healing split fingertips with wound-closure strips

wound strips 2SPLIT FINGERTIPS, ANYONE? Ouch. From the start of winter into early spring, that’s my main complaint, and nonstop snow-shoveling and serious cold do nothing to speed relief. I whined to an esthetician friend the other day, and she listened for a moment, then stopped me with two words: wound strips.

If you’ve had beat-up fingertips, you have probably gone through a lot of Band-Aids, but how practical are they, except overnight? They’re clumsy when typing, and when cooking, or washing hands—not good. If they get damp, the pad portion holds moisture, which doesn’t seem to promote healing, either; the little strips don’t do that. And ripping off a big old swath of adhesive from a split finger when the bandage is either wet or soiled, or you want to apply more balm? Ouch.

Instead, my friend said, just put the tiniest dab of something emollient on the troubled spot—Bag Balm or Farmer’s Friend or A&D or whatever you like—then cover the crack up with a portion cut from one of the many quarter-inch-wide strips in each package. (The breathable adhesive strips are usually used in multiples, to secure small cuts and wounds, and even after suture or staple removal to improve cosmetic results. I used maybe one-third of one strip–of which there are 30 in a box–per fingertip, playing with the positioning depending which way the finger was cracked.)

Don’t pull the crack closed forcefully with the strip, but rather start by lining up the skin edges, the directions say, then apply the strip to one side leading right up to the wound. Next, without any tension or pulling, apply the other half. With a crack under one nail, I positioned the strip as in the photo above. Remember: These little strips are adhesive, so use care when removing.

I can type with them on. If I wash my hands one too many times and one eventually needs replacing, no big waste of material. The narrow design of each strip is plenty to protect what’s injured, but not so much to get in the way. In unscientific testing on two very unhappy fingertips at my house: fast success. My experiment continues.

wound strips 1

  1. Carole says:

    Plagued with this problem for years,did not realize many others also.Have been using ‘Fisherman Rescue Balm’ and the hand lotion this year,has sea kelp and other good things in it,made in Nova Scotia Canada.(my home)Check it out novascotiafisherman.com Having tried all sorts of band aids agree with you,will get the Wound closure and try them.Thank you for all the great info..

  2. Paula says:

    Great tips! Old nurse treatment: right before bed, smear hands with lots of Vaseline or Vit E ointment & wear clean white cotton gloves. The process does feel funky while cracks heal overnight ☺️ good luck finding the gloves!

  3. Carole Clarin says:

    Although I have always loved your gardening advice, this is the BEST timely information right now! I have used both New Skin and Liquid Bandage but find the smell offensive so I will try the bandage strips that I have with many other bandaid shapes and sizes, none of which have ever stayed on. Thanks to everyone for the many suggestions.

    1. Barclay says:

      I’ve been told that Krazy Glue dries less than New Skin/Liquid Bandage. That’s what I use. Most of the time it works well, although it doesn’t stand up to soaking (e.g., doing dishes), when it lifts off. I got the brush-on dispenser, which lasts a long time instead of drying out like the single-use ones. By “dries less” I meant “dries out skin less”!

      1. margaret says:

        I just don’t like the smell of either one (glue or liquid bandage) so that has been my hesitation. But I am interested in any/all input on this topic!

  4. Holly says:

    For the most stubborn splits, try this remedy from my carpenter hubby: file nail as short as possible, then put on a little Gorilla Glue (not too thin). Place a bandage lightly over it. You can remove the bandage when the glue is set. Your nail can then grow out without continuous tearing. It can be a little ugly–just put a clean bandage over the site when you need need your hands to look nice. Works great for me!

  5. Joyce says:

    The dermatologist recommended “ammonium Lactate lotion” which is generic for Lac-Hydrin, and it works very well to heal the cracks, but I also keep a small container of vitamin E oil with a couple drops of tea tree oil on a table near my recliner so that I can dip my fingertips in it when I sit down to take a break.

  6. Deb Smith says:

    I do the hand cream/gloves combo overnight and it works well, but sometimes the fissures on my fingertips are too deep and split again after I wash my hands a few times. I’ve used foot cream instead of hand cream this year and it’s much better. But still my fingers split.

    What I have found works well is Worker B Rescue Putty (I found out about this from Marisa MacClellan’s Food In Jars blog). It has olive oil, honey and beeswax, period. The best part is it not only protects the split, it also softens the skin around it. The 1.75 oz jar is expensive (about $20), but the little you use will make it last for ages. Their website is http://www.worker-b.com

    As for gloves, those fluffy spa gloves that are sometimes treated with aloe work well. Good luck! -djs

  7. Helene Nawrocki says:

    My herbal salve- Bear Paw Balm is love for cracked, dry skin, Works on heel and finger cracking. Apply periodically thorough out the day for new soft skin. Available at bearmouintainherbs.com. All organic components, herbs tended and dried an infused in oil with love and intention. Helene

  8. Donna says:

    Any Super glue type product and just a dab works wonders. It stops the pain immediately if it’s a small cut. It will burn for a moment in the larger cuts, but as soon as it dries you will be sooo happy!

  9. Marie says:

    Perhaps you are allergic to an ingredient in your salve or lotion. I found out I was allergic to lanolin and that was why my hands were cracking and bleeding! Bag Balm is basically lanolin in a tub. And lanolin is the main ingredient in most “healing hand creams” so when you put a bandage over the cut, it doesn’t get a dose of the lanolin, so it heals… So, put a dab of whatever you are using for your raw, chapped hands on the crook of your elbow , that tender skin on your arm. Wait to see if it gets red or itchy. I’m a Master Gardener and I did a presentation to our group about this and we did the test at the meeting. By the end of the meeting, a number of people were showing reactions. Most thought it was “winter” that caused their rough hands when it really was the lotion they were using for their rough hands. Hope this helps. If not, then at least you know it isn’t your hand cream! Love your blog! LOVE your podcast! Thanks for both!

  10. While it may seem prissy, I swear by Gel nail polish and my natural nails are super strong, healthy and grow quickly. I hardly ever wear gloves in moss gardening… so I get lots of dirt under my fingernails. While I do clean out under my nails regularly, the color polish hides any hints of dirt. Most of all, this polish is so efficient, that my nails just don’t break. They never chip or split either. I have no need for a repair tape. Mother and I were just laughing together last night about my beautiful nails despite my constant hand digging methods. — Mossin’ Annie, author, The Magical World of Moss Gardening (Timber Press, August 2015).

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Annie. Nice to “meet” you. I have good strong nails that grow fast (too fast!) but don’t wear polish. It’s the fingertips that are the trouble, every winter, up here in the North Country. Too dry, too cold, and the indoors all warm and ultra-dry. Not great for skin in general, I suspect. And yes, I am a hand digger, too, so I hear you on that.

  11. JoAnn Okey says:

    Wow, not a moment too soon. I dreaded the pain from my split nail when I returned to the garden this spring. The wound strips and the great additional comments are tremendously helpful. Thank you!

  12. Martha says:

    Some years ago my partner and I were at the RI Flower Show and found a skin cream based on Manuka honey and shea butter that works wonders for split fingers, skin conditions, Hobbit feet, windburn, chapped lips. (no lanolin) I use it instead of overpriced night cream on my face all winter. We liked it so much, we had the manufacturer put our essential oil blend in it and we sell it as Helios Advanced Healing Skin Cream. Thanks for the tips about the strips.

  13. Ruth Massey says:

    Try Tegaderm hp Transparent Dressing. I use on any cut on my hand, allows you to wash your hands frequently. Leave it on until it loosens on its own. Amazing how fast the body can heal itself.

  14. Linda Hall says:

    I’m a little confused….is this about vertically splitting nails? Or actual cracking in the fleshy part of the fingertips?

  15. Cathy says:

    I use the fingertip end of disposable plastic gloves, cut to about 1 and 1/2″ long. I liberally apply my lotion of choice and then use just the fingertip portion to cover the cut area. Secure it with a strip of tape around the bottom of the cut edge, just above the bend of my thumb and I have a tight, waterproof dressing that lasts all day and keeps my finger coated in a healing balm. I do not expect to have any more problems this winter if i start this at the first sign of trouble.

  16. Beverly, zone 6, eastern PA says:

    My cracked thumb-tips will thank you all for these wonderful ideas. I usually wear a bandaid to bed, choosing one with the added ointment on the pad itself. For other strategies, I slather my hands with cream and don gloves immediately before going outside to rake leaves, or to shovel snow or even to walk the dog. This seems to help a lot.

    Never considered a lanolin sensitivity. Now I must go look at all the ingredients of the creams.

  17. kate says:

    We use shikai lotion.my husband got split fingertips & excema both exacerbated with use of garden gloves. He started using shikai & has had great results. I like the wound closure tape.

  18. Nancy Warberg says:

    I massage Vicks Vapor Rub on my fingernails and finger tips to stop nail splitting . It has camphor, eucalyptus and menthol. There is a fragrance which doesn’t last too long. I don’t mind it. You can also use it on your toenails to stop dryness or toenail fungus ( I have heard).

  19. Carla says:

    Thank you, Margaret, and others for tips on dealing with this season’s cracked fingers and thumbs. I can’t wait to try the wound strips. A bit off topic, but related to fingers/nails: can you or others recommend a good nail brush that gets dirt out from under nails but does not hurt the skin under the nail? Thanks!

    1. margaret says:

      I just have your basic model, but here’s my not-so-secret secret. I clip my nails all the way down all the time, because I can’t imagine getting the clean otherwise. :)

    2. Mischelle says:

      My favorite garden supply, Lee Valley Tools, sells surgical nail brushes whose soft bristles get the tiniest bit of dirt from under nails. I have deep nail beds and they are the only brushes that work for me. They’re around 10 bucks for a dozen. Whenever I order tools from LV I throw in an order for the brushes and I give them out to all my gardening friends.

  20. Deb R says:

    Cracked fingers and heels lifer here–clear fingernail polish works great over a cleaned finger crack to protect it and start the healing. And it stays put, unlike a bandage. As it wears off, just reapply. I usually have multiple cracks on my fingers in the winter and this has worked best. A&D ointment in tube form works overnight to heal and soothe cracked, dried out hands and heels.

  21. Lauren Letellier says:

    After 19 years as weekenders, my husband and I retired from Manhattan to Hillsdale, NY in December. Winter finger splits that were a nuisance in the city became full-blown medical traumas upstate! Someone recommended O’Keefe’s Working Hands balm and it is truly miraculous. Now we keep it all over the house. Also, I’m told that dehydration can cause splits, so drink plenty of water every day!

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