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Helping Cracked Fingertips Heal

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Q. I am a preschool teacher so I can't grease up my hands. My lessons are individualized and I am handling materials for them all day.

I am suffering! Cracks near my fingernails appear out of nowhere. I wash my hands up to 25 times a day and wear bandages at night.

I live at 9400 feet and the lack of humidity at this altitude is extreme. Do you have any recommendations for dealing with these painful cracks?

A. Greasy moisturizers work well for dry skin and cracks, but they make it hard to handle paper or computer keyboards. Many readers of this column have suggested tips for healing cracks. They include liquid bandage, lip balm, vitamin D and flax seed oil. We are sending you our Guide to Skin Care and Treatment with many other suggestions for dry skin and cracked fingertips.

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Try using Vicks Vapor Rub at nighttime with a pair of gloves. It usually clears up your hands in a couple of nights.

I am having good luck using Burt's Bees "Thoroughly Therapeutic" honey and shea butter body butter as a hand (and foot!) cream.

It is NOT greasy or sticky, and has allowed some of the cracks on my fingers to heal.

I like bag balm for skin care. Previously I posted about using it to smother yeast infections, externally, on/in skin folds. I also use it for skin cracking near the finger nails. The best way is to wash hands, dry, and immediately apply the bag balm, put on special gloves, made to be worn overnight. Winter here in TN, which gets cold and snow, has been hard on my hands used to CA winters and I have been liberally using the bag balm to heal any cracks or irritations on my fingers. It can usually be purchased at farm supply stores or on the net, comes in a green can and costs less than $10, lasts forever.

Years ago when I was attending dog grooming school and got what was referred to as groomer's thumb (those deep painful cracks near the nail that seem to never want to heal) I learned about an ointment called, Corona. It's actually a lanolin rich ointment used for livestock, but I can tell you it works on cracked hands and heels. We call it our "cow cream".

I am a pediatric nurse in a clinic in a state at 5000 ft altitude, and very dry. Needless to say, wintertime is painful. I mentioned to one of the pediatricians I had numerous cracks around my hands, not just fingernails. She said, and everyone around the station agreed, that putting SuperGlue on the split is the only way to get it healed. It lasts longer than liquid bandage, and is stronger. Sure enough, it works. I still use it.

Is this why hospitals have so many problems with medical personnel not washing their hands? It's a life and death matter in a health care setting. Aren't there any products out there to address this issue?

When I was teaching, I handled on a daily basis a wide variety of lessons printed on standard white printer stock paper---bought by the case from local office supply companies. I fed the paper into the printer and later collated the pages for individualized lessons for each student and corrected the completed lessons. My fingers burned and stung and large, painful cracks appeared in them. I was noted for wearing band aids on my fingers! I tried Vaseline, Udder Balm, Burt's Bees Creas---all were OK---and cortizone creams. The problem cleared up completely when I began to wear thin cotton or vinyl gloves when handling the paper at school. Most of all, once I retired and ceased to handle the printer paper at all, the cracks and pain ceased forever! It is my understanding there is a coating on the paper to allow it to move freely in the printer---and I was sensitized to the coating on the paper.

Major increases in fish oil (between 4-10 caps a day) help me. It's not a topical problem. That said, I also use a product called "Zim's Crack Creme," which is actually an oil. Found it at WalMart years ago. Probably similar to some of the other products already mentioned. It helps.

My grandson (only 2 months old) had very dry, bumpy skin over most of his body. The doctor suggested Cortisone cream (not ointment) then Aveeno cream (again, not ointment). In just one day his skin is smooth as can be. Although he doesn't have open cracks, this treatment worked wonders. It might be worth a try for those with dry, cracked skin also.

Several of my friends and I have had great results using O'keefe's Working Hands cream during the winter.

I am a pediatrician and had the same issues. I have healed my hands by mixing Vaseline with a little water, rubbing that on my hands and then sleeping with a white cotton sock over my hands at night. The other thing that has helped is switching to Purell hand sanitizer during the day (wait until you heal first) and not using the soap and water. The paper towels may cause the irritation. In the last couple of years I haven't needed the Vaseline at night even though I sanitize 40 times a day or more.

How about using Cornhusker's lotion. We found it works well in the winter.

It is very cold and the air is very dry all across our nation right now. We keep water in an old skillet on our stove during the day. This put moisture in the air. It helps us feel warmer and prevents cracking of skin during the winter.

As a safety measure we turn the light on over the stove to remind us that we have a pan of water on the stove. For safety we always turn the stove off when we go to bed or when we leave the house and the light helps us to remember to do that.

I have learned that wearing gloves outside every time I go outside if the weather is below 50 degrees is the only way I can prevent weather cracks.

Rita

From personal experience, I've found coconut oil is the best and quickest way to heal dry, cracked skin. Apply it externally and consume 1-3 Tablespoons each day as well. You will notice a difference within a day or two. You can use it not only on your hands but also on any dry skin, as well as on your hair for conditioning. There are several websites which offer lots of helpful information about the many healing benefits of coconut oil.

While it is 'greasy' at first, if let it soak into your skin you will feel almost immediate relief. Apply the coconut oil generously especially at night, then put on gloves, if you prefer, to keep your skin moist. In cooler weather, the oil solidifies but will liquefy quickly from the heat of your hands. Just rub it between your palms for a few seconds.

If possible, try to wash your hands less frequently, as that is just adding to your dry skin woes, and always apply some sort of protective skin lotion after you do wash your hands. Since you work with small children, you may want to consider wearing thin protective gloves to prevent having to wash so frequently (they come in boxes of fun colors now like purple and pink, which the kids may think is fun).

What is the difference between regular yogurt and greek yogurt? I know that greek yogurt is thicker and has more protein but why is this true?

I use lotion with lactic acid, and it heals the cracks right up. You can buy it at any pharmacy, it is a bit pricier, but worth the money.

@JA -- Do you have any brand names to associate with the "lactic acid" lotion?

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Smooth, white cotton gloves can be found in various sizes in the cosmetic area of your local drug store (or pharmacy) for under $2. Wearing them inside wool gloves and mittens has helped to prevent the skin on my hands from becoming irritated in the winter. Additionally, wearing cotton knit caps meant for small children under my wool knit caps in winter helps my face and scalp also.

I've suffered for years from cracked tips, especially in winter. Often several fingers at a time would have very painful cracks next the nails. Through research, I finally learned that the foaming agent in most shampoos, sodium laureth(or laurel) sulfate, is a known skin irritant. It is, in fact, used to cause skin irritation when testing some skin care products.

I now wear neoprene gloves when shampooing and try to avoid shampoos with "sls". I also wear gloves, if practical, for outside activities in colder weather.

I am now into my 3rd week with no cracked tips. It's like a new life for me.

I have the same issue, heels too once sandal season starts. I've had very good success with O'Keefe's Working Hands. Find it at your local hardware store. It comes in an apple green jar. The closer you follow the directions, the better the results.

I read your letter from the teacher re. painful cracks in her fingers near the nails. I suffered this for many years every winter, usually only on thumbs & forefingers. None of the various moisturizers, petroleum jelly, lip balm, etc. worked until I tried Neosporin. Now I smear a tiny amount on the ends of my fingers several times a day and before bed - haven't had a problem for the last 4 years. My niece also tried it and she is overjoyed. Must be some kind of bacteria or fungus, in addition to the dry air, that causes the problem.

Dick V.

I use crazy glue and dab a little on the cracks- it works instantly to take the pain away and promotes healing. Similar to liquid bandage but much cheaper.

Does the crazy glue work when the cracks are very sore and tend to bleed?

Blistex Medicated Lip Ointment (NOT the waxy lip BALM) does wonders almost overnight for cracked cuticles and skin around the fingernails. Be careful not to get any in your eyes - it stings.

Try skin cream for pregnant women. Tends to boost the healing of the cracks.

I'm actually going down this road as I type. Alaska winters and caring for a toddler (hands in water...a lot) combine to wreak havoc on the same finger and both thumbs every winter. I've used most everything mentioned in the list and have found that any salve-type ointment combined with keeping the affected area covered, and also using liquid bandages when needed is the way to go. Although, in the effort to always find a better way, I do change up my routine on occasion.

My current scheme is to cut the fingers off rubber gloves, apply large amounts of Aquaphor (by the makers of Eucerin) over the splits-don't know that brand really matters; it's about saturating the dry skin with moisture--and wearing the "finger" gloves, switching to full gloves when my hands are immersed in water or using cleaning supplies. When whatever I'm doing prevents using salve, I switch to using liquid bandage.

Don't know about Super Glue, but Liquid Bandage supposedly promotes healing. If nothing else, Super Glue would help just by keeping the split from becoming larger. Side note: The Aquaphor was recommended by our pediatrician for use on our toddler's extremely dry and scaly skin patches. It also keeps my mild psoriasis in check and works on chapped skin around the mouth and nose during cold season and doesn't burn as much as most ointments.

Instead of using the cut fingers off of gloves, you might try using medical finger cots. I get them at my local drug store in a box of a dozen or so. They are very lightweight, and fit the finger (or thumb) very closely -- they are meant for keeping medication on the finger.

I am a wind musician (clarinet, oboe). I have used these when my fingers have been so raw and sore that I could not play my instrument. They allow me full function of the fingers, and keep the salve from smearing all over everything.

My current favorite salve, BTW, is A&D Ointment.

I've had problems with cracked, bleeding fingertips in the wintertime for many years, and find Nexcare (3M) Skin Crack Care very helpful. It comes in a small bottle and you brush it on. I use it to patch cracks in the daytime, and - very importantly - I apply it at bedtime to any fingertips that are just beginning to crack and it can stop the crack from developing.

Not all pharmacies carry Nexcare Skin Crack Care, but Walgreen's has it.

I tried everything you could think of besides Amlaction lotion..Once I tried this lotion I could believe it, my sore painful cracks were going away..It is expensive around $16.00-$20.00 ..Just every time you wash your hands, apply ..

I have been having this problem, and I soundly believe it is due to using Clobetasol Propionate Cream. It is known for causing thinning of the skin, and I always use the same finger to apply it. Now I wear a finger cot to protect myself from the cream on my fingers. When cracks do appear, I use pain-relief neosporine. I also use finger cots 30 count for 4.99 at local walgreens to wear until it heals.

Skin cracks typically come from a swelling, then a crack, and it continues to crack until it is able to retain moisture again and heal. If you just put a good amount (toothpaste amount) inside the finger cot, and then slip it over your finger, in 2-3 days you will be right as rain. Plus, the pain will go away and that's the best part. Ugly fingers I can deal with, super finger pain I cannot.

ps- I used to worry about infection so I would wash it constantly to keep infection out. That is just about the worst thing you can do. Wash it, get it cleaned, and then just keep liquid on it, but make it an antibacterial one. Also, stay away from ANYTHING (lotion) with fragrance. It's like putting a lemon to razor burn.

I have severely dry skin and I tried amlactin one time and it burned me so bad I was screaming and washing it off. I guess when you have severe dry red skin you can't use this stuff. I now use oils such as almond, coconut, and avocado. Much better and its natural without toxic chemicals.

Hi, One of the main problems might be that you are washing your hands too often. This is un-natural & if you are using soap it can cause all sorts of problems.
As a keen gardener, I learned from an old chap that it was far better to wash hands thoroughly with just cold water, using a nail-brush if necessary, as soap removes natural oils & dries the hands, causing them to become increasingly more susceptible to absorption of dirt & bacteria (especially if one uses anti-bacterial soap which removes all Good bacteria as well as bad) and makes them harder to clean - A vicious circle!
Increased consumption of seed oils such as flax will find their way to the skin too, far more effective than suffocating the skin with mineral oils (ie; Vaseline)
Good luck!

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