Skin Fissures and Split Fingertips
Although we’re leaving winter behind, many of us have been suffering from dry skin due to changes in our routine. We’re washing our hands more frequently and usually with sanitiser or detergent. The frequent washing is important but is also more likely to lead to dry, splitting skin and fissures. What are these fissures and can we do anything to prevent them?
Should I be worried about skin fissures?
Skin fissures are cracks or splits that appear on dry and thickened skin. They can appear in many parts of your body, but most commonly on fingertips, heel of the feet, between toes and fingers. You can identify these skin fissures by the white flaky appearance of the surrounding dry skin, discoloration around the cracks and sometimes bleeding from the cuts.
Sometimes they are superficial, not penetrating more than the outermost layers of the skin. But sometimes they are deep, penetrating through the whole skin.
The latter is a bit worrying, not only because of the pain and bleeding it might cause, but also because of the risk of various irritants and germs entering your body through the damaged skin. If this happens, you can get serious infections leading to ulcers and open sores that are very painful and unpleasant to live with. So, it is important to treat and get rid of skin fissures before they can cause serious trouble.
Firstly, let’s take a look at why fingertip splitting occurs, and what is causing these fissures. Our skin, throughout the body has a level of elasticity to it. Just like a rubber band you can stretch your skin and it will go back into shape afterwards, as long as you don’t pull too hard! However, when the skin is less elastic due to dryness it causes skin fissures and nasty splits than can often be painful.
You may have heard of the protein collagen before and our skin elasticity is likely to be why. Collagen is what creates and maintains this elasticity. Essentially, this protein will make your skin appear softer and feel more supple, hence its popularity.
Furthermore, this elasticity is not the same throughout the entirety of our body. Some areas are less elastic and our fingertips are a prime example. The skin here is usually more dry and this is compounded by frequent hand washing. It is even worse for those of us who suffer from dry skin or conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. When we pull at this skin, rather than bouncing back like a rubber band, it can crack and cause skin fissures.
What causes cracked fingertips?
Dry skin is the number one culprit. There can be different reasons why you have dry skin. Some people naturally have dry skin, while in others it might be the result of some improper cosmetic products or body lotions. Some detergents and laundry soaps contain harsh chemicals that can make your fingertips crack. Also, cold and windy weather can make your skin dry out easily. This is why most of us experience painful cracked fingertips during winter.
Hot water can lower the skin moisture as well. If you have a habit of taking long hot baths, or using hot water to wash dishes, you are at risk of getting skin fissures. Would you believe that frequent washing can also cause your hands to dry out? A study conducted in 2020 shows how excessive hand washing during Covid-19 pandemic caused skin fissures in 38.8% of healthcare workers who underwent the study.5 Apart from these, there can be other more specific reasons behind skin cracking on your fingertips.
Cracked fingertips could be a result of nutritional deficiencies. Especially some vitamins are needed to repair the damaged skin and maintain healthy skin. Vitamins A, D, E, K, C and some B complex vitamins like B3, B6 and B9 are examples of essential vitamins for healthy skin. Vitamin C is essential to produce collagen, which maintains skin elasticity as discussed before.1 These vitamin deficiencies can be the reason behind your cracked fingertips that won’t heal. Proteins, unsaturated fatty acids (omega3 and omega6) and minerals (Zinc and Copper) are other nutrients that you should take in adequate amounts to prevent skin fissures.2
Diabetic patients are more at risk because of the diabetic skin changes. They have thicker skin with poor healing potential.3 Because of that, they can get dry cracked fingers easily. Some topical medications like retinoids are also known to cause dry skin and lead to fissures.
Could it be a sign of cancer?
Skin cancer shows a variety of symptoms, depending on the type and the location. Out of the three main skin cancer types, squamous cell skin cancers can present as scaly and bleeding cracks on your fingers.4 However, keep in mind that it is just one possibility out of hundreds, so you might want to look for obvious causes before jumping to any conclusions.
How To Prevent Skin Fissures
If your fingertips are splitting and causing you discomfort then fear not, there are solutions!
First step: moisturize. If you’re noticing skin fissures and splitting on your fingertips or hands, this is your skin crying out for moisture. There are many moisturizers out there but we would recommend something quite thick. Lotions are unlikely to cut it, creams will do better but you are probably best using ointments. These moisturizers are much thicker and closer to vaseline in texture. Although they may not feel as nice as a cream, they’re much better for locking in moisture and you’ll see vast improvements in your skin health by using them.
Another preventative measure would be to wear gloves. Avoiding exposure to cold air and hot water will help reduce your skin fissures. If you’re washing the dishes for example, wearing gloves will help to protect your hands and fingertips from splitting.
Consider Your Sanitizer and Detergent
Both sanitizer and detergent can be very harsh on our hands. Especially if it contains alcohol. At the moment, we would advise everyone to wash their hands thoroughly in order to prevent the spreading of diseases. However, if you’re using sanitizer, consider the effect this has on your skin. It will most definitely dry out your already dry fingertips and this will cause splitting. Although sanitizer is unavoidable, finger splitting fissures are. Be sure to moisturize thoroughly after use and this should help your skin lock in that all important moisturizer.
Don’t wash with hot water
Switch to lukewarm water instead. Hot water dries out the skin. But soaking your hands in lukewarm water before bedtime for three to five minutes, and then coating them with Vaseline will help to keep your hands nice and moist.
Drinking plenty of water is the best preventive method for many skin problems. Proper hydration will keep dry skin at bay and save you from skin fissures.
Home remedies for skin fissures
You can use a variety of home remedies to treat your dry skin. Various oils like coconut oil, avocado oil and olive oil help with skin cracks by reducing inflammation and speeding up the wound healing process. They also help to keep your skin moist. Because these are natural products that can be applied locally, have barely any side effects, are available to anyone and are not expensive, it is worth giving it a shot before turning into more sophisticated medication.
Honey is another great option to try. It will help boost your immune system, reduce inflammation and heal the cracked skin effectively. Aloe vera is another remedy, which will moisturize and replenish your dehydrated skin, and give you instant relief from pain with the soothing effect it has.
However, it is advisable to test these out first in a small area of your skin before applying them on the skin fissures, to make sure that these products will not react with your skin.
Speak to Our Online Dermatologists
Our final recommendation would be to speak to our online dermatologists. They are all board-certified and here to help you. Firstly, of course, we would advise you to follow the steps above but if you’re not seeing an improvement, your skin fissures could be being caused by something else. A fast check up by an expert could be all you need to resolve your skin splitting woes!
- Pullar, J. M., Carr, A. C., & Vissers, M. C. M. (2017). The Roles of Vitamin C in Skin Health. Nutrients, 9(8). https://doi.org/10.3390/NU9080866
- Michalak, M., Pierzak, M., Kręcisz, B., & Suliga, E. (2021). Bioactive Compounds for Skin Health: A Review. Nutrients, 13(1), 1–31. https://doi.org/10.3390/NU13010203
- Quondamatteo, F. (2014). Skin and diabetes mellitus: what do we know? Cell and Tissue Research, 355(1), 1–21. https://doi.org/10.1007/S00441-013-1751-2
- Howell, J. Y., & Ramsey, M. L. (2022). Squamous Cell Skin Cancer. StatPearls. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441939/
- Lan, J., Song, Z., Miao, X., Li, H., Li, Y., Dong, L., Yang, J., An, X., Zhang, Y., Yang, L., Zhou, N., Li, J., Cao, J. J., Wang, J., & Tao, J. (2020). Skin damage among health care workers managing coronavirus disease-2019. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 82(5), 1215–1216. https://doi.org/10.1016/J.JAAD.2020.03.014
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The Specialist doctor from the University Hospital in Gothenburg, alumnus UC Berkeley. My doctoral dissertation is about Digital Health and I have published 5 scientific articles in teledermatology and artificial intelligence and others.