The days of using alcohol or peroxide — ouch! — to flush a cut or scrape and then letting it air dry so it scabs over is … well, old school.
So is putting ice, butter or aloe on a burn.
“I hear all of this every single day in our wound care center,” says Dr. Kazu Suzuki, director at Tower Wound Care Center in Los Angeles, “and all of them are the ‘wrong’ thing to do.”
“In the wound care world, we say, ‘Don’t put anything in your wound that you wouldn’t put in your eye,’” says Suzuki. “Peroxide bubbles up, and it may help dislodge the debris from the wound and dissolve some crusty blood, yet it is very harsh and irritating to an open wound. The same with alcohol. Yes, it will kill some bacteria, but it also kills and irritates healthy skin and the wound bed. I suggest you do not use alcohol, hydrogen peroxide or Betadine solution in the open wound.”
So what should we do?
“For an open wound” — such as a cut or deep scrape — “you should immediately cleanse it with clean running water for a few minutes,” says Suzuki. “Once the wound is clean enough, apply direct and firm pressure” with clean gauze or a clean towel for a few minutes. “Unless you are on a prescription blood thinner, this should be sufficient to stop the bleeding. … Afterward, the open wound should be covered and kept moist.”
That old-school method — “airing out” the wound — will dry out the wound and the surrounding skin, says Suzuki, and that’s not helpful: “It is detrimental to wound healing, and you are leaving your body open and defenseless against bacterial invasion, which equals infection.”
Suzuki says using a small amount of plain ointment, such as Aquaphor, with a clean or gloved hand, then covering the wound with a sterile Band-Aid creates a moist environment, perfect for recovery. “It results in the fastest wound healing with minimal scarring. … Keep the wound moist until it heals completely and the skin regenerates completely over the open wound,” says Suzuki.
“Afterwards, I recommend using moisturizer or sunscreen (if it is a sun-exposed area) or silicone-based gel and gel sheets, which are clinically proven to reduce scars.”
If you burn yourself, “’cool down” the burned area with cool running water to reduce inflammation.
Afterward, he suggests covering the injury with a non-stick gauze treatment. “In our office, we use Vaseline-impregnated gauze, which can be purchased commercially from drugstores or Amazon.com. In a pinch, you can fashion this bandage by applying Vaseline or Aquaphor to a clean gauze” bandage and applying over the wound.
(In case you are wondering, Suzuki said he doesn’t like to use ice for burns because it can cause frostbite and ultimately cause more damage.)
It probably goes without saying, but we will say it anyway: Suzuki’s advice shouldn’t substitute for common sense and knowing when to skip the DIY route.
Seek professional medical attention for serious injuries, including a deep cut where you can’t stop the bleeding, or blistering burns.
“I’ve seen disasters from patients trying to treat themselves,” says Suzuki. But even if the injury is one that you can care for at home, he warns: “If after of a week of self-care you have an open wound that is not healing well. If the wound becomes red, warm, swollen and painful, you probably have a skin infection and will need antibiotics.”