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Consumer Reports

Cutting-edge bandages help healing, ease pain — even better than Mom? | (KRT) It used to be so simple.

You were a kid. You fell down, and skinned your knee. You cried.

Mom came to the rescue, washed off your wound_let's use the technical term, which is "boo-boo" or "owie"_and applied hydrogen peroxide or mercurochrome. You cried again.

She opened the little can that holds the adhesive bandages, and depending on the extent of your boo-boo, selected the wide kind, or the skinny little one or the dot, and stuck it on. When it was time to peel off the bandage, it hurt. You cried some more.

But today if Mom needs to reach for a bandage, her choices go far beyond just size or shape. The consumer market for adhesive bandages has exploded in the past decade or so, driven, say industry spokesmen and medical professionals, by technological advances in hospitals.

Lisa Corbett, an advanced-practice registered nurse with the Center for Wound Healing and Hyperbaric Medicine at Hartford Hospital, says the improved treatment of chronic nonhealing wounds, those that persist longer than 30 days, has spun off products now available to the public.

So Mom now is faced with store shelves jam-packed with products: liquid and spray-on bandages, ionized-silver bandages or waterproof or moist-environment-promoting or easy-to-remove bandages. Or anti-itch, anti-bleeding or anti-bacterial bandages. Not to mention bandages shaped to fit fingers or knuckles, or medicated to minimize scars or cushioned to heal blisters. There are eye-catching bandages for kids, decorated with licensed 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."

Just as there have been advances in treating heart disease, Andrews says, there have been "leaps forward in technology in wound care and management products." The diversity "seems daunting, but is useful," he says, noting that as hospital stays grow shorter, postoperative wound care is increasingly being managed at home.

"Our customers have told us, through studies, that they want these products," he says.

Michael Sweeney, a spokesman for 3M's Nexcare line, says that while different products offer different benefits, the most important is their performance, such as whether they are easier to use, longer-lasting or more waterproof.

Liquid-bandage products are among the newest to catch the interest of consumers, he says, and while they may be more expensive per application, 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.

The choices can seem overwhelming, he says, and that is why Nexcare has recently redesigned its packaging as "a simplification to help consumers find what they need."

Fred Tewell, product director for Johnson & Johnson's Band-Aid Brand Adhesive Bandages, says industry research shows that mothers continue to be the primary purchasers of bandages for the whole family. He 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 percent to 70 percent of adhesive bandages in the United States are used on children, and those with licensed images account for 15 percent to 20 percent 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 is most helpful, says Corbett, because it helps tissues 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 out 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.

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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 likely to heal within a few days, 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. Just as a mild fever is a natural part of fighting infection, bleeding plays an important role in healing.

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

_Sponge the wound with cold water alone to remove dirt and debris.

_Do not use products such as hydrogen peroxide or strong antiseptics, which can kill the baby 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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© 2004, The Hartford Courant Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services