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Can You Heal Sore Fingertips with Salve?

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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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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