We all know what it’s like to pick up a sheet of paper, only to get a painful paper cut. The injury is usually small and shallow, but it can really hurt!

Although it can be uncomfortable, the pain is completely normal. That’s because paper cuts often occur on your hands and fingers, which are extremely sensitive.

To learn more about why paper cuts hurt so much, read on. We’ll explore the science behind paper cut pain, along with ways to prevent and treat it.

Your body has hundreds of nerves. These nerves are spread throughout your body, from head to toe.

In your hands and fingers, though, the nerve endings are densely packed together. So, they’re more sensitive than other areas, like your back or arm.

In fact, according to a 2014 study, the fingertips have the highest tactile spatial acuity of the entire body. Tactile spatial acuity means the ability to perceive the sense of touch, including pain.

This explains why paper cuts hurt so much. They commonly affect the hands and fingers, which have a higher density of nerve endings.

But what about all the blood? Well, the capillaries in your hands and fingers are closely packed together. This means paper cuts can cause a lot of bleeding because of how concentrated blood can be in your hands.

Paper cuts, along with other wounds, may be more painful or harder to heal if you have certain conditions.

Increased sensitivity to pain

The following conditions can increase your sensitivity to pain and aggravate paper cuts:

In some cases, nerve damage might reduce your sensation of touch and pain. You may also be less cautious with a paper cut, which can increase the risk of complications.

If you have neuropathy and find have a paper cut, talk to your doctor.

Difficulty healing

There are also several conditions that can make it harder for paper cuts to heal. Talk with your doctor about paper cuts if you have:

When to see a doctor

If your cut fails to heal after several days, seek medical help.

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Most paper cuts aren’t serious. In general, they’ll heal in 2 to 3 days without medical treatment.

However, there are things you can do at home to support proper wound healing:

Wash your hands

Wash your hands as soon as you get a paper cut. Use soap and water. This will clean the injury and help prevent infection.

Be gentle with the cut. Try to avoid separating the edges of the wound.

Continue washing your hands frequently until the cut heals.

Apply antibiotic ointment

An antibiotic ointment will decrease the risk of infection and scarring. Use a clean cotton swab to apply it on the cut.

If you must use your finger to apply ointment, wash your hand first.

You can buy topical antibiotic ointments at the drugstore or grocery store.

Put on a bandage

Typically, small paper cuts can be left uncovered. But if the paper cut is large or painful, you may want to apply a bandage.

The bandage will protect your cut from harmful bacteria. This is especially important if you touch many surfaces throughout the day, like keyboards or door handles in public.

A bandage also stops the cut from reopening. Change it daily, or when it becomes dirty or wet.

Wear gloves

If you have a paper cut, consider wearing gloves when doing activities like:

  • washing dishes
  • cooking food
  • gardening
  • taking public transportation

The gloves will reduce the risk of infection so your paper cut can heal.

When to see a doctor

Pay attention to your paper cut over the next few days. If you have any of the following symptoms, see your medical provider:

These signs may indicate a skin infection.

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Paper cuts typically happen suddenly, but it’s possible to reduce your risk of getting them.

Here’s how to prevent paper cuts:

  • Moisturize your hands. Your skin needs hydration in order to stay strong. Otherwise, if your skin is dry, it will be easily damaged by the edge of a paper. Keep your hands moisturized by using a hand cream, lotion, or balm. Re-apply when it’s cold or after washing your hands.
  • Wear gloves. If you regularly handle a lot of paper, wear latex gloves. The gloves will provide a barrier between your skin and the paper.
  • Pick up paper slowly. Often, paper cuts happen when your hand swiftly drags across the edge of a paper. Avoid quickly grabbing or shuffling sheets of paper. If you’re handling large stacks, work slowly.
  • Use letter openers. A letter opener prevents you from using your fingers, which reduces the risk of paper cuts.
  • Use an envelope moisturizer. Similarly, you can use an envelope moistener to safely close an envelope. This will help you avoid paper cuts on your fingers, tongue, and lips. A glue stick or moistened cotton swab also work well.

Paper cuts are most common on the hands and fingers, which have a lot of nerve endings. This can make the cut quite painful, even if it’s small.

The paper cut should feel better within 2 to 3 days. Be sure to wash your hands and apply antibacterial ointment to prevent infection. You might want to wear a bandage to protect the cut as it heals.

If the pain doesn’t go away, or if you develop swelling or redness, see a doctor — your injury may need medical treatment.