♪ INTRO ♪ There you are, reading a book in bed after
a long day. You finish the chapter and go to close the
book and… Ow! Paper cut! Paper cuts are usually small and shallow,
but they do tend to hurt a lot, for a few reasons. There’s the fact that most paper cuts happen on your hands, since you don’t usually try to move pieces of paper with, like, your legs. You’re going to pay more attention to an
injury when it’s on a body part that you use all the time. Your brain thinks about your hands at least 10 times more than your arms or your legs. And of course, thinking about your cut means you’re focusing on the pain. Plus, cuts on your fingertips are just more painful in general. Since you mainly use your fingers and your hands to feel the world around you, they’re full of nociceptors, pain receptors that respond to things like pressure and temperature. Paper cuts directly damage the nociceptors in your outermost layer of skin, the epidermis, and those nerve bundles send pain signals to your brain. Considering your hands have more nociceptors per square inch than almost any other part of your body, it makes sense that a paper cut on your hand would be much more painful than a paper cut, say, on your arm. Plus, of the different kinds of everyday objects that could cut you, paper is one of the most jagged. A knife will generally leave a clean, residue-free cut, but dull, flexible paper will tear your skin cells apart like a saw. Paper can also leave fragments and chemicals behind that irritate your vulnerable inner skin layer, or dermis. Even with all that skin damage, many paper cuts aren’t deep enough to hit blood vessels, so there’s very little bleeding or clotting, which actually makes things worse. Without a scab to protect the exposed tissue, every little thing you do can stimulate pain receptors. And superficial hand wounds take a long time to heal. When you use your hands to do things, wash dishes, play guitar, carry groceries, your paper cut keeps tearing and getting dirty, increasing the healing time. So there are lots of different factors that combine to make paper cuts more painful than you’d otherwise expect from such a shallow cut. Hands and the edges of paper are just a bad combination. Thanks to Patreon patrons UrbanAbydos and Elvina Lui for asking, and thanks to all our patrons who keep these answers coming. If you’d like to submit a question to be answered, just go to patreon.com/scishow, and don’t forget to go to youtube.com/scishow
and subscribe. ♪ OUTTRO ♪

100 thoughts on “Why Are Paper Cuts So Painful?”

  1. Its actually funny, paper cuts hurt more than that time i got stabbed by someone which could have killed me but missed by an inch…. I didnt really feel much pain in the stab itself but getting stitched hurt only a tad bit more than paper cuts

  2. Protip: Use chap stick on the wound to help relieve the pain. Since there's no blood the nerves are exposed directly to air and that irritates the nerves. The chapstick acts as a barrier keeping the pain to a minimum.

  3. This is why you should try to get your paper cut to bleed just a little so it can form that scab. Just a light squeeze on the opposite sides of the cut; nothing too rough.

  4. Yeah, I once cut my finger with a really sharp knife, and the cut wasn't that deep, but I nearly passed out and had to lie down for fifteen minutes .-.

  5. So, if sticks and stones can break my bones, but I can get paper cuts from books, does that mean words CAN hurt me?

  6. Who else remembered the Jackass episode where they did papercuts on Steve-O between his fingers upon reading the title of this episode?

  7. Do…do we just get cut ourselves?

    But actually, do we make the cut deeper to cause bleeding/scarring? Would that make any sense?

  8. I get paper cuts a lot, but surprisingly, even though I'm a bookbinder, they don't ever come from books. I guess the books recognise me as a doctor and don't hurt me. (:

  9. finger tips are THE most sensitive part of the body. I got second degree burns on two of them a couple months ago and it was probably the worst pain I've ever felt.

  10. Antibiotic ointment and a bandaid protects the wound from further damage which minimizes pain and decreases healing time.

  11. What's the science about observing/not reacting to pain(Non drug/conscious ability/choice/will power)? IE situations where you're too busy with the task at hand to worry about the pain signals from an injury. Basically, what part of the brain controls blocking out other signals? Is there a hierarchy of signals that the brain lets in? Do/can we choose which signals or does the body react unconsciously? jw

  12. Some paper are more likely to give a papercut (than other paper). Paper with harder and sharper edges. Envelopes are likely to have this. Newspaper is quite unlikely to cut. So the blame for a papercut is a combination of the type of paper and your carelessness in how you hande the paper.

  13. Speaking of paper cuts, aren't you tired of flipping out the pages in your book and getting one of those annoying nasty paper cuts. Audible gets rid of those problem by giving you free trial audio book that you can hear.

  14. "Considering your hands have more nociceptors per square inch than almost any other part of your body."
    Yeah, Almost any other body part 😉

  15. So…. If we get a paper cut, cut it deeper to expose it to our blood which will hypothetically clot/heal it faster, and help rid foreign substances?

  16. SOLUTION: put some NEW SKIN liquid bandage on those nasty paper cuts… no water or dirt gets in! https://www.amazon.com/NEW-SKIN-LIQUID-BANDAGE-BOTTLE/dp/B0006GDBT0

  17. But how does something as innocuous and dull as paper manage to break skin in the first place?? That's what I want to know

  18. that's why i find it ridiculous when people in series/movies always cut the fuckin palms of their hands if they need blood for something (mainly thinking about vampire diaries here)

  19. Skin splits are also bad.
    Granted, they're fairly easy to prevent – just put lotion on regularly – but still. They take a lot longer to heal than papercuts, especially if they appear on the pads of your fingers. And they're so freaking painful. Ugh.

  20. So, since part of the problem is that they don't make scabs, it'd probably help the pain if you put liquid bandage into the cut after cleaning it well.

  21. Hands full of nociceptors you say? I don't know what rowing did to my hands, but now in the lab I handle 100°C beakers and barely feel them.

  22. Some tips which I feel like would help with papercuts: rinse them with water to try and remove any debris, and PUT A DAMN BANDAGE ON IT.

  23. For someone who has had to pry plastic containers apart as a produce clerk, plastic cuts are a million times worse than paper cuts.

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