Fingertips split or crack at work -- why?

For the last fifteen or so years I’ve worked in a grocery store throwing stock on the shelves at night. Every year right around this time and throughout the winter, I (and several of my co-workers) develop small cracks or splits on our fingertips, usually the index and middle fingers and thumbs. The cracks are small, perhaps the width of a papercut (until they begin to split) and are around 1 or 1.5 mm long, starting right under the nail. They are NOT cuts from cardboard – those are bad enough, but these splits are incredibly painful and once it happens, the smallest pressure from accidentally banging it on a shelf sends throbbing pain all the way up my arm. I mean, these suckers really hurt.

What could possibly cause this? I suppose one possible cause is the dry air in the store once they turn on the heat, but I’ve lived in a house where the humidifier didn’t work all winter and all I suffered from was dry, itchy skin, not split fingertips. Another guess is that somehow the cardboard that I tear apart all night long somehow leaches the oil from my skin. I have no idea if this is a property of cardboard or not but it sounds as good as any other reason.

So, any ideas what causes this, and any ideas on how to remedy it?


Yes and yes, generally dry environment, specifically dry activity

as a nurse with similar problems I recommend lots of fluids at work, moisturize your hands, file the rough edges so they don’t build up, and superglue/dermabond on the bad ones

I used to work with a lot of cold clay that would over time dry out my fingers, resultulting in painful cracks. Moisturize them beforehand as much as you can but if and when cracks develop, we found Carmex to be pretty good at helping them heal.

My friend gets them during the colder weather. She lives in a cabin with woodstove heat which can be drying. She uses Carmex as well, but Bag Balm or Crack Care would be good too.

… and then, of course, there’s Crack Creme

IMHO the cardboard is acting like rough paper towel, drying your fingertips. My brother used to have similar problems working at the grocery store; he’s diabetic, and managed to get permission to wear those light rubber-dipped gloves, which seemed to help.

KNowing you, I thought this was going to be about butt cracks, so I was ready to counter with Cleavage Cream. Fie upon you for being straight up. :wink:

Definitely the cardboard. You can get the same thing filing office papers. Both of them pull moisture out of your fingers. The advice given so far is good. There are also industrial products that your employer could make available. These are work-related injuries and should, ideally, be addressed as such.

I used to have this problem in the winter. Asked my pharmacist, who told me to use lotion when at work and home and always wear gloves when outdoors, even if it’s only a short period. Seems to have solved the problem, for the most part.

Thank you, everyone. I suppose there are drawbacks and benefits to every job, and while I don’t think I’ll ever be able to avoid the cracked fingertips it’s good to know that the severity can at least be ameliorated. Throwing stock on the night crew may cause some pain but at least I never have to deal with customers. In the long run, I still come out ahead.

Thank you again.

These may also be (partially) genetic in nature. That is, it may be a family trait. My mother gets them, my brother gets them, I get them, every winter like clockwork. It doesn’t seem to matter what I do, short of moisturizing and wearing those stupid cotton gloves every night (also, socks etc on my feet), I get those cracks. I also get them running sideways, cracking right along the ridges of my fingerprint further down on the finger-pad (and sometimes across the ridges too).

My other brothers and my father either don’t get them, or aren’t bothered by them. Summertime, they’re not a problem for any of us.

When I get them, I use Bag Balm and adhesive bandages to keep the crack both moist and protected. In about 3 days the crack will be gone.

Why don’t you simply wear gloves?

I have this problem one winter, then maybe go a few years and it comes back.

I gotta solution for when it cracks. Super glue. seriously, just glue that crack and it will heal up in the time it takes for the super glue to drop off. Otherwise you have this painful crack for what 1-2 weeks. the super glue trick works for me.

Wow. I never knew this was a real thing. It happens to me, and I usually figure it happened while cutting my nails too short. Now I suspect that the short nails contribute to the drying. I’ll pay more attention next time.

That store is in Vermont. Are you by any chance a very happy smiling blonde woman with preternaturally perfectly formed breasts? :smiley:

I used to get this badly and still get it. Bag Balm is the bomb. A good hydrophillic ointment from a drug store will also help. The pain from these splits is abysmal.

I first got it working as a bus boy/dishwasher at an IHOP. The machines used Guardian dishwashing powder. A highly caustic agent. Hot water, particles of soap, hot plates. We used to call it the IHOP Rot and it would cause the fingertips and hands to split.

That was 30 years ago and I still get it.


:wink: Sadly no. But I guess with that product I could be.

For the treatment and prevention of dry, cracked scrotum?

You’ve never worked in a supermarket slinging stock onto shelves, have you? :cool: Gloves make it just that little bit harder to grab 3 cans at once, with each hand, as you rest that flat of cans on the shelf edge lip, and toss them on the shelf. :smiley: (Rotating stock all at the same time, of course. :eek: )

I tried gloves. Aside from the ribbing of the guys on the crew (which isn’t unusual and it’s always good-natured) gloves impair my ability to slide my hand into my back pocket every few minutes to remove my blade. To a lesser extent, so does taping my fingers with water-proof tape but the tape does protect my fingertips when they’re at their most painful. It doesn’t help much, but it’s better than nothing.

There are some excellent suggestions here and I thank you all very much.

Used to happen to me. It is definitely the cardboard. Wear surgical gloves with cortizone cream in each fingertip as you sleep. I’d wake up, and they were prunes, but they’d fill out by the time I got to work. Oh, and a humidifier in the bedroom during the dry winter months helps too.