Your skin is an amazing organ that works hard to keep the body protected from the environment while holding all of your internal organs and muscle tissue in a nice, presentable package. Even when you are not aware of it, your skin—which would stretch out to about 22 square feet and weigh in around 8 pounds if it were not on your body—is always regenerating with new cells, fighting off bacterial intruders, and regulating your body temperature. So how is it that an organ with such amazing capabilities can let you feel so much pain when you sustain an injury as small as a paper cut? Read on to learn how the skin works and why paper cuts are so uniquely painful compared to other cuts and nicks.
How the Skin Works
You may find it surprising that the epidermis, the visible, outermost layer of your skin, is almost entirely made up of dead skin cells. As the dead skin cells on the surface slough off, room is made for the new cells that are formed in the layers below the epidermis. Through this process of regeneration, your skin essentially replaces itself every 35 days. It is also through this cell replacement that your skin heals injuries that occur on the outermost layers.
• What goes on beneath the surface? Beneath the epidermis, you have the dermis, which is packed full of collagen for structure, hair follicles and sweat glands for protection, and tons of nerve endings to detect sensations of hot, cold, pain, and itchiness. When you sustain a cut that bleeds, you have penetrated to the dermis, meaning that you have probably felt the pain of agitated nerve endings.
• How is skin different in different parts of the body? The layered structure of the skin is the same throughout the body, but the exact contents of these layers and their thickness will vary depending on location. The bottoms of the feet, for example, contain the body’s thickest skin to protect you from anything sharp you may step on. The skin of your hands and fingertips is fairly thick too, but it contains far more nerve endings that fire off pain signals much more intensely than other parts of the body. Because paper cuts are most common on the hands, they tend to be associated with significant pain thanks to the tightly packed nerve fibers of the palms and fingers.
Anatomy of a Paper Cut
The sensitivity of your hands is only part of the equation when it comes to the seemingly disproportionate amount of pain that comes from a paper cut. If you cut your finger with an object such as a knife, it may still hurt less than a cut caused by a measly piece of paper. That’s because a knife is a straight edge that will make a relatively clean cut, while paper can bend and move in ways that cause a jagged cut with more damage on the surface of the skin. The shallowness of paper cuts also works to your disadvantage. Paper cuts tend to bleed very little or not at all, so there will be no blood clot that forms to protect the skin underneath. This means that nerves around the cut are more readily exposed to irritants, causing the cut to hurt longer.
Now that you know a little more about how the skin works, you can care for yours with the convenience of MeMD. While you may not need a physician to diagnose a paper cut, we can help you treat more significant abrasions, rashes, or skin infections from the comfort of home.