How to Heal Painful, Cracked Fingertips: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

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Having painful, cracked fingertips can make everyday activities like typing or getting dressed difficult or painful. Though dry skin around the fingertips can be stubborn and persistent, there are treatments to help heal it.

Painful, cracked fingertips can be caused by everyday activities or environmental triggers, but they may also be a sign that you have a more serious condition, like eczema, psoriasis, or other skin diseases.

Whether you are dealing with cracked fingertips alone, or dry and cracked hands, it’s important to seek treatment and investigate any underlying medical issues.

This article will discuss the causes, symptoms, and treatment of painful, cracked fingertips and when they might be a sign of a more serious condition.

A close up of a white person's hands, their fingernails are dry and brittle.

Pornchai Soda /Getty Images

What Causes Painful, Cracked Fingertips?

In most cases, cracked and peeling skin around the fingertips is caused by dry skin.

Cracked and painful fingers are a sign of very dry skin, known as xerosis. Many people experience dry skin from certain products and environmental triggers, such as:

  • Harsh chemicals in hand soaps and cleaning products
  • Dry climates
  • Aging
  • Changing seasons, particularly the winter
  • Exposure to the sun
  • Long, hot showers

Many people also experience dry skin from frequent handwashing, since soap that is needed to remove bacteria and other germs from the skin also dries it out.

In some cases, cracked, painful fingers can indicate an underlying medical condition that may require treatment.

Skin conditions

Painfully dry skin is associated with chronic skin conditions, including eczema and psoriasis.

  • Eczema: An inflammatory skin condition that causes a scaly, inflamed, itchy rash. Eczema is more likely to occur on the fingertips, but if you have flaky, scaly spots, these might indicate psoriasis.
  • Psoriasis: An inflammatory autoimmune disorder that leads to lesions or inflamed scaly patches on skin.

Both of these conditions are believed to be associated with an overactive autoimmune system, and both can be triggered by environmental factors including allergens and changing temperatures.

Talking to a dermatologist can help you determine which of these conditions might be causing your cracked fingertips. Keeping a log of your symptoms and when they appear can help you identify triggers and avoid them in the future. 

Diabetes

People with diabetes often experience changes to blood flow in their extremities, particularly the hands and feet. This can cause skin to become dry and cracked.

Dry skin as a result of diabetes happens most often in the feet first. However, if you are experiencing persistent dry, cracked fingertips, you should speak to your healthcare provider about having your blood sugar levels tested.

Infection

Once your skin becomes dry and cracked, it’s easier for bacteria and other germs to enter your body. That leads to increased risk of infection, which in turn can make it more difficult for your dry, cracked skin to heal.

Fungal skin infections, like athlete's foot, are especially common in people who have dry, cracked fingertips. If you notice your fingernails becoming brittle, yellow, or thickened, talk with your healthcare provider.

Symptoms

Symptoms of painful, cracked fingertips may include:

  • Very dry skin, which may appear red, flaky, or inflamed
  • Cracks in the skin
  • Discoloration in the fingernails
  • Brittle or broken fingernails

Remember that these symptoms can also be indicative of other skin conditions or underlying medical conditions. You should consult your healthcare provider if they don't heal on their own after moisturizing regularly.

Diagnosis and Treatment

If you’re experiencing dry, painful fingertips, you can begin treatment at home. If your skin starts to heal as a result of at-home treatment, continue the routine in order to keep dry skin at bay.

 To keep your hands well moisturized at home:

  • After washing your hands, leave them slightly damp or allow them to air-dry.
  • While your hands are damp, apply hand cream, focusing on the fingertips and nails.
  • If you use hand sanitizer, apply moisturizer directly after, since the alcohol in hand sanitizer can make dry skin worse. 

When choosing the right moisturizer, dermatologists recommend:

  • Occlusives: Prevent moisture loss from the skin's surface. These contain ingredients like mineral oil or petrolatum.
  • Humectants: Hydrate the skin by pulling moisture from the air and attracting and binding water on the skin. These contain ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, lactic acid, and glycerin.
  • Emollients: Create protective layers on the skin. Emollients can be found in palm oil, coconut oil, and wool fat.
  • Moisturizers that are fragrance-free and dye-free: These can help you avoid irritating your skin more.

At night, you can moisturize and then sleep with cotton gloves on to help your hands retain the moisture.

If your dry, cracked skin doesn’t respond to moisturizing, speak with your healthcare provider about other treatment options. A steroid cream or antifungal cream might be needed to help your fingertips heal if the dry skin is a result of an infection.

For underlying conditions like eczema, psoriasis, or diabetes, your healthcare provider will talk with you about lifestyle changes and treatments that will help reduce your symptoms.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can you heal painful, cracked fingertips quickly?

If you have very dry fingertips, it’s important to moisturize your hands regularly with dermatologist-recommended ingredients.

Although there’s no quick fix for dry, cracked fingertips, using moisturizer regularly should make a difference within days. Always remember to moisturize after you wash your hands.

Why are my fingertips cracked and painful?

In some cases, cracked and painful fingertips are just a sign of dry skin. If that’s the case, you’ll be able to fight off dry skin and help repair the damage by moisturizing regularly. Apply a hand cream every time you wash your hands. 

If moisturizing doesn't improve your skin within a matter of days, your cracked, painful fingertips might be a sign of an underlying medical condition. If you regularly moisturize but still have cracked and painful fingertips, you should speak with a dermatologist about other treatment options.

 A Word From Verywell

Having dry, cracked, and painful fingertips can be uncomfortable and unsightly. However, there is hope for healing. Implementing a regular moisturizing routine and using hand cream after you wash your hands can help heal cracked fingertips.

If moisturizing regularly doesn’t work, you should speak with a dermatologist or healthcare provider to get a professional opinion. Remember that even small symptoms can indicate a more significant underlying medical condition. To feel better about your dry, painful fingertips, don't hesitate to seek out medical guidance.

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Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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