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Cracked Fingertips Add To Winter’s Misery

There are a number of strategies to help with sore cracked fingertips.
Cracked Fingertips Add To Winter’s Misery

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.”

Why Fingertips Crack:

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.

Fungus

Fungal infections may be an unsuspected contributing factor.

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.

Moisturizing:

A good moisturizer is invaluable. According to dermatologists, the greasier the better. You might want to put on simple cotton gloves at bedtime after applying a heavy moisturizing ointment such as Vaseline or Aquaphor to protect your sheets. We are enthusiastic about urea-containing moisturizers such as Udderly Smooth Extra Care Cream. (Disclosure: the manufacturer underwrites our public radio show.) During the day, a quick fix may be as close as your lip balm.

One person shared this:

“ChapStick works for temporary relief of cracked fingertips.”

Sealing the Skin:

Many readers have discovered that sealing the cracks can help them heal faster, too:

As one reader reported:

“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.

Keeping Hands Dry:

Protecting hands from water and detergent is also important.

Here’s what one reader says about waterproof gloves:

“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.”

Protective gloves, available in latex-free formulations as well as rubber, can be extremely helpful for people who need to wash dishes or anything else on a regular basis.

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

Revised 2/19/18

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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