The Paper Cut

I have been in a bad mood today. I’m not sure why. I can’t really put my finger on it. I have my suspicions. Sometimes a bad mood will trump reality and manifest itself even when there’s no reason for it to exist.

Bad moods are part of life – they pass with time.

When you’re in a funk… having that bad day, it can seem like fate is transpiring against you. Here’s my example.

I was at my desk at work, sorting through stacks of weather data when a piece of paper caught me in that valley between my right thumb and forefinger. The sting of a paper cut was there immediately. I tried to disregard it as best I could, but a few minutes later I looked down to see a lump of clotted blood over the streaks of red on my hand.

This is not earth shattering, just nagging. Within a few minutes it had clotted over and the bleeding was finished.

What I want to know is, how does this work? How can a piece of paper slice through flesh? I can’t imagine cutting a steak with a piece of paper, but it must be possible.

Indiana University though enough of this common ailment to post some background on its website

A paper cut is similar to a cut with a razor blade, with one major difference. A razor blade makes a smooth, clean incision in the skin, leaving behind few if any foreign particles that might cause the wound to become infected. Although it might hurt initially, the pain brought on by a small razor cut usually fades after a few minutes.

Like a superficial cut by a razor blade, a paper cut smoothly parts the skin. But while a clean razor leaves little behind to irritate the wound, a paper cut deposits material that really stings. Paper is made of pressed wood mulch and a variety of chemicals. When paper cuts into the skin, chemical-coated fibers as well as bacteria and tiny particles remain in the wound and stimulate pain receptors in the skin.

Because the cut is usually small and shallow, the skin on either side of the wound closes quickly, trapping the fibers and other particles inside. The result is a good deal of pain, and since the closed wound doesn’t allow for much bleeding, the pain seems entirely out of proportion to a cut that you can barely detect.

So the next time you get a paper cut, remember this Moment of Science. It won’t help dull the pain, but at least you’ll know what’s causing it.

Still, that doesn’t answer how and why paper becomes knife-like. In fact, after a less than exhaustive survey of the Internet, I still don’t know how it happens. I just know it still stings.

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