What is a hair splinter?

A hair splinter, sometimes called a hair sliver, happens when a strand of hair pierces through the top layer of your skin. This may sound like a minor injury, but hair splinters can be very painful, especially if they become infected.

Hair splinters look very similar to other splinters caused by wood or other materials. In some cases, only part of the strand embeds itself under your skin, leaving the rest of the strand exposed.

Keep reading to learn more about what causes hair splinters and how to remove them.

Hair splinters usually involve freshly cut hair, which is often very sharp. As a result, it’s easier for recently cut hair to penetrate your skin. This is especially true if the hair is short, coarse, or thick.

Those at higher risk of developing hair splinters include:

  • hairdressers
  • barbers
  • dog groomers
  • those who handle a lot of hair

While hair splinters can happen anywhere, they tend to affect your fingers and feet. In addition to handling hair, walking barefoot, or even with socks, around a salon or other area with lots of hair on the ground can lead to a hair splinter.

Removing a hair splinter is similar to removing other kinds of splinters. Start by gathering your supplies:

  • magnifying glass
  • duct tape, for splinters that aren’t very deep
  • sewing needle
  • rubbing alcohol
  • tweezers
  • antibiotic ointment
  • bandage

Once you have everything within reach, follow these steps:

  1. Wash your hands and the affected area with warm water and soap.
  2. Use a magnifying glass to get a better look at the splinter. Try to see whether it’s positioned horizontally or vertically. If possible, find its entry point.
  3. For hair splinters very close to the surface of your skin, try placing a piece of duct tape over the area and gently pulling it off. This may be enough to remove it.
  4. For deeper splinters, sterilize your needle and tweezers with rubbing alcohol.
  5. Use the needle to gently penetrate your skin, following the path of the hair. Open the skin to reveal enough of the hair to grab with tweezers.
  6. Remove the hair with your sterilized tweezers.
  7. Gently rinse the area with warm water and dry it.
  8. Apply an antibiotic ointment to the area and cover it with a bandage.

Hair splinters are generally mild injuries. However, they can occasionally turn into something more serious.

Cutaneous pili migrans

This is a rare condition that happens when a hair splinter, usually on your foot, causes something called a creeping eruption. It’s caused by the hair moving through your skin, which causes a dark line. It’s often confused with cutaneous larva migrans, a parasitic skin infection.

If this happens, you’ll likely need to have your doctor make a small incision in your skin to help remove the hair.

Interdigital pilonidal sinus

This is also referred to as barber’s disease or hairdresser’s disease. It happens when a strand of hair penetrates a hairless area, particularly the skin between your fingers. The hair burrows under your skin, which can prompt a response from your immune system. This results in a small passage in your skin called a pilonidal sinus. This opening can develop an infection.

If your hair splinter turns into interdigital pilonidal sinus, you’ll need to see your doctor. They’ll likely prescribe a round of antibiotics.

In most cases, you can treat a hair splinter on your own at home. However, call you doctor if you notice any of the following:

  • your skin looks red and swollen or feels warm
  • severe pain
  • a sensation that something is under your skin, but you can’t see it
  • a hair splinter near your eye
  • the area is draining pus

If you regularly come in contact with a lot of hair, consider taking some precautions to reduce your risk of hair splinters, such as:

  • wearing socks and closed-toe shoes
  • regularly washing between your toes and fingers
  • frequently vacuuming, especially if you have a pet
  • regularly examining your hands and feet for signs of a hair splinter
  • wearing fingerless gloves when putting your hands in someone’s hair

While hair splinters are rare for some people, those who handle a lot of hair may develop them from time to time. If you notice one, try to remove it as soon as possible to avoid infection.

If you’re having trouble reaching the hair, or the area looks inflamed, it’s best to see your doctor. They can ensure the splinter is properly removed and prescribe antibiotics if needed.