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I have built up calluses enough to avoid most fingertip pain from playing guitar and bass, but I have rough and slightly cracked fingertips. My fretting hand isn’t bad, but my right hand is very rough from playing the bass:

rough fingertips

The cracks are a bit painful (especially when playing), and I have a tendency to make them worse by nibbling at the rough edges. Gently smoothing out the rough edges with a nail file helps, but I’d like to know if there’s something better I can do to treat or prevent this.

I have seen this earlier question about painful fingertips, which has good advice about keeping your fingers dry and your skin clean, but I would like some more specific advice for preventing and treating fingertip damage.

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in a pinch, super glue is super effective for skin that's trying to tear. Probably not so good as a long term solution, though. – Wayne Werner May 17 '14 at 4:10
I'm not answering because I may not actually have anything helpful (or what you asked for), but in my experience, with time the callouses will recede and you'll end up with thicker skin but no dry/cracked areas. – Grey Aug 12 '14 at 8:16
Now that you mention it, I have noticed exactly that. My fingertips do still get chewed up occasionally but nothing like they used to. Maybe post that as an answer anyway? It's good advice for long term care even if it doesn't cover the short term. – Bradd Szonye Aug 12 '14 at 8:21
Perhaps halfwound or even flatwound guitar strings could help you temporarily? – Valentin Grégoire Aug 12 '14 at 16:31
up vote 6 down vote accepted

This is pretty normal, and there are popular and effective solutions, including:

  • Common moisturisers
  • Vaseline and hand lotions
  • Emery boards to take off any sharp corners
  • Using gentle soaps like Dove which don't dry the skin

It really isn't much different to a normal skincare regime. Note that it’s important to keep the skin flexible without weakening it, so use only gentle moisturisers, lotions, and soaps, preferably natural ones.

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Several answers to the linked question recommend against using moisturizers on your fingertips. Could you elaborate on that? Is it a matter of finding the right balance, or is it more of a timing thing? – Bradd Szonye May 15 '14 at 23:06
I have always heard it is all about natural, gentle moisturisers. I use only natural ones., so as not to weaken the skin but keep it flexible – Dr Mayhem May 15 '14 at 23:11

In the long run, try not to worry too much about this problem. It is normal that your skin ends up being damaged by your strings. However, once your skin heals, it will be stronger/thicker than it was before. This means that patience is the best long term solution. The natural process of letting your skin heal is more important than the mitigation of a few days of pain.

One drawback of this is that you'll need to give your skin enough time to heal. The rule for "training" your body is always the same: after wearing it out, you need to give it time to heal and eventually become stronger. It applies to skin thickness just as well as it applies to muscle strength. Long story short: do not continue playing the bass while your fingers are clearly still hurt, even if you are using skin-oil or other treatments.

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If skin is cracking, then it's dry. Use moisturizers after you play. Otherwise, allow the calluses of your fingers to build up.

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For super-emergency care of dry, cracking skin, the best thing I've found is pure lanolin. It's a natural oil derived from sheepskin, and reported to be nearly chemically-identical to human skin-oil. It is thick and sticky like pine-sap, like concentrated vaseline. Best for overnight treatment, with latex or plastic gloves so you don't get it everywhere.

I used this to good effect when I had deep cracks in my fingertips from using harsh cleaning chemicals on an espresso machine without gloves.

And Lee makes a very good point. If your fingers are bad enough to need this stuff, then they absolutely need time to heal without adding further stress.

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This may sound gross, but I heard this many years ago listening to some guys talk to a street performer in NYC...

Ear wax. Just stick your finger in your ear every so often and massage the wax into your fingertip.

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That is gross indeed. Especially the part where you put your dirty string picking finger in your ear. Good chances to get an ear infection. – Okw Aug 19 '14 at 8:42

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