A paper cut occurs when a piece of paper or other thin, sharp material slices a person's skin. Paper cuts, though named from paper, can also be caused by other thin, stiff materials.
Although a loose paper sheet is usually too soft to cut, it can be very thin (sometimes as thin as a razor edge), being then able to exert high levels of pressure, enough to cut the skin. Paper cuts are most often caused by paper sheets that are strongly fastened together (such as brand new paper out of a ream), because one single paper sheet might be dislocated from the rest. Thus all the other sheets are holding this dislocated sheet in position, and the very small part held away from the rest can be stiff enough to act as a razor.
Paper cuts can be surprisingly painful as they can stimulate a large number of skin surface nociceptors (pain receptors) in a very small area of the skin. Because the shallow cut does not bleed very much, the pain receptors are left open to the air, ensuring continued pain. However, the cut can also be very deep, in which case a puddle of blood pools around a longer gash. This is exacerbated by irritation caused by the fibers in the paper itself, which may be coated in chemicals such as bleach. Additionally, most paper cuts occur in the fingers, which have a greater concentration of sensory receptors than the rest of the body.
The random orientation of collagen fibers in skin provides the ability to withstand pinpoint forces. However, the skin does not have the same strength against shearing forces and is easily cut.
Although painful, paper cuts usually heal without complications though cellulitis and even deadly necrotizing fasciitis may occur as bacteria are allowed a portal of entry past the defense of human skin.