Compared to most health problems, cracked fingertips seem trivial. But anyone who has ever struggled with sore painful fingers will tell you they can turn normal daily activities into agony.

A reader confided: “It is very frustrating and sometimes depressing to be in so much discomfort and have to refrain from peeling and eating an orange, washing dishes, buttoning clothes, putting on jewelry and other normally enjoyable activities.”

It is not entirely clear why fingertips sometimes split open. This problem is most common in winter, so dry skin is the usual suspect. People who wash their hands a lot, from mechanics to health care providers, are especially vulnerable. When thyroid hormone levels drop too low, dry skin, particularly cracked fingertips, may result.

Fungal infections may be an unsuspected contributing factor, as one reader discovered: “While using the antifungal shampoo Nizoral for a dandruff condition, I noticed the cracked skin on my hands also improved tremendously. Now when symptoms appear I wash my hands using Nizoral (ketoconazole) three times a week. I’ve tried everything my dermatologist had to offer but this is the only treatment that actually worked.”

Nizoral shampoo is available over the counter. A Baltimore reader used a prescription drug: “I had a prescription for nystatin and triamcinolone cream. After applying it to my fingers several times a day they healed quickly. I suspect the cracks may be caused by a fungal infection, since nystatin is an antifungal medicine.”

Another reader uses a natural product: “Fingertip splitting can be very painful, especially since I’m using (and washing) my hands a lot as a massage therapist. I found that applying tea tree oil to the splits helps them heal in just a few days. It takes much longer when treating with moisturizers alone. I now apply the oil at the first sign of cracks and haven’t had much pain from them in years.”

Tea tree oil has antifungal activity, which may explain the success. Beware, though, that some people break out in a rash when they are exposed to tea tree oil.

A quick fix may be as close as your lip balm. One person shared this: “ChapStick works for temporary relief of cracked fingertips.”

Many readers have discovered that sealing the cracks can help them heal faster, too: “I am a carpenter and I have had split fingers and thumbs every winter for years. I read about instant glue being used by medics in Vietnam so I tried it. It works great to seal splits and make the pain go away. This approach is easy and cheap.”

Household instant glue may be irritating for some. Liquid bandage could accomplish the same outcome and be safer, though more expensive.

Protecting hands from water and detergent is also important, as one reader reports: “What helped me most was rubber gloves. Now I never put my hands in water, except to shower. This is a great preventive measure, and well worth the cost and the inconvenience.”

A latex-free protective glove called DermaSoft is especially comfortable. Information is available at www.thedermasoftgloves.com.

Moisturizers are also important in the fight against cracked fingertips. Adding some of these other tricks may help ease winter discomfort.

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  1. EPF
    Reply

    I live in AZ, where it’s super dry, and I’ve had this as a chronic problem for years. (Never happened to me back in my native, humid New York!) I’m telling you now: Forget the fancy lotions and cremes– I tried all of those. Save your money. I just recently found the miracle cure: GLYCERINE.
    Ask for a bottle at your local pharmacy. I started rubbing it into my hands every night, and after just a few days the cracks were gone! I have never since had those cracked and painful fingertips. It works, period.
    (Caveat: If you have bad splits, it does burn a little the first couple of times you apply it, but as your cracks heal, the pain goes away and it just feels good). Just make sure it’s the last thing you do before you go to sleep, since obviously your hands will be all greasy from it.
    A couple of mentions of glycerine soap appear below, but nobody really touched on using pure glycerine. It has not only healed them, but is maintaining my fingers crack free. As a musician, this is extremely important to me!

  2. pl
    Reply

    My fingers were cracked and bleeding with nothing helping for years. I read some of the suggestions here and decided to try the nizoral shampoo and the vicks vapor rub. What a relief my fingers are almost completely healed and the vicks relieved the pain immediately. They started healing right away. It has only been about 4 days.

  3. Raymond B.
    Reply

    Try using badger balm soothes in minutes best stuff I’ve ever used.

  4. Les
    Reply

    Get some “Skin Shield” (it smells like clear nail varnish and may very well be the same thing) and put a couple of coatings on your cut. It will sting at first but, like super glue, will hold the cut together and keep the water out; also dries very quickly and stays put on your finger all day and night. Cuts clear up in a couple of days. I used to suffer from these cuts all the time and used endless band-aids but this cures them and is a blessing.

  5. Deb
    Reply

    You can also purchase finger rubbers at the dollar store of Walmart.

  6. DL
    Reply

    An extraordinarily common ingredient in body lotions, hair products and creams — even supposedly hypoallergenic formulas — is silicone or variants thereof (dimethicone, trimethicone, etc.). Patch testing by a dermatologist can reveal if one is allergic to it — I was!
    I recommend U-Lactin lotion, available online or by special order through a pharmacy. The formula is free of silicone additives whereas the active ingredient, lactic acid, works to heal dry, cracked skin with daily application. Although pure shea and cocoa butter will help in a pinch, U-Lactin lotion, which is PH balanced, provided complete relief to my spouse, whose cracked, split fingers persisted year around in spite of Bag Balm, Noxema and many other supposed remedies. Amlactin is a bit more expensive and more readily available, but is a bit harsher — acidic enough to impart a burning sensation on extremely dry or sensitive skin. U-Lactin is the gentler, less costly alternative.
    If a fungal infection is suspected, daily soaks with warm water, epsom salts, apple cider vinegar and a few drops of tea tree oil will help bring it under control (followed by the U-Lactin cream). The pH of human skin is 5.5 whereas the vast majority of soaps and so-called skin care products on the market aren’t suited to support the skin’s natural, protective mantel, typically because they are too alkaline. ACV, Urea, Lactic Acid — work to more closely align with the pH of human skin.
    Just about any product with sufficient quantities of Urea or Lactic Acid, specifically, ought to do the trick. Finally, consider adding high-quality EFAs to one’s diet, be it flax, fish (EPA/DHA), olive oil and/or borage oil (for GLA content).

  7. Deborah
    Reply

    I have suffered for years both winter dryness as well as summer gardening with dry cracked, split finger tips including thumbs. It is a real pain just doing normal daily activities. The pain is unbelievable. I never realized just how many activities involve using the hands, fingertips.
    I have used hand lotions, petroleum jelly for years and nothing helped. Finally I stumbled on Nystatin or an antifungal cream. Relatively cheap, no scrips, OTC from your local pharmacy. Viola, after 6 years of being in misery and avoidance of daily activities I am finally healed.
    Trust me what have you got to loose. Slightly more than hand cream or Vaseline which never provided me with any relief.
    Hope this helps
    Deb

  8. Deb
    Reply

    Many people here are hungry for a cure (some even put it in ALL CAPS) but as with any problem, prevention can’t be overlooked. I think it’s really important to look at what soaps and lotions you’re using (the problem for me has become much worse since taking a full-time office job where I’m regularly using a commercial soap to wash my hands). Since leaving a bottle of chemical-free (including Sodium Lauryl Sulfates) soap into the bathroom at work, the problem has really decreased.
    Steering clear of chemical-filled lotions seems to make a difference on the rest of my body and I’m going to try it on my hands. (After decades of suffering from a very itchy back I switched, on the advice of a well-known beauty editor, to a Burt’s Bees lotion. It turns out a lot of the itching was coming from ingredients in the allegedly super-healing lotions.)
    As far as treatment, I recommend buffing away dry skin on your finger and thumb tips using whatever you use for calluses on your feet before embarking on your preferred treatment regimen. If I do it morning and night (on dry skin) it really helps. Go gently around the edges of the crack — it may be a little ouchy at first but only for seconds, and it’s worth it.
    Once I’ve buffed away the dry skin the edges of the crack can knit together and heal much more easily. After cleaning with soap and water or rubbing alcohol, I moisturize with Burt’s Bee’s Res-Q balm or, if it’s a more serious situation, I dab on a little Liquid Bandage or Crazy Glue (which totally goes against my go-for-natural remedies thing and I think is ultimately counterproductive but sometimes a person gets desperate!).

  9. Andy K.
    Reply

    As some one by the name of Holly mentioned Vick’s Vapo Rub or a generic brand works for me. It doesn’t burn me. I rub it on my hands after I finish getting read for bed. I wash my hands only partially drying them and then apply the Vick’s and wear plastic gloves to seal in the moisture. My hands are better in 2 to 4 days but I have be sure to not skip. It also helps if during part of the day you can wear the plastic gloves after applying hand cream.

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