Brittle nails, hair loss, thinning eyebrows, or dry skin might be indications of undiagnosed thyroid problems.

Every year, we hear from people who suffer during cold weather with sore fingertips that are cracked or even split open. This condition makes it difficult to fasten buttons, handle pen and paper, manipulate small tools with finesse or even type. Have you found a good way to treat such sore fingertips? One reader offers a remedy that might not be familiar.

Ichthammol Salve for Sore Fingertips:

Q. I get cracked skin on the tips of my thumbs every winter. I’ve been using an age-old remedy that my father told me about years ago: Ichthammol ointment.

It’s a dark oily drawing salve that can be used for many skin problems. At night, I apply the ichthammol ointment to the cracked skin and then cover it with a bandage. In the morning my thumbs are better and the pain is gone.

If you can’t find ichthammol, ask your pharmacist to order it for you.

Ichthammol Used for Many Skin Problems:

A. Thanks for sharing your story about this old-fashioned salve. Ichthammol is derived from shale oil. It used to be prescribed for treating skin problems like psoriasis, eczema, seborrheic dermatitis and boils (Boyd, International Journal of Dermatology, July, 2010). We discovered that this coal tar product is also used for dogs and horses. It can be ordered online.

Other Ointments:

Another greasy option is A & D Ointment.

One reader wrote:

“Finally, I tried A & D Ointment – yes, the same ointment used on baby’s bottoms – and it works! The cracked thumb on my right hand that usually is split most of the winter finally healed.

“I only use it every few days. Another benefit is that it is not expensive. I know A & D Ointment has a base of cod liver oil. Yes, it’s oily, but I leave it on about five minutes and then wipe off what little remains. Most of it has absorbed by then. It’s the best thing I have tried.”

Petroleum Jelly:

Dorothy in Buffalo wrote:

“I use old fashioned Desitin ointment bandaged on my sore fingertips plus Vaseline on my hands with cotton gloves when I go to bed at night. This usually solves the cracked finger tips by morning.”

Desitin is a diaper ointment like A&D Ointment. Vaseline, aka petroleum jelly, is an old-fashioned standard that is often recommended for severely dry skin.

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  1. JimP
    Winchester, VA

    I use the Udderly Smooth Extra Care 20. This contains 20% urea, which draws moisture into the top layer of the skin. Make sure you get the Extra Care 20 because there are formulations of Udderly Smooth that don’t have any urea. I no longer get skin cracks when I apply the Extra Care 20 twice/day. I no longer use super glue to hold the skin cracks together because there aren’t any cracks.

  2. Larry

    I use a simple remedy that is cheap and non-messy, food service gloves. I put them on at night and when I take them off in the morning, my hands are smooth, supple, and all cracks have usually healed.

    They are available all over the internet, even at Dollar Store! Cost maybe
    5-10 cents apeace and are re-uable.

  3. Julie

    The best topical salve I’ve found is Lansinoh, the purest lanolin product available and can be safely used by people with wool allergies. When I get a cracked finger (almost always a thumb), I put a dab of Lansinoh on the cut, cover it with a band-aid and have significant overnight healing. It’s also great for burns–immediate application stops blistering and also works for rough and/or cracked heels. This product is available in the baby care area.

  4. Cay
    Chattanooga, TN

    Pure lanolin is the best remedy ever for cracked fingertips. I discovered the wonderful healing properties of lanolin years ago and decided to try it on my painful cracked fingertips. It worked great and fast. When my brother was overseas he had a problem with cold cracking his fingertips. I sent him the lanolin and cloth gloves to wear at night.

    He was amazed at what used to take weeks to heal instead healed in a matter of days and kept his fingertips from cracking again. Don’t use the liquid lanolin but rather the solid in a little jar. Stick your fingers down in it and then put on the gloves. They will be better by morning and healed within a few days.

  5. Brooke
    Okanogan, WA

    bag balm works for me and works quickly

  6. Kiki

    I had terrible trouble with cracked fingers (and thumbs) all winter until I started using Working Hand hand cream. I make sure I use at least twice a day in winter. Occasionally, I will still get a crack or two when I have had to have my hands in water a whole lot, and I treat them by applying Neosporin ointment and bandaging them overnight. If still bad the next day, I paint on some New Skin (also Skin Shield) several times during the day. Not as unsightly as bandaids all over my fingers!

  7. Lyn

    Cerave Healing Ointment (new product) blue jar with Gray top. Apply at bedtime and put on an inexpensive pair of drugstore cotton gloves. Wash gloves weekly.

    Pure peppermint oil. A small US Company that grows mint in MI and AZ. Peppermint is available either in a drop bottle or a spray. Put one drop or spritz on cracked or split skin. Cover till oil soaks in or let air dry. Good for day time use.

  8. Mary Jane

    I use NewSkin liquid bandage.

  9. Bonnie

    For years I suffered with cracked finger skin in winter. Out of desperation, I used a emery board to reduce the two sides on either side of the crack. Although a bit uncomfortable while filing down, this gives instant relief. Be sure your hands are dry when using the emery board (or sandpaper). Now when I feel a crack coming on, I use the emery board to prevent it deepening.

  10. Karen
    Glen Ellyn , IL

    I have had issues for years with cracking on fingers and hands, like little deep cuts, the only thing that ever helped was New skin-liquid bandage at Walgreens (it’s the only store I know of that carries it). It burns when you put it on the first time but it seals the cut and keeps it from getting bigger and deeper, within a few days it’s healed.

  11. Carolyn

    I put lip balm on my finger tips when they start cracking. I only do it at night when I’m off to bed.

  12. Jackie
    New Jersey

    I noticed that the painful cracked fingers I used to get every winter stopped completely after I significantly increased the amount of water I drank (from about 8 oz. per day to 48 oz. per day) several months prior. I didn’t experience a single crack last winter, and I didn’t need to use any special hand lotions or creams. As an added benefit, I noticed that my hair was less dry and not subject to static electricity from dry indoor air, which used to drive me crazy all winter.

  13. JWA
    High Point

    I had cracked thumb tips every winter for years and always carried bandaids in my pocket. A cream developed for use on dairy cows really helped but did not prevent the cracking. After being tested for Vitamin D deficiency and finding a nodule on my thyroid, I started taking vitamin D with coconut oil. I also added an iodine supplement. After several months of taking the supplements, I no longer get cracks on my fingertips, my heels and elbows are not dry and scaly, and my back doesn’t itch anymore. Even my eyebrow are not as sparse and are filling in at the ends. My doctor knows what I am taking and my tests are normal. Something is working and the relief is great.

  14. Sandy

    I am sure there are many causes of cracked finger skin, but I have discovered that, for me, just washing a few times in the wrong soap or the water-softened water in certain towns can make the skin around my fingers crack open. My brother has the same problem. I use a brand-name bar soap and even carry a small bar in a container in my purse whenever possible. If sore cracks do occur on my fingers, I use neosporin for the pain and bandage sore areas overnight.

  15. Liz
    Washington State

    I have used New Skin- obnoxious smell but it works.

  16. Karen
    Frisco, TX

    My husband and I use O’Keeffe’s Working Hands salve. It’s available at Wal Mart and Home Depot. I am sure it is available other places, but that’s where we have found it. It has really worked for us. They also make a product called Healthy Feet that my husband uses for his heels as they were very rough and nothing else seemed to work. We have had excellent results with these products.

  17. Gina
    Williamsburg, VA

    I have found salvation for my cracked fingertips with Avon Moisture Therapy. It’s a little greasy but I put it on when I go to bed at night and I haven’t had cracked finger issues for years. During the day I use the Moisture Therapy in the white and orange tube if my hands feel dry – it’s not greasy, more light. My Dad swore by Avon Silicone Glove for his cracked thumb issues.

  18. Cecilia L

    Try container of WORKING HANDS hand cream. They have a container for feet too. And for lips. My son works with his hands all day and gave me the container of WORKING HANDS and I love it, keeps my fingers/palms/hands soft all thru the winter. Not expensive, can buy at Walgreens, etc.

  19. Karin
    Schaumburg, Illinois

    Porters Lotion, available online, is by far the best product to heal cracked skin. It doesn’t only heal the cracks, it normalizes the skin.

  20. cameron

    I apply superglue to the cracks on my fingers, and they are not painful and heal quickly. Don’t glue your fingers together :)

  21. Peggy

    Do you suggest this for cracked heels as well?

    • cameron

      You could, I have not tried that on my heels I have been using Vicks vaporub on my cracked heels and rough toes and then put my socks over them they heal up quickly. The generic brand is the same and cheaper. Also good for toenail fungus.

  22. K

    My family uses Aquaphor for cracked fingertips. Put a little blob on at night and wrap your finger in plastic skin tape. It’s usually healed by morning and if not completely healed, feels better. Then repeat the next night if it is not completely healed.

  23. reeter
    new jersey

    I use liquid bandage until the crack heals.

  24. Anne
    Bethlehem, Pa

    I have a better solution. As a nurse I found Neutragena Hand Creme to be very effective. I used it for years. One day I saw “Working Hands” in the pharmacy. It works far better for me than Neutragena I put it on in the morning and again at night. I haven’t had cracked hands in years. Anne W

  25. Jackie

    My fingertips used to crack and bleed every winter. Now I rub in a dollop of O’Keefe’s Working Hands every night before I go to bed, and the problem is gone. I also apply a lighter hand cream periodically throughout the day, to keep my hands from drying out too much. I’ve used several different brands; in general, I’ve found that moisturizers containing dimethicone and allantoin are the most effective.

  26. Doug

    My wife suffers from dry and split skin on her fingertips. She gets relief by applying lanolin (a natural product) and wearing cotton gloves.

  27. ml

    For sore fingertips or cracked skin on my fingers I use a lip balm made with pure bees wax. I have used this for years, and it works.

  28. Ellen

    I don’t use antibacterial soap and carry my own that does not contain sodium Laurel sulfate. When they do get dry and cracked I use petroleum jelly or make my own with mineral oil and lavender oil and wear cotton gloves so it absorbs into my skin and not on my sheets. I normally take them off during the night and by then it has been absorbed.

  29. Kudra

    Starting in October I begin wearing gloves to wash dishes to prevent my thumbs from cracking and becoming sore. Sometime around May I stopped wearing the gloves.

    • Lyn

      Excellent suggestion.

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