Putting on a bandaid

You may have heard that wounds need air to heal or “breathe.” Perhaps your grandmother said if you leave a cut or scrape uncovered, it will form a scab and heal faster. But is that true?

Read on for when — and how — to cover a wound.

Do Wounds Need Air to Heal?

Contrary to folk wisdom, wounds need moisture — not air — to heal. Leaving a wound uncovered can slow down the healing process.

Why you should cover a wound

Once you stop the bleeding and clean the wound, you should apply a clean bandage. Here’s why:

  • Air dries out the wound and promotes cell death, not healing.
  • Covering the wound maintains the natural moisture that helps keep cells alive.
  • An exposed cut will pick up dirt and debris from the air.
  • A wound that heals in a moist environment is less likely to leave a scar.
  • An uncovered wound is more likely to be painful.
  • An uncovered wound takes longer to heal.

How to treat a minor wound

Deeper cuts need medical care, but you can treat most minor cuts and scrapes at home. You should:

  • Clean the area with gentle soap and water.
  • Apply an antibiotic ointment (such as Neosporin) to the area.
  • Cover it with a bandage.
  • Replace the bandage daily.
  • Apply a bit of petroleum jelly (like Vaseline) to the wound when you change the bandage to keep it moist.

When to stop covering a wound

You should keep a wound moist and covered for about five days. Change the bandage daily (or more, if the cut reopens or begins bleeding again). Reapply petroleum jelly with each change of bandage.

Do scabs heal faster when moist or dry?

No matter what you do, your wound may heal with or without a scab, a protective covering that the skin forms over the wound. However, if you keep the wound covered and moist, you’re less likely to end up with a scab. And if you do end up with a scab, it will heal more quickly.

That’s why it’s important to keep wounds moist with a dab of petroleum jelly each day. A dry bandage will keep dirt and bacteria away and will help keep the wound moist, especially if you pair it with petroleum jelly.

Because scabs can sometimes lead to scars, keeping a wound covered and moist will also reduce your chance of scarring.

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Should You Cover a Burn?

A minor burn is also called a first-degree burn. This kind of burn only goes through the top layer of skin. Your skin will look pink but will not form a blister.

You should cover a first-degree burn with a nonstick, sterile bandage. Covering it will keep it clean and reduce pain. The burn will heal faster if it’s covered.

To treat a minor burn:

  • Cool the burn with water.
  • Clean it with soap and water.
  • Put a thin layer of petroleum jelly on the burn.
  • Cover the burn with a sterile, non-stick gauze bandage, and tape it lightly.
  • Change the bandage once a day.

One caveat: If the burn is second-degree or worse, you should seek medical attention right away. A second-degree burn usually has swelling and blisters. Your skin may look red, white, or blotchy.

Should You Cover Road Rash?

The term “road rash” means that a rough surface (like asphalt) has rubbed the top layer of skin away. It includes everything from a skinned knee to abrasions from a motorcycle or bicycle accident. You can treat most surface cases of road rash at home.

Like minor cuts and burns, it’s important to keep skin abrasions covered. A bandage will help keep the injury moist, which promotes healing. Covering the area will also keep bacteria away.

For bigger areas of road rash, use large bandages or wide pieces of gauze secured by medical tape. Depending on the size and location of the road rash, you may want to try a wing-shaped bandage to allow for movement.

To treat road rash:

  • Wash the area gently.
  • Remove debris like dirt, gravel, or grass.
  • Apply an antibiotic ointment, then a thin layer of petroleum jelly.
  • Cover the area with a nonstick gauze bandage.
  • Change the bandage once a day.
  • Take pain relievers as necessary.
Sources

Biomedicine, Wound Dressings — A Review Link

UPMC My Health Matters, Do Cuts Heal Faster with a Bandage? Link

Healthwise, How a Scrape Heals Link

American Academy of Dermatology, How to Treat a First-Degree, Minor Burn Link

U.S. National Library of Medicine, Minor Burns – Aftercare Link

Medical News Today, What to Know About Road Rash Link

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