By LOUISE CARR, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
Your fingertips are active all day, every day. You use them to type, eat, touch, and carry out countless other tasks that you take for granted when your fingertips are flawless. But when they start peeling, it’s worrying and painful. You can no longer do those everyday things so easily. Your fingertips may hurt, and they look unsightly. Peeling fingertips is a common problem. So what causes your fingertips to peel? And what can you do about it when it happens?
What Happens When Your Fingertips Peel?
Peeling skin on the fingertips is where the upper layer of the skin on the fingers is damaged, either by injury or infection, and it begins to peel away. It may peel in patches or strips, and the peeling could affect other areas of skin too.
As well as the peeling skin you could suffer from a rash, itchiness, or skin dryness and irritation. Some conditions which cause peeling fingertips are severe and need to be treated; others will go away on their own.
What Are the Causes of Peeling Skin on the Fingertips?
Fingertips peeling may be caused by an injury to the skin such as sunburn, or an infection. Having dry skin can cause it to peel. Peeling skin is often the result of exposing the skin on the fingertips to the elements, including wind, sun, and water. Children who suck their fingers will often see their skin peeling at the fingertips, as will adults who chew their nails or suck their fingers.
Allergies can cause the fingertips to peel, for example an allergic reaction to handling nickel in jewelry, or latex in rubber products like rubber gloves. Eczema of the hands can result in peeling skin, skin rash, and itchy skin on the hands and fingers.
There are certain inherited conditions that can cause peeling skin on the fingertips. Keratosis pilaris, for example, affects around 40 percent of Americans according to the American Academy of Dermatology. It turns the skin to a texture of sandpaper and can result in peeling skin.
A rarer inherited skin condition is acral peeling skin syndrome. Acral peeling skin syndrome is extremely rare, with only around 40 actual cases described in medical literature, according to the Primary Care Dermatology Society in the UK. Symptoms include peeling of the skin on the hands and feet as well as itching.
More commonly, keratolysis exfoliativa is a condition, not inherited, which is seen in young adults particularly in the summer months and causes lesions or blisters on the fingers or palms that peel off. This condition can be improved with the application of lotions for dry skin.
Infections can cause peeling fingertips including staph infections and fungal infections. Immune system disorders are sometimes the cause.
In children under the age of five, Kawasaki disease is a rare cause of peeling skin on the fingers and elsewhere on the body. Other symptoms include a high fever that lasts more than five days, a rash, swollen glands, dry and cracked lips, red fingers and toes, and red eyes. The skin begins to peel on the fingers and toes after a few weeks. This condition should be treated in hospital.
If your fingertips are peeling and the loss of skin is severe, or long-lasting, it is a good idea to see your doctor. We looked at several causes of peeling fingertips to see which natural remedies can work to alleviate the condition.
1. Tips to Combat Peeling Fingertips From Dry Skin
If your fingertips are peeling it could be because the skin on your fingers is very dry. If you suffer from dry skin you should moisturize your hands every day.
Researchers at the Skin and Laser Center at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center suggest using petrolatum or cream-based moisturizers for dry skin, and also to choose a moisturizer without fragrance or color if you have sensitive skin.
2. Treat Peeling Fingernails from Keratosis Pilaris
A 2009 study from Wake Forest University School of Medicine demonstrates that people with the skin condition Keratosis Pilaris, which often affects teens and which can cause peeling skin on the fingers, can get relief from symptoms with a moisturizer containing lactic acid.
Lactic acid helps to attract water molecules to the skin, which keeps the skin hydrated.
3. Treat Kawasaki Disease and Peeling Fingertips to Avoid Serious Complications
Kawasaki disease is a serious condition that mainly affects children under the age of five and can result in peeling fingertips. It is important that this rare condition is treated rapidly to avoid complications.
A 2012 study from Cedars-Sinai have linked Kawasaki disease with early-onset atherosclerosis in adults. The researchers looked at how young mice with the disease were predisposed to develop accelerated atherosclerosis in later life, which is a leading cause of heart disease.
Knowing the children who had Kawasaki disease may be at increased risk of atherosclerosis can help to prevent it.
Atherosclerosis risk may be reduced through the use of garlic. Garlic supplements have been shown to reduce the development of atherosclerosis in rats, rabbits, and human blood vessels by nearly 50 percent, according to a 1997 study from the University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia.
4. Use Chamomile or Licorice Creams for Peeling Fingertips Caused by Eczema
Eczema is a common cause of skin peeling on the fingertips. Topical creams containing chamomile and licorice have been shown to reduce the skin peeling and itching associated with this condition.
In a 2000 study from ASTA Medica AG, Frankfurt, Germany, chamomile cream was slightly more effective than a 0.5 percent hydrocortisone cream for treating eczema.
And a 2003 study from Mazandaran University of Medical Sciences, Sari, Iran looked at 30 patients and found that 1 percent and 2 percent licorice gel were more effective against placebo cream for treating eczema, with the 2 percent preparation proving more effective than 1%.
5. Use Coconut Oil to Treat Peeling Fingertips
Virgin coconut oil has been demonstrated to improve skin and hair conditions and could be useful as a treatment for peeling fingertips.
In a 2004 study from Makati Medical Center, Makati City, Philippines, 34 patients with a dry, rough, and itchy skin condition discovered that coconut oil was just as effective and safe for moisturizing the skin as mineral oil.
And a 2008 study from the Skin and Cancer Foundation, Pasig, Philippines revealed that coconut oil helped treat atopic dermatitis, which is an inflammation of the skin that can result in skin peeling. The study looked at 26 people.
6. Tea Tree Oil May Help Treat Peeling Skin on Your Fingertips
Some cases of peeling fingertips can be caused by infections delivered by staph bacteria, including MRSA.
Studies show that tea tree oil may be as effective as a standard antiseptic for removing strains of the bacteria from the skin. A 2005 study from Queen Mary's Hospital, Sidcup, Kent showed that one small randomly controlled trial recorded “a large but non-significant improvement at eradicating MRSA compared to traditional treatment.”
7. Treat Peeling Fingertips with Vitamin B12?
If your peeling fingertips are caused by dermatitis, you may find benefit with a topical cream containing vitamin B12.
A 2004 study from Ruhr University Bochum, Germany looked at 49 people over eight weeks testing a cream containing vitamin B12 at a concentration of 0.07 percent. The study demonstrated “significant superiority of vitamin B(12) cream in comparison with placebo with regard to the reduction of the extent and severity of atopic dermatitis.”