Making a Mark

Testing. Testing when you get up… before meals… after meals… before and after (and sometimes during) exercise. Testing when you feel “funny.”

With all the “blood sacrifices” we perform, a smattering of black marks from all of the pokes is inevitable for many of us. Or, as somebody once said, “My fingers look like Tom Thumb shot them with his .000012 gauge shotgun.”

Where Do the Black Marks Come From?

Here’s my own observation: Even though the tiny hole made in your finger closes up quickly, sometimes the blood continues to seep out. With no exit, it builds up—just a tad—under the now-closed outer layer of skin and forms a scab beneath the surface.

“I think printers will have to be excluded from your survey!” writes George Lovelace of Irving, Texas, who manages to hide his black marks under a covering of ink stains. Even Lovelace, however, sometimes resorts to using a fingernail file to buff off some of the marks.

Calluses and the seasons bring out the black marks on pastry chef Frank Tegethoff Jr.’s fingertips.

“I’ve found that the thicker the calluses at my fingertips, the more black spots I’ve had,” he observes. “For me, this generally happens in the wintertime, when the weather gets more severe and I am in very heavy holiday production mode at the bakery. I’m currently in Vermont but have found this seasonal pattern to be true during my sojourn through Missouri, Florida, Ohio, Texas, California, Nebraska and the Canadian province of Quebec.”

What’s the Solution?

Could the folks who use lotion on their fingertips to avoid the black spots have an answer for Tegethoff? Dried, callused skin, aggravated by the skin-drying effects of cold weather and lots of hand-washing while in the holiday rush, could be a factor.

Some people advocate using lotion to keep hands soft and silky—and to avoid the dreaded black spots.

“I used to have ‘freckled’ fingertips until I started using Australian Tea Tree Oil,” says Elizabeth, from Maryland. “I originally used it on my face to clear my pores, but then I noticed that it cleared the freckles off my fingers, too. I usually rub just a tiny bit into my fingertips every other night before bed, and that usually does the trick.”

Some swear by Fingers skin cream as a “freckle” banisher, while others favor Thursday Plantation Tea Tree hand and body lotion.

Some advise pressing your finger against a tissue, using a firm pressure, until the bleeding stops. If you see some seepage when you release the tissue, press down for a little bit longer.

Watch Those Sharps!

“I have no black spots on my fingers,” says Rosalie Barsky, of Tucson, Arizona. “I have, however, just started using a lancet. For years, I avoided them because they were harsh and hurt. I used to gently prick my finger with my syringe. It worked well, and I tested seven to eight times a day.”

Now that Barsky is using an insulin pump and does not have syringes to use for testing, “I find that it is sometimes less damaging to prick my finger gently with the lancet rather than using the device.”


David Flagg of Winter Park, Florida, doesn’t get black spots on his fingers, either, although he does use a lancing device.

“I use the BD Ultrafine II lancets and change after each use,” he reports. “I use one hand for a day, then the other. I’ve been testing with the fingers since 1985.”

Lily Robinton also uses BD Ultrafines, says her father, Michael, of Palo Alto, California, who runs, a popular Web site. “Lily has been using the BD Ultrafines for years, and all she has is very slight callusing. Also, she refuses to tell me how often she changes the lancets. I think she’s used maybe two boxes or so in eight years.”

The recommended practice is to change lancets each time you test.

Time to Rotate

“How much of your fingertips do you actually use for blood-testing purposes?” asks Brent Murry of Beaverton, Oregon. “I use the sides of the tip of my fingers down to about the midpoint of the fingernail on each of the fingers on both hands. By rotating evenly on all ten fingers and not in the same spots, I’m able to avoid calluses and other finger damage from repeated testing.”

Loretta, of Minneapolis, Minnesota, rotates her tests, using “one hand one day, the other the next day. In addition, I test my fingers, in order, on one side. When the five fingers have all been tested on the outside, I start again at the pinkie, using the inside of my fingers. This gives me 10 testing sites a day on each hand, while resting the other for the next day.”

She admits that she “must have occasional spots, but it seems rare.” However, she adds, “with some slight vision loss, I don’t see them…just like the dust in the house!”

Bottom Line?

Rotate sites, use a fresh lancet every time you test, press down—hard—on a tissue after testing and keep some lotion on the nightstand to slather on your hands when you go to bed. Soon your fingertips could be as pristine as when you were a baby.

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