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A little zowie for those owies

Colorful, clear, liquid, spray-on, waterproof, ionized-silver: Today's bandages are as varied as the consumers who buy them.

August 09, 2004|Carole Goldberg | Hartford Courant

It used to be so simple. When you fell down, Mom or Dad came to the rescue, washed off your wound and applied hydrogen peroxide or mercurochrome. Then, depending on the extent of your boo-boo, you got a wide bandage, a skinny little one or a dot.

But today's bandage choices go far beyond just size and shape. The consumer market for adhesive bandages has exploded, driven by technological advances in hospitals.

Lisa Corbett, a nurse at the Center for Wound Healing and Hyperbaric Medicine at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut, says the improved treatment of chronic non-healing wounds, those that persist longer than 30 days, has spun off products now available to the public.

As a result, store shelves are jampacked with products: liquid and spray-on bandages, ionized-silver bandages, waterproof bandages, moist-environment-promoting bandages and easy-to-remove bandages. Then there are the anti-itch, anti-bleeding and anti-bacterial bandages. Not to mention bandages shaped to fit fingers or knuckles or medicated to minimize scars or cushioned to heal blisters. And don't forget the eye-catching bandages for kids, decorated with cartoon characters or tattoo designs, and clear ones that appeal to adults because they don't catch the eye.

"At first, it seems like a challenge to navigate" among all these choices, says Todd Andrews, a spokesman for CVS Corp. "But it's a real benefit to consumers."

As hospital stays grow shorter, he notes, postoperative wound care is increasingly being managed at home. "Our customers have told us, through studies, that they want these products," Andrews says.

Michael Sweeney, a spokesman for 3M's Nexcare line, says liquid-bandage products are among the newest to catch the interest of consumers. Although they may be more expensive per application, he says, they last longer, which helps bring their cost closer to that of strip bandages. Further refinements will make such innovations more convenient and affordable, Sweeney says.

Fred Tewell, product director for Johnson & Johnson's Band-Aid Brand Adhesive Bandages, says older consumers, a growing group, are buying bandages that are gentle to the skin, such as the liquid type or Band-Aid's Hurt-Free line.

We've come a long way from the birth of the first Band-Aids, which company lore says were invented in 1920 by Earle Dickson, a cotton buyer for Johnson & Johnson, whose new bride, Josephine, was prone to acquiring cuts and burns while cooking.

He fashioned bandages for her from cotton gauze and adhesive strips, which soon were marketed by the company. At first made by hand and 3 inches wide by 18 inches long, they were not an immediate success, but smaller strips soon caught on. And Dickson became a vice president.

By now, more than 100 billion Band-Aids have been made, and the company's trademarked name has become the shorthand term for any adhesive bandage.

According to a report posted on, 60% to 70% of adhesive bandages in the United States are used on children, and those with licensed images account for 15% to 20% of the entire market.

Among other popular innovations:

* Hydrocolloid or hydrogel bandages, such as Johnson & Johnson's Advanced Care and Curad's Hydro-Heal brands. They have particles that absorb fluids from the wound and form a gel that provides a moist environment.

That's helpful, says Corbett, because it helps tissue heal faster with less scarring. Some of these bandages are semipermeable and form a seal around the wound that helps trap healing cells.

"We tell our clients to think rain forest, not desert," Corbett says of the emphasis on covering wounds and keeping the environment moist.

Letting a wound dry and form a scab lengthens the time it takes to heal and increases the possibility of scars or infection, says Marcia Taraschi of Johnson & Johnson.

* Liquid and spray-on bandages offer aesthetic appeal, flexibility, good waterproofing and the ability to cling to the wound. They are useful for hard-to-cover areas and slough off when the wound heals.

* Scar-reducing bandages can minimize the appearance of raised or red scars over a period of weeks and can be used on fresh or old scars.

* Bandages containing ionized silver, tiny bits that leach out over time, offer a natural anti-bacterial effect. Their use has shaken up hospital care of chronic wounds, says Corbett.

"Silver is a very potent anti-microbial," she says, but adds that for minor cuts, less expensive traditional bandages will do the job well.

* Anti-blister bandages use hydrocolloid technology to generate a gel cushion that stays in place for several days, seals out water and germs and is flexible.

* Anti-itch bandages contain a topical ointment that dulls pain and throbbing, lessening the urge to scratch an insect bite or minor wound, which can lead to infection.

* Anti-bleeding bandages use fibers or gels to stop bleeding quickly. They may be of use to people who take anti-coagulant drugs.

But a little bleeding can be a good thing, says Corbett.

"We like it when wounds bleed. It's the first phase in the cascade of healing," when blood platelets migrate to the wound and attract growth factors for new tissue, she says.

Whatever product you choose, Corbett says, here is the procedure to follow:

Sponge the wound with cold water to remove dirt and debris.

Do not use products such as hydrogen peroxide or strong antiseptics, which can kill the cells that will form new healthy tissue. No one would even consider using mercurochrome, which contains mercury, anymore, she adds.

Then apply just a dab of an antibacterial ointment and cover the wound with a bandage that will create the moist environment crucial for healthy healing.

And, Corbett says, if a wound doesn't heal after 30 days, it's time to see a doctor.

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