Can Dog Hair Pierce Skin?

Dear Ouchie,

Dog hair can pierce human skin, and it is a common occurrence. Groomers call them hair splinters, and they are very painful. When the hair enters the skin, it will stay there like a splinter until you remove it. It is also possible for a hair splinter to get infected.

Petting your dog’s fur is a classic display of love between owners and pets. You may do it several times a day without even thinking about it. Yet after thoughtless stroking, you noticed a tiny splinter with an animal hair sticking out.   

Pet groomers or stylists are more prone to getting their skin pierced by dogs’ hair. Some get injured while grooming the animal or after cleaning the cut-up hair from their grooming table or floors. But any person who lives with a pet can be a victim of getting hair splinters.

Dogs and cats have two kinds of hair in their fur: the softer undercoat and the rougher guard hair. The coarse and jagged layer serves as a protection for the animal against the elements. It also guards them against being exposed to too much water and sunlight. This section of the dog’s fur can pierce human skin.

Hair splinters are serious as they can cause infection in need of potent antibiotics. In worse cases, surgery may be required.

Groomers learn to use baby powder, hand cream, gloves, and socks to reduce the chance of being pierced by pets’ hair. If they do get splinters, they deal with them right away or seek a doctor’s help to remove the animal hair.

Can dog hair be inhaled?

You may be used to your dog’s shedding. But at some point, you may worry you are inhaling some of your dog’s hair.

If you have a dog at home, you likely inhale his hair on a daily basis. Dog’s hair and dead skin cells mix in the air, especially if they are small enough. In most instances, they are harmless as your body can expel them quickly by coughing or sneezing. But in the case of pet groomers, excessive hair inhalation can lead to a persistent lung illness.

It is pretty common to inhale tiny particles in the air as we breathe. Everyday pollutants, microscopic substances, organic matters, and even chemicals can invade our respiratory systems without us knowing about it. Small strands of hair from our dogs are no exception.

Human bodies are prepared to deal with this kind of intrusion. If the hair is significant in size, we involuntarily react by sneezing if it enters through our nose or coughing if it comes through our mouth.

If the dog hair is not big enough to induce such reactions, our bodies have the mucous membranes as a backup. Its purpose is to trap particles and allergens with the sticky substance called mucus so it will be easier to expel from our body by blowing our nose or spitting out phlegm.

Inhaling dog hair can be dangerous if: 

  1. You are allergic to dog hair. – As with any allergies, your body will consider it as a threat and induce symptoms such as wheezing, coughing, itchy throat and eyes, and difficulty in breathing.
  2. You inhaled too much dog hair. – Pet groomers are at risk of inhaling too much dog hair in their daily work if they are not wearing masks. Some reported having inflammation of the lining of their lungs and other respiratory complications.

How do you remove a hair splinter?

You found dog hair embedded in your skin and it is causing you pain. What should you do?

Remove the hair splinter by sanitizing your hands first, the affected area, and the materials you will use for the hair extraction. Soak the section of the body with the hair splinter in warm water to soften your skin and help the hair to move closer to the surface. Some use duct tape or removal wax for hair splinter that is not too deep. Use a sterilized tweezer or needle for deeper piercings. Go to a doctor if the hair splinter is infected.

Follow these steps to safely remove the hair sliver from your skin:

  1. Wash and sanitize. Clean your hands and the affected part of the body with soap and preferably warm water.
  2. Get a better look. It is safer to pull the hair splinter in the direction it entered the skin. Use a magnifying glass to locate the entry point.
  3. Clean your tools with rubbing alcohol. Since the tweezers and the needle will be going a bit under your skin, it is best to sterilize them with rubbing alcohol to avoid potential or further infection. 
  4. Soak in warm water. This is to soften the splintered portion of the skin and make it easier to retrieve the hair. It also aids the hair to move closer to the surface. 
  5. Administer pain relief medication. Use pain-relieving spray or ointment to alleviate the discomfort while removing the hair splinter.
  6. Remove splinter with
    1. Duct tape or removal wax for hair splinter that is visible near the top of the skin. Place on top of the skin and slowly pull.  
    2. Needle for deeper piercing. Use it to expose enough length of hair to be pulled by tweezers.
    3. Tweezers with ridges at the end are better at gripping thin hairs.
  7. Sanitize the affected area.
  8. Cover with a bandaid.

Why do hair splinters hurt so bad?

You have heard about hair splinters as a normal occurrence to pet owners and groomers. But you were not prepared when it happened to you and how much pain it causes.

Newly cut hairs that are trimmed at an angle are pointed and can create the same effect as a syringe puncturing the skin. A hair splinter can progress from an insignificant injury to serious and rare conditions such as cutaneous pili migrans in which the hair moves through the skin, or interdigital pilonidal sinus where the hair pierces a hairless section of the body and initiates an infection.

Hair splinters are typically experienced by people who work with or are constantly exposed to a lot of hair. This includes hairdressers, barbers, dog groomers, or pet stylists.

When groomers cut the hair, it is normally in a slanted fashion, leaving the tips of the freshly cut hair razor-sharp. This makes the bare skin more susceptible to painful piercings, much like a wood splinter.

Although most hair splinters can be dealt with without the help of a medical professional, they can cause a great deal of discomfort if left untreated.

An unusual condition called cutaneous pili migrans occurs when the hair splinter penetrates the skin but slithers through the epidermis as if it is crawling. Its movement causes agonizing pain to the patient and manifests black-colored thread-like eruptions on the skin. 

Another excruciating hair splinter complication is the interdigital pilonidal sinus. This happens when hair punctures between your fingers or toes that are typically smooth and hair-free. The cut creates a small tunnel in the skin which can be filled with pus or abscess and get infected.

If you experience pain from cutaneous pili migrans or interdigital pilonidal sinus, seek the help of a doctor to surgically remove the hair splinter.

How do you prevent hair splinters?

As in all cases, prevention is better than cure when it comes to hair splinters. How do you keep yourself from this unpleasant experience? 

If you regularly deal with an excessive amount of hair because of your profession or if you live with pet dogs or cats, keep your space clean by frequent vacuuming. Minimize your skin’s exposure by wearing protective clothing like gloves, socks, and long-sleeved shirts. Make it a habit to check your fingers and toes for any sign of hair splinter, especially when you have any pain.

Hair splinters are highly preventable with these practical steps:

  • Vacuum regularly and often. Get rid of the hairs as soon as you are done clipping hair from a person or pet. Use a broom or brush to sweep smaller hair strands from your equipment. Never use your bare hand to wipe the hair off.
  • Wear protective clothing. The hands, feet, neck, and crease of your elbow are more prone to hair splinters. Put on full-on or fingerless gloves, socks, closed shoes, a long-sleeved shirt, or a smock. 
  • Use cornstarch, baby powder, or hand cream. For additional protection, use substances that will prevent the cut-up hairs from sticking to your body.
  • Wash dirty pets’ hair first before cutting. Dirty animal hair is more likely to cause a splinter and induce an infection. Do not give a dog a pre-clipping before you give them a good cleaning. Use a comb on a pet’s hair while cutting their hair instead of stroking with an unprotected hand.
  • Routinely inspect and clean exposed skin. It is bad news when the hair penetrates the hairless sections of the body such as between fingers and toes. Repeatedly check for splinters after any sign of pain similar to a puncture using a magnifying glass.

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