Can a skin adhesive serve every type of injury?
Sadly, there is no single, specific treatment for a wound. Because they vary in type, severity, and location, each wound dressing must be designed and constructed to help heal that wound — whether it’s a cut, burn, sore, etc., and whether it is on the face, arm, stomach, etc. — as well as prevent infection and reduce pain.
Choosing a wound dressing adhesive relies heavily on the intended application. Having built many custom wound dressing adhesives in the past, we at Strouse know the adhesives used for wound dressings must be selected based on how each wound dressing is used and its intended environment.
Today, you’ll learn about the purpose, importance, and challenges of choosing effective wound dressing adhesives for secure attachment and healing.
What Should I Consider When Choosing a Wound Dressing Adhesive?
The adhesive in a wound dressing product has two main goals: stick to human skin and retain the ability to be removed easily. It sounds simple, but choosing a suitable material involves many challenging factors.
There are four critical considerations that manufacturers and flexible material converters use when selecting a wound dressing adhesive:
- The Application
- The Skin Type
- The Location
- The Length of Wear
Before we dive in, one fundamental aspect of wound dressings to keep in mind is that there are two main types: general purpose and specific purpose. General-purpose bandages and wraps are designed to handle a wide variety of common wounds.
Specific-purpose wound dressings are custom kits that medical professionals (doctors, surgeons, etc.) use during or as a result of surgical procedures on particular body parts. These procedures often require unique construction of the wound dressings and specific-grade adhesives.
When considering a wound dressing adhesive, the 80/20 rule generally applies: 80 percent of the applications require a similar adhesive, while 20 percent require unique or specialized adhesives.
However, a successful wound dressing relies more on construction than on the adhesive used. As we explain each wound dressing consideration, remember that these tips could help with the design and material selection process.
1. THE APPLICATION
The wound dressing application drives everything involving its material and design.
Consider these examples:
- Inserting an intravenous (IV) catheter can involve a covering and seal to prevent infection over several days.
- A small gash may only require a simple dressing to close the wound while holding an antibacterial medication in place, with frequent replacement.
These two applications differ in size, complexity, function, placement… and adhesives! Although both are “wound dressings,” the entire application differs.
In general, wound dressings form a window around a square or circle containing a breathable wound dressing or a seal. The wound dressing’s material selection (and construction) heavily depends on whether the application is breathable — A.K.A., designed to let oxygen in and allow moisture to evaporate — or to create a negative pressure seal.
Negative pressure wound therapy uses suction to create a seal that helps prevent infection, slowly drawing bacteria and other bodily fluids into a collection chamber. A battery or electric-powered pump applies suction through foam or gauze, achieving an airtight and waterproof seal. Some advanced wound dressings also pull samples, transferring fluids from the patient into devices for collection.
An adhesive needs the holding power to handle any suction and patient activity throughout the wear duration. Some adhesives are designed primarily to perform a specific function under certain environmental conditions. Of course, you might apply a single type of adhesive in several different applications depending on its purpose.
2. THE SKIN TYPE
An infant’s skin differs from the skin of an adult or elderly person, and your adhesive must match the patient's skin durability to adhere without causing any damage to the skin or causing the patient pain upon removal.
Most wound dressings are designed to be removed at regular intervals and replaced. The frequency of wound dressing changes makes selecting an adhesive that much more important, especially on sensitive skin.
Silicone adhesives are soft and work well on sensitive skin applications because they stick well but are also easy to remove. Acrylic adhesives have slightly more aggressive adhesion, and rubber adhesives are the strongest and stay on the longest.
Other wound dressing materials include hydrocolloids, often used in the most advanced medical-grade adhesives, and hydrogel.
Hydrocolloids are a gel-like adhesive that provides non-breathable adhesion to the skin, trapping moisture under the skin and promoting healing in wound care products. They’re also commonly used as a thickening and gelling agent in food formulations.
Hydrogel is a polymer material that absorbs large amounts of fluid. It keeps wounds moist to reduce scarring, and because it’s conductive, hydrogel wound dressings are often embedded with sensors to monitor wound care. Even though it’s not an adhesive, hydrogel is viscous and elastic, adding comfort to sensitive skin.
3. THE LOCATION
Human bodies lack easily defined sharp corners, so the wound dressing’s location on the body greatly determines what material is used and the type of adhesive needed.
For example, the movement of a human arm requires a flexible and conformable dressing. Therefore, an elbow bandage would function better and otherwise benefit from medical adhesive transfer tape because transfer tape remains stretchy when put on a material like spandex.
Using a double-sided medical tape on that same spandex would remove its ability to stretch and conform, which will make it more likely to fall off prematurely. However, when you look at a relatively flat surface like a wound on the chest, the double-sided medical tape would allow it to remain much more stable with more holding power.
Knowing that a product needs to be ultra-conformable will prompt the use of specific adhesives, but the backing substrate doesn’t necessarily drive the type of wound dressing adhesive used. Adhering to polyurethane or non-woven backing can be done using just about any adhesive option.
4. THE LENGTH OF WEAR
Some wounds require immediate intervention and need quick additional medical attention. An adhesive for this kind of application is temporary, only staying in place for an hour or two.
Other wounds might require a few days of healing time.
In some cases, wounds require medical devices placed within them, and adhesives for these need to keep that wound dressing in place for up to or even more than 14 days.
Hydrocolloids and some adhesives are designed to be applied for 14 days or more because, as time elapses, they physically absorb fluffed-off skin cells, which get absorbed into the adhesive.
For these longer-term applications, the adhesion level falls as skin cells naturally degrade and fluff off over those two weeks. If the same long-term adhesive was used for a 1-hour application, removing it would be extremely painful to remove.
Choosing a Wound Dressing Adhesive
If you’re seeking out wound dressing adhesives, you’ll want to choose a material that suits your purpose and design.
Ultimately, it’s worth asking your material supplier or your flexible material converter (if not both) for relevant recommendations so you can find products that meet your specifications, have better costs per quantity, and are manufacturable.
Lastly, as you look for wound dressing adhesive, you may notice higher material order quantity prices. This is unfortunately common for medical materials, and can be offset by working closely with a converter to match your number of parts closer to the material minimum order quantity to avoid paying more or excess waste.
Are you looking for more resources on wound dressing materials? You can find recommendations and guides in our Learning Center.
Originally published: November 16, 2021