What to Know about Paper Cuts

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on November 24, 2021
3 min read

Paper cuts occur when a piece of thin and sharp material, such as an individual paper sheet, slices your skin. Paper cuts, although termed specifically for cuts caused by paper, can also result from other abrasive, thin materials. 

The human body has many nerves which spread throughout the whole body. However, the tips of your fingers have densely packed nerve endings. For this reason, the fingertips are more sensitive to touch, pain, and sensation. 

Since the nerves are located in the epidermis, the outermost layer of your skin, a microscopic paper cut slices the nerve endings. As a result, you feel extreme pain.

However, the paper cut does not cut further into your skin. Instead, the blood capillaries are packed into the dermis layer.

Since a microscopic cut does not penetrate the dermis, a paper cut typically doesn't bleed a lot. 

For minor scrapes, like a paper cut, you can take some immediate measures: 

  • Wash your hands. Make sure you wash your hands to prevent infection. 
  • Stop the bleeding. Mostly, the bleeding stops on its own. You can also apply gentle pressure on the area with a clean cloth or a bandage. 
  • Clean the wound. If you get a paper cut on your finger, keep it underwater. Doing this will reduce the risk of infection. Also, clean the surrounding area with soap. Avoid getting soap into the wound as it may sting. Do not use iodine or hydrogen peroxide to clean the wound. Instead, apply an antibiotic ointment to the affected area. 
  • Cover it. If the paper cut was too deep, it is better to cover it with a bandage. This will keep the underlying wound clean. If it's just a minor cut, you can leave it uncovered. This is extremely important for people with diabetes or immunodeficiency as they have compromised healing.

If you have neuropathy or nerve damage, you may experience greater pain. Fibromyalgia, an immune disease, also decreases your pain tolerance by changing how your brain recognizes pain. It also causes bruises and scarring.

If the pain doesn't go away and you run a fever, consult a doctor.

Typically, it takes a few days for paper cuts to heal. For example, some cuts may get better in two to three days. However, if the cut doesn't heal in this duration, you should seek medical attention immediately. 

Also, consult your doctor if you notice any of the following symptoms.

  • Increased redness
  • Persistent pain
  • Pus 
  • Swelling
  • Fever

If you have other health concerns, such as an impaired immune system, you should ensure that the cut doesn't cause problems such as bacterial infections. Thus you should consult your doctor right away. 

You can take a few measures to prevent paper cuts. One of the measures includes applying moisturizers to your hands to avoid dryness. Your skin is more susceptible to cuts and scratches if it is dry. 

You should also wear gloves or use a letter opener to open envelopes in order to prevent common paper cuts. If you work with paper frequently, it is wise to wear latex gloves. Latex gloves will act as a barrier between the paper and your skin. 

Since it is common to get paper cuts on your fingers and hands, you should avoid tasks such as gardening and cleaning. If you can't avoid it, make sure that you wear gloves. 

Also, avoid grabbing the paper quickly. Instead, handle paper stacks with care and work your way around them cautiously.