloves to try do dishes (don’t feel I get them clean, because I can’t feel through the gloves).
    Once my hands start to heal up the least little bit, the whole nasty process starts over again. I would say 90 percent of the time I have my hands taped, so I’m not bleeding, and apply Neosporin pain plus to deal with the painful hands.
    I would be interested in trying: the Porters Lotion that I’ve read about, also the 1200 mg flaxseed oil (though that didn’t sound like it worked for others), the Neosporin Eczema Essentials cream, & also the humidifier (both my husband and myself have had issues with the dry skin, and since we both had trouble I wonder if that ideal may help).
    My husband went before to the dermatologist and was told his problem was a fungus they gave him creams to treat the fungus and that helped his problem clear up-so I might also try the Lotrimin ever one has mentioned on here.
    Thanks To All for helping us brainstorm-may together we will eventually beat this thing. I did notice one time before when I was cutting up a zucchini that I got this weird film on my hands from cutting off the peel, but it also felt wonderfully healing (try that one see what you think). Best of luck to all, in your continued search for health!!!

    • mark

      HAHA! It’s like I wrote this! Describes my situation verbatim.

      Absolutely NOTHING helps. As if it wasn’t bad enough, the problem recently spread to my middle fingers. So I have six fingers with this problem and they “take turns” – thumbs, middle and index fingers. Usually about 3-4 splits at a time.

      Totally give up :(

      • ann

        This is to Mark…don’t give up. Centrum multi vitamin. Take two a day first week then one a day there after. Only centrum – something in it just works where other multi or single vitamins don’t. I take in the cold weather and I have hardly any cracks and bleeding. If a crack starts I just double up for a couple days. You will be amazed. Works for my daughter also. I suffered with this for 20 plus years…the last 20 I’ve controlled it.

      • Colette B.
        Ontario, Canada

        Mark, I get splits in my fingers constantly. As a matter of fact, I’ve got one right now. I put a dab of crazy glue on it and voila!! No more pain! Just be careful that you don’t glue your fingers together by only dabbing some right on the crack. Hope this helps!!

  12. Ho

    I can relate to your long finger nails which seems to protect finger tips splitting.
    Because I play guitar, I always try to keep short fingernails for fretting on my left hand.
    And I always got splits on one or two fingers. But the right hand with long fingernails(for picking) most the time, I don’t have the problems.

  13. DM

    For years I had a problem with cracked, split, dry and bleeding fingers. I tried every remedy or cream that I could find. Finally, my wife suggested that I try putting my hands in her foot tanner which was equipped with UV lite. This UV lite worked miracles. After appx. six weeks my fingers were completely healed. Her foot tanner was large, bulky and hard to manage so I ordered a Gel Nail Lite used to dry finger nails from Amazon. This UV lite was stronger and the nail dryer was easy to handle. I used it for about 30 minutes a day while watching TV for a few weeks and haven’t had to use it all during the past month. My hands and fingers are as clear and soft as they have ever been.

    • Carrie

      I don’t drink a lot of milk and like many people I don’t get much sun in the winter, so your comments about the UV light caused me to wonder if I was lacking vitamin D. I started taking a multivitamin with D3 and the supplements have been working like a charm! After only two days I have no pain and the persistent crack on my thumb appears to actually be healing! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      Hopefully this remedy will help some other sufferers.

      • frontierjeanne

        My husband battles this constantly, as he does the dishes. He wears disposable gloves, but his fingers still crack. He’s tried various creams, etc., with mixed affects, but nothing lasts. We live in Alaska, and the cold (and accompanying dry heat) and dark winters really take a toll. We’re taking 30,000 units of vitamin D a day. Last year we took 20,000 a day. When a rather shocked health care provided suggested it, hubby took a vitamin D test. It turned out he was exactly in the middle of the recommended range, even after the super doses. His fingers are still cracking. Now, he has some fungus problems with his feet, so I’m thinking the UV light may be the next thing we try.

  14. Ruth

    I have suffered from severe spitting/cracking on my fingertips and inside knuckles for years – it had reached the point where it was severely limiting my ability to enthusiastically engage in daily activities as I was in constant pain and anxiety about more splitting or more burning pain and bleeding. I have tried so many different things, from prescriptions steroid creams to sleeping with vaseline white glove covered hands.
    I have used more bandages than I care to even think about – I am a professional and this was also a constant source of discomfort for me – there is nothing like attending a presentation with 6 or 7 bandages on various places on your hands – but when the alternative of your clients or employees seeing the bleeding splitting mess that are your hands, bandages are the only reasonable alternative. I found this blog and saw a couple of new ideas that I hadn’t used (vick’s, A & D ointment, liquid bandages/glue), but also saw the comments about Porters.
    I ordered a bottle of the Porters and received it last Monday. I thought I felt relief by Tuesday but was skeptical that anything could work so fast. By Friday the splits were gone – today, less than one week later my hands looks completely healed – something that I haven’t experience in so many years that I cannot count. There are simply no words that can express my utter relief. The lotion (more an oil) is quick absorbing, the smell is not offensive (sort of herbal) and is simply a miracle. It may not work for everyone, but it certainly worked for me and I am overjoyed!!

  15. Bob

    I use chapstic on my thumbs when they crack and it works. You can put it on anytime too. Thanks Bob.

  16. Sara

    What really did the trick for painful cracks on my fingertips was applying a generous dollop of AQUAPHOR on my fingertip at night, then cover it with a finger cot or the finger part cut from a plastic glove, secured with masking tape to keep it on all night. This healed the fingertip cracks in just one or two nights. No kidding. You can find AQUAPHOR at most any pharmacy for $5.00.
    Best regards to all who suffer from this irritating problem. Hope you find the same relief that I did. I also purchased the Porter’s lotion and Hired Hand Cream and they alleviated the dry skin on my hands in just a few days. It’s not greasy and I only need to apply it once or twice per day. Yay.

  17. Elise

    I went away for three weeks, no washing dishes,no work, lovely weather, bliss, but my thumbs still split wide open, and hurt like hell, nothing works, superglue, yes for a while, but the splits sadly returned. Printers ink was a problem, I could blame the New York Times, the daily mail, or maybe it was the Australian papers I perused every day enjoying my morning read, until I felt the familiar tingle, and within hours the dreaded split appeared together with the awful pain, which really is the pits, Having pain consistently, doesn’t improve ones irritability.
    I find the minute the air hits the split, it hurts, cover them, and it’s normal have tried everything possible, the iodine is my next trick.
    Everything my fellow suffered say is true, all we can do is try try try again, what works for one, doesn’t work for another, I can only say keep on trying, something will work, one day, hopefully, with many blessings to everyone.

  18. Jamesh

    I think my next step may be to cauterize the split on each thumb. Both splits are on the inside or the thumb and start from under the nail and often are 1/4 to 3/8 in. Very deep and often can’t use thumbs because they hurt. The best thing I have found is super glue. Put some into the wound and then hold the split together until the glue dries. Sometimes it will hold for days depending on how often and hard I wash hands. Don’t over use the glue. A little bit goes a long way. In the past I have even sewn them together but that in itself hurts a bit so the super glue is the thing for now. I think a cauterizing routine may be eventually in order.

  19. TE

    In the same boat tarf10, thanks for letting me know what avenues to avoid.

  20. Karen

    I have tried super glue after reading these comments & have had no plasters on my fingers for the last 2 days after having them bandaged up for weeks. Tried all creams & gloves but superglue seems to be working ok up to now. Fingers (un split) crossed x

  21. tarff10

    I have tried EVERYTHING listed here for the chronic thumb splits that have plagued me for years. It used to be that they would split primarily in the winter. Now they are split all the time, year round. I really believe that the skin integrity of my thumb dermis is permanently compromised. My occasional forefinger splits usually heal rather quickly. I have tried the following remedies (and I’m forgetting some, I’ve tried so many things):
    -dermatologist prescribed 2% hydrocortizone ointment (dermatologist told me its exema) I have it bad
    -bag balm AND udder cream
    -vaseline and Vicks Vaporub
    -Every kind of lotion from Vaseline Intensive Care to Eucerin and their ointments too
    -Flaxseed, Vitamin E and Fish Oil supplements (even took to breaking open the supplements and applying directly to the skin)
    -Every kind of ointment imaginable
    -Cornhuskers lotion
    -Vitamin C up the wazoo
    -Zinc supplements (I’m a nurse and know that the combo of Vit C and zinc are often used in wound protocols
    -Vitamin D supplements 2000 mg per day for years
    -multivitamins, Vit E and Vit A supplements
    -I eat absolutely no wheat whatsoever
    -I eat exceptionally healthy diet
    -plenty of fluids, plus I drink lots of green tea, no sugar
    -have been tested for all kinds of allergies and it appears I’m not allergic to anything
    -liquid bandage (makes splits MUCH worse btw)
    -I have no exposure to latex and use vinyl glove to do dishes
    -wear gloves to bed with lubed up hands
    -pure aloe vera gel
    NOTHING, nothing works!!! As soon as the skin starts to heal, I can feel it as it’s about to “blow”. I can barely tap the thumb and boom! blood everywhere. Same story over and over for years. It’s the skin integrity compromised beyond anything that will ever heal IMO.

  22. tracey

    Try latex finger condoms instead of cutting up rubber gloves, they’ll fit much better and stay on well.

  23. rick g.

    I usually use Neosporin & band aids for some kind of quick relief, but I look forward to trying many folks suggestions.
    Thanks to all.

  24. geoff

    Just use it like a hand cream – just a few drops rubbed into affected area – more importantly many advise against regular hand creams because one school of thought says splitting may be fungal related, and hand creams could propagate fungus growth!

  25. Terri

    how do you use the shampoo, geoff, and how often? thanks!

  26. geoff

    Thought it was all over – read everybody’s comments here – thought – what’s up with the gluing the finger thing ! A friend recommended an anti-fungal shampoo (can you believe it – shampoo !) Called Nizoral – what can I say – sleepless nights with popping fingers have been replaced by absolute nirvana !

  27. Brian

    I read earlier that soaps and detergents with sodium laureth sulfate or sodium lauryl sulfate is the cause of most split and or dry skin. It is a foaming agent. It is what makes soap… well, foamy. It is also in toothpaste.
    It is almost like a conspiracy. You buy their soap to get clean. Then because of the SLS, you have to buy lotion, too.
    I will switch to AJAX dish soap for hand soap and see if that makes a difference. I will also try taking vitamins and eating healthier.

  28. Rick

    For the first time in my life, I started getting these cracks in my fingers this winter. I super glued them, and moved on. Then one day three cracks opened up, two on one finger, and that was the last straw.
    After finding this page by Googling, only one solution really stood out for me. Vitamin D. Because of a knee injury and indoor projects, I have not seen much sunshine this season.
    I started taking 2000 IU of vitamin D3 a day, and the cracks stopped within one week, and I have had none since. Of all the supplements I have dabbled with, only two I have confirmed to really work. Vitamins C and D.
    Thank you for this page.

  29. ML

    Scrolling through this site a few days ago saw that I had tried many to no avail however while out remembered while in the baby product aisle someone recommending diaper rash cream. Bought some super strength (40% zinc as opposed to 15%). It’s been extremely cold lately with excruciating pain all week. The relief even as I was rubbing it in was incredible ….I kept it on for about 1/2 hour and then thoroughly washed (stays on well but watch your clothing …can leave a white residue). The relief was close to 100% EVEN though the skin hasn’t healed back together. Can hardly wait for bedtime & a night long session with this miracle cream!

  30. Don

    I ordered some Porters Lotion but by using the info here and some additional research, I was able to stop the pain so I can type. I am at a keyboard all day.
    I wanted to get the root cause, so I wasn’t too interested in the super glue treatment. My vitamin intake is good including Omega 3s, Flax Seed Oil, and vitC, but I wasn’t taking D3 this winter as I had in the past and though its colder this year and I do get some sun on a daily walk, I think that’s the main reason I got the finger split problem this winter. What I did was mix Castor Oil (not mentioned here, but it is anti fungal) with Carmex healing lotion. In addition in the morning before reapplying, I rubbed my fingers in a freshly squeezed lemon rind. I expect that is anti fungal as well. I had already recovered enough by morning that the lemon wasn’t too painful.
    I remember in the past I have used Corn Huskers lotion. It worked OK, but I expect the Porters will be an improvement. And I plan to get some Evening Primrose Oil and use D3 every winter.
    Thanks everyone for sharing your experiences.

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