Splinters are fragments of a foreign object—usually wood, but also can be thorns, plastic, or metal—that break off and embed into your skin.
They’re annoying, and even a tiny sliver can be surprising painful.
That’s why you want to remove it: Take it out swiftly, cleanly, and in one piece, which can reduce the risk of leaving any shards behind, says Dr. Derick.
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When you leave pieces in your skin, your body identifies them as something foreign. So it attacks the invader to try to keep you safe, she says.
As a result, inflammation around the area increases, causing even more pain.
“Your body may also build scar tissue around the pieces, causing a painful knot in your skin,” Dr. Derick says.
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Removing a splinter cleanly can help prevent those problems. Follow these three simple tips to learn how to do it right.
Important note: If you have a splinter stuck in an awkward place—like behind your nail—leave it to a pro to remove.
Splinters in difficult locations are tough to take out, and are more likely to become infected if not removed properly.
1. Get wet Soak the area in warm water for a minute or two to soften the skin, says Dr. Derick.
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If the splinter is in your finger or foot, you can submerge it in the water.
For larger areas like your leg, you can use a warm compress.
2. Gather your tools See the edge of the splinter sticking out of your skin? If so, skip to step 3.
But if the splinter is completely beneath the surface of your skin, you need to help it along a little.
Find a thin needle, and wipe it down with rubbing alcohol to sterilize it.
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Using the tip of the needle, make a small hole in your skin above the edge of the splinter so you can access it.
You don’t want to dig, though: That can create a wound that opens to the door to infection, says Dr. Derick.
If it doesn’t seem easily accessible—say, you can barely see it, or after one or two tries with the needle you can’t get to it—put away the needle and call your doctor instead.
3. Pull it out Once you can see the edge of the splinter sticking out, use a tweezers to grab it as close to the skin as possible.
Then, pull in the direction the splinter is sticking out.
If you pull in the opposite direction, you risk bending the splinter, which can increase the risk of splitting it, says Dr. Derick.
You really need tweezers to perform the extraction: While you may have heard that squeezing the splinter out can work instead, it actually makes it more likely to split apart and break, she says.
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Once you’ve removed a splinter fully, clean the area with soap and water, apply some Vaseline to create a barrier that keeps bacteria out and cover it with a Band-Aid.
“If it becomes red, swollen, or painful, see a doctor because it may be infected,” Dr. Derick says.