The People's Perspective on Medicine

Do You Soothe Cracked Fingertips With Lip Balm?

Doctors and mechanics must wash their hands frequently, resulting in dry cracked skin. Dairy farmers also need to soothe cracked fingertips.
Professional milk cow carer with digital tablet standing by group of livestock behind fence and touching one of them by hand

In the winter, when air gets dry, a lot of people have trouble with cracked fingertips. Experts also urge us to wash our hands frequently, which makes fingertips even more vulnerable. Dermatologists frequently recommend a heavy moisturizer, but some readers find that is impractical. Instead, they have found their own ways to soothe cracked fingertips.

How Do You Soothe Cracked Fingertips?

Q. As a dairy farmer, I have to wash my hands many times daily. The cracked fingertips that result are very painful.
To counter that, I keep a tube of lip balm (any kind) handy in my pocket and apply it often. It is very thick and stays in the crack to help it heal.

A. Many people need to soothe cracked fingertips at this time of year. Low humidity and frequent hand-washing to ward off colds or the flu can contribute.

Some people close the cracks with liquid bandage or household instant glue containing cyanoacrylate. Some people don’t like that approach, though.

One reader offered the following:

“I’ve tried liquid bandage as well as white glue on my cracked fingertips, but they don’t help much. Nothing works as well as A+D Ointment for cracked thumb and fingertips as well as split skin on my knuckles and heels. I rub it in and give it five minutes to soak in. Although A+D Ointment is traditionally used on babies’ bottoms, it works great on adults, too, and it is inexpensive.”

A+D Original Ointment contains lanolin and petrolatum. An “inactive” ingredient, cod liver oil, provides the vitamin A and D. Like other products containing petrolatum (petroleum jelly), it is greasy but effective.

Although dermatologists say the greasier the better for moisturizing hands, that doesn’t work for everyone who needs to soothe cracked fingertips.

We heard this from one reader:

“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?”

Many readers appreciate instant glue, and this preschool teacher might find it helpful. Another reader recommended finger cots to keep ointment like Vaseline or Vicks on the fingertips overnight and keep it off the materials you handle during the day. 

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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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I started getting cracks near my nails in the last 2 years, during cold weather. Hand lotions, creams, and ointments soothed them for a while, but greasy hands are not a practical solution. I was traveling in the car, when a crack near my thumbnail started throbbing. I had no lotion or cream handy, but I always carry medicated lip balm for my dry cracked lips. I thought, why not, and applied the tube to the crack. The relief was instant! My daughter recommended coconut oil at home, which works very well, and is much cheaper than lip balms. About a dollar for a good sized jar at the local dollar stores. It is solid at room temperature, but melts at body temp. Very little is needed, and it heals fast, so it lasts a long time. You can also put it on your hands at bedtime and cover with white cotton gloves for deep moisturizing!

I have deep cracks on the side of my thumb and first finger. They get so sore that I am barely able to hold a pen or pencil to write. A friend of mine urged me to use manuka honey then bandage. Manuka honey is used in burn units to aid healing. My crevices closed up within a couple of days. It’s amazing.

For several years I had a serious problem with my finger tips cracking and bleeding. I tried everything to remedy the situation, which went on for five years. When I started taking 5000 units of D3 along with 180 micrograms of MK-7 (the bioactive form of K2) the problem cleared up completely, and over the past 10 years I have not had any issues, despite frequent hand washing.
I hope this information helps someone else.

I’ve found a zinc oxide cream at night with bandaid cover to be very helpful in healing finger skin splits. And yes, the A & D “Treat” ointment with zinc oxide is among the best. The one I use does not have lanolin — for me, lanolin is an irritant despite it’s emollient properties.

Lanolin is the bomb. Just ask a sheep farmer.

I apply antibiotic ointment covered by self-adhering tape to my cracked thumb before going to bed. It is healed by morning. If the problem persists, I use rubber gloves when washing or rinsing dishes.

I had suddenly developed painful cracked fingers last winter, and it continues this season. (I’m in my 70s). I’ve had allergies and eczema in my life, but hadn’t experienced this painful condition until now. I’ve tried Vaseline and various lotions. I’ve tried a cortisone cream. They didn’t really help. Now, I find what eases the condition for me is to apply virgin coconut oil. A tiny bit goes a long way. You don’t have to worry about side effects, but it can be very greasy/oily until it sinks in.
P.S. It also helps with dry skin around the eyes.

I have chemical sensitivity so don’t use many pre-made products. I make the greatest balm, which is so easy: melt in a double boiler equal parts of beeswax, shea butter and coconut oil. Takes just minutes. I use it on lips, cuticles, heels; any dry skin. It’s wonderful. Can add a few drops of essential oil, although the aroma of beeswax is beautiful.

Perhaps some people who must wash their hands frequently would benefit from wearing gloves.

Happy to be here. I am trying the same remedy used in the summer time: Zinc Oxide. It seals out and protects and has a natural sent. It comes in generic form. I really like the natural sent. Good luck, and maybe switch to cut-out gloves.

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