What is a Paper Cut?

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  • Written By: N. Madison
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 09 September 2019
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A paper cut is a slice in a person’s skin that is caused by paper or a similarly thin material. Though these cuts are primarily caused by paper, aluminum foil, thin plastic, and packaging materials often inflict them as well. Boxes and cardboard can cause similar cuts, as can sheet plastic used in enclosing toys, tools, and other small items that are being offered for sale. These cuts are shallow, and the surrounding skin tends to close up quickly, which may lead to the trapping of foreign particles inside the cut.

A paper cut is typically very small yet surprisingly painful. This type of cut affects multiple pain receptors that are concentrated in one area. The pain is only further prolonged by the fact that paper cuts usually do not bleed much, if they bleed at all. Instead, the pain receptors remain exposed to the air, and the sufferer experiences a more lengthy period of pain than one would expect from such a small injury. Also, the paper fibers and any chemicals used in coating the paper can cause additional irritation.


It doesn’t seem right that something so innocuous as a piece of paper can inflict such pain. Usually, paper is very soft and seems unlikely to cut. However, some pieces of paper are so thin that their edges are like razors. Furthermore, some paper has a glossy coating to it. When glossy sheets of paper are cut very thin, they are uniquely good at causing paper cuts.

Some types of paper are more likely to cause a paper cut than others. Paper that is tightly bound together, such as in a ream of brand-new paper, may be the most likely to cause a paper cut. This often happens when one sheet of paper becomes even a little bit dislocated from the rest of the pack. The other papers hold the dislocated paper in position, giving it enough stiffness to cut like a razor’s edge. Newspaper may be the least likely to inflict a paper cut.

It is worth noting that paper cuts can occur on any part of the body, though they occur most often on the fingertips. It does seem that the skin shouldn’t be so vulnerable to something so flimsy as paper. After all, it stands up fairly well to pinpoint forces. However, the skin is more vulnerable to shearing forces that pinpoint pricks.

To care for a paper cut, it is best to keep it clean and protected from bacteria. It is smart to wash it thoroughly, even though doing so may be painful, and cover it with antibacterial ointment. Hydrogen peroxide may be used in place of the antibacterial ointment. Once it’s clean, it is best to cover the paper cut with a bandage. A drop of liquid bandage can work just as well.


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Post 2

@Phaedrus, I used to have that same problem with paper cuts when I worked as a file clerk in a legal office. I would get in a hurry and grab a stack of papers without thinking. I finally started wearing those fingertip protectors I'd seen bank tellers use all the time.

Post 1

I hate handling large amounts of paper at my job, just because I know I'm going to get at least one paper cut a day. I never see it coming, either. I'll tap a stack of papers on the table to straighten them out and my finger will slide across an edge. Sometimes I'll reach into a drawer for a form and slice a finger while trying to separate two copies. My paper cuts rarely bleed, but by the end of the work week I'll have several on both hands.

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