Removal of Pencil Lead from the Skin

Shannon Boyce
Reviewed by Terri Forehand RN
Pencil leads are graphites

It can be unnerving when a piece of pencil lead gets stuck in your skin. When it happens, your first thought is likely how to remove it. Although pencils are made from graphite rather than dangerous lead, this type of sliver may still be uncomfortable and unsightly.

About Pencil Lead

Despite its name, pencil leads are not actually lead at all. According to The Unleaded Pencil, they come from graphite, which is a non-toxic type of mineral. (The reason for this misleading label? The writing tools used in ancient Roman times actually did contain lead.) Graphite in its natural state is shiny and black - and earned the nickname "blacklead" in the 16th century.

This soft, malleable material was excellent as a writing or drawing medium, but was hard to handle skillfully. For practicality's sake, the leads were housed in wood to make them sturdier. French inventor, Nicolas Jacques Conte patented wooden pencil sticks in 1795, revolutionizing both the art and scholastic world. These days, most commercially mined graphite is used to fill pencils. The inside contains a mixture of this mineral and clay.

Procedure for Removal of Pencil Lead from the Skin

Kids and adults are prone to getting splinters from pencils, which may involve lead underneath the skin. If a child is affected, take a few minutes to calm their nerves before attempting to remove it. The process is similar to removing a regular splinter. To begin the removal process:

  • Sterilize a needle or tweezers with isopropyl alcohol or an open flame.
  • Clean skin in the area surrounding the pencil lead by washing it gently with a soapy cloth. If it is in an area surrounded by tough skin, like the bottom of your foot, soak first to soften. This will make it easier to remove the lead.
  • Use the needle to remove the skin around the affected area. The entire sliver does not have to be exposed, just enough to get a good grip with the tweezers.
  • Examine the sliver to see which way it entered the skin. For a more painless removal, try to pull the lead out in the same manner.
  • Grasp the exposed lead with the tweezers. Pull the sliver out of the skin.
  • Clean the wound again after removing the lead. Dab on some OTC antibiotic cream for extra protection.

There is more than one way to deal with this issue. For instance, you can pour hydrogen peroxide over a smaller piece of lead. While you may have to douse the wound repeatedly to push the pencil up, this method can be effective. Another option is to use black drawing salve, which has been found to pull splinters out of the skin.

Even after you remove the pencil lead, it's important to know that any puncture wound through the skin may require a tetanus booster, so knowing your immunization status is important.

Dealing With Improper or Delayed Removal

Even if you are extremely careful during the removal process, it is still possible to remove the lead incorrectly or incompletely. Perhaps you only removed part of the lead rather than the entire piece. You may also have chosen to leave the pencil lead alone, delaying or ignoring the problem. The best thing to do is pay attention to the signs, symptoms and situations that occur, including:

  • If you do not remove the lead or are unable to remove the fragment completely. Though a piece of lead has been left in the body for a long period of time, it may not require professional diagnosis or surgery. It all depends on how your body reacts. If you feel uncertain or experience any troublesome symptoms, have it checked out to determine the best course of action.
  • If the pain does not go away or becomes worse. This can occur following an at-home removal or if you leave the lead in the skin. These problems are a clear sign of an infected wound and should be taken seriously. In addition to the area becoming painful, you may also experience fever or redness.

To prevent these issues from happening, always focus on safe and effective aftercare. Clean the area thoroughly, apply a bandage (depending on where the wound occurred, this may be necessary in order to avoid further irritation), and elevate the injured area to avoid swelling. If you chose not to remove the lead, closely monitor the affected area.

Possible Side Effects of Pencil Lead

There are many reasons to deal with this issue head on. Though pencil lead in the skin is not usually dangerous, there are side effects to consider. The most concerning is infection. According to a WebMD article on puncture wounds, they increase your risk of infections as they are harder to clean. Another side effect that can occur is a stain or discoloration. Graphite has been found to leave a permanent mark or "tattoo" in the affected area.

While these side effects range from serious to annoying, you may want to leave the sliver alone if it is not bothering you. It is not likely to harm you - and the body's natural cell processes may actually push the lead out over time. It depends entirely on how deeply the graphite has been pushed into the skin.

According to a HealthyChildren.org article on splinters and foreign bodies in the skin, tiny, painless, and superficial slivers can be left alone. They will often be pushed out due to the skin shedding. If the pencil lead has not left the area after several weeks or months (or becomes painful to the touch), the puncture may be deeper than you originally thought.

When to See a Professional

While pencil lead is typically harmless, it may be necessary to speak to a professional. Call or visit your health care provider if any of the following symptoms occur:

  • The sliver is in a dangerous place (for example, near the eye, chest, stomach, or head) or has pierced the skin deeply.
  • If the wound looks infected and is pink or red in color.
  • If you have not had a tetanus shot in the past five years.

Anytime you feel concerned, it is a good idea to speak to a medical professional. They can determine the best way to treat, remove, or monitor the pencil lead. Additionally, they may be able to discuss options for removal based on any cosmetic concerns you might have.

Preventing Pencil Pokes

There are ways to avoid getting a poke by pencils. Occasionally an accident will occur, but proactive care will protect you from those potentially dangerous tips. Make sure you always:

  • Store pencils in a bag when traveling with them. Never toss one into the bottom of your purse as you may accidentally injure yourself.
  • Buy and use pencil caps to protect the tips from breaking or stabbing you.
  • Avoid sharpening any writing utensils when you know you will travel with them. Simply bring a small sharpener and use it when necessary.
  • Teach children to carry pencils with the tips pointed down and not to play with pencils at school or home.

You Can Remove Pencil Lead From the Skin

Removing pencil lead from your skin may be mildly painful, but it is not overly difficult to do. Focus on safety, sterilization, and appropriate aftercare for the best results. When in doubt, you can always speak to your doctor.

Removal of Pencil Lead from the Skin