A skin tear is an avulsion injury (an injury in which the skin is torn from the body) that affects thin, fragile skin. Skin naturally becomes drier, stiffer and thinner as we age. Over time, your skin becomes more fragile and it becomes more prone to tearing.
Unlike soft skin that stretches so it doesn’t break, fragile skin can tear easily. For some people, just hitting a bookshelf or removing a bandage too quickly can tear their skin.
This article explains what a skin tear is and who is at risk. It also discusses how to treat skin tears, ways to prevent them, and when you should see your doctor if you have one.
skin tear category
Skin tears are divided into three categories and several subcategories. The difference between them is whether the flap is still viable. Or, in other words, whether the flap can fully re-attach to the body and heal (viability).
the first sort
The flap is intact enough to close all edges. This skin tear may heal if you replace the flap it belongs to and wrap the wound with a light dressing.
Some subcategories relate to whether flaps are feasible. Category 1a means the flap is pink and healthy. Class 1b means the flap is pale, blue or purple, which means it may not heal.
The flap is damaged and cannot close properly. In this case, the tear will not heal properly because the flap will not reach the edge of the wound. Like above, category 2a means that the flaps are pink. Class 2b means that the flap is pale or blue.
The flap disappeared completely. It will take the longest time to heal.
More important than treatment is preventing the skin from tearing. It is nearly impossible to close skin tears, especially when the flap is missing. If the skin is torn, treatment will revolve around keeping the wound clean and protecting it from further damage.
There are three main types of skin tears. Each category describes the viability of the torn flap. More specifically, how healthy the skin is and how likely it is to heal after reattaching to the wound.
Skin tears become more common with age. This is because as the years pass, the blood vessels in the skin begin to provide less moisture and nutrients to the skin tissue.
Although skin tears can occur in people of any age, some people are more at risk than others. They include:
- older adults, especially those who are frail and need help getting around
- Infants, because they are at higher risk of falling or hitting objects
- people with reduced mobility, who may be more prone to falls and accidental injuries
- people who have ever had a torn skin
- Those with cognitive impairment or dementia, or who are more likely to become irritable and harm themselves
- People with chronically dry skin
- People who have thinned skin due to long-term use of certain medications, such as topical cortisone creams
- Postmenopausal women, whose skin becomes more fragile due to decreased estrogen levels
If one or more of these apply to you, try to find ways to prevent your skin from tearing.
How to treat a skin tear
The three main goals of treatment: prevent infection, protect surrounding skin and tissue, and keep the area moist to support healing.
If the flap is still attached (types 1 and 2), you need to try to keep it. The flap should be placed as close to its original position as possible without overstretching it.
Before starting, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and if you have gloves, wear gloves. In these order:
- If the wound is bleeding, apply pressure and elevate as high as possible.
- Rinse the skin tear with tap water or saline solution. Be careful not to tear the skin any worse. Don’t use hydrogen peroxide or other products – water or brine will do.
- Either let the skin air dry or pat dry very carefully. Don’t rub it.
- If there is a flap, gently put it back in place or as close as possible. Don’t stretch it too far or force it in any way.
- Cover the skin tear with a dressing suitable for the skin tear.
Some skin tears can be very serious and may require the care of a doctor. See your doctor if you’re uncomfortable treating a skin tear yourself or notice signs of infection. If your doctor isn’t available, try an urgent care clinic.
The time it takes for a skin tear to heal depends on the type of skin tear and your overall health. Most skin tears resolve within four weeks. Chronic skin tears are those that do not heal within four weeks or keep re-tearing.
Skin tears should be treated as soon as possible to prevent further problems. Untreated skin tears can become infected. In some cases, the infection develops into cellulitis, in which bacteria infect the wound. An infection that develops into sepsis can be life-threatening.
An improperly dressed skin tear may not heal properly. As a result, they can easily tear again or become chronic.
Babies and older adults have weaker skin and are therefore at higher risk for skin tears. People at risk of falling are also more likely to develop skin tears. If your skin is torn, clean it thoroughly and put it on quickly to prevent infection.
Several types of dressings are suitable for skin tears. These include film dressings such as Tegaderm and Vaseline gauze. If you have delicate skin or have had skin tears in the past, it’s a good idea to have one of these on hand just in case.
The film dressing is transparent, allowing you to observe healing and infection without removing it. This is helpful for skin tears.
If the dressing becomes dirty, remove it, clean the skin tear, and re-dress the wound. Contact your doctor if the skin tear shows any signs of infection.
Be very careful when removing film dressings. Make sure to pull it out in the same direction as the flap. If you pull it in the opposite direction, you can reopen the tear.
There are a few steps you can take to try and prevent your skin from tearing. Ask your doctor for specific advice. These strategies may help:
keep skin moist
The best way to prevent skin tearing is to hydrate your skin. Avoid soaps that dry your skin. Apply a high-quality moisturizing cream at least twice a day. If an area of your skin is particularly fragile, cover it with a barrier film or cream. You can also wrap the area with a bandage.
Create a safe environment
Skin tears are most common in older adults. They are usually caused by accident, such as hitting furniture or a scratch on a wedding ring. Making simple changes at home can be helpful.
Keep the sidewalk tidy so you don’t bump into things. Remove rugs or other items that you might trip over. Lay the cushions on sharp edges around the house, and pay attention to any rough fabrics on the furniture that could scratch your skin.
wear protective clothing
Wear clothing that protects your delicate skin and helps prevent tearing. This can be as simple as a single layer of regular clothing. Choose long pants, long sleeves and stockings if you can.
Be careful when changing clothes. Watch out for zippers, buttons, and other things that might grab your skin.
Remember, dry skin has a higher risk of tearing. If you are dehydrated, your skin will also be dehydrated. Eating a healthy diet is also important.
If a skin tear occurs, don’t forget to drink plenty of water in order to keep the skin strong and promote healing. You should also include plenty of fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin C in your diet.
You can support collagen production in your skin by adding more high-protein foods like fish, eggs, and beans to your diet.
How to rebuild your levels when your collagen is depleted with age
Avoid using adhesives
Try to avoid sticky bandages or medical tape unless absolutely necessary. These adhesive bandages can cause tears in the delicate skin.
If you must bandage the skin tear, wrap the wound with non-stick petroleum-based gauze. Then, secure the package with medical tape.
An accident happened. But you can still take steps to prevent skin tears by keeping your skin hydrated, making your home safer, and covering your skin with long sleeves and bandages. If you do use a bandage, choose a non-adhesive one.
A skin tear occurs when the skin is completely or partially detached from the body. They are more likely to occur in people with dry, weak, and fragile skin. This includes babies, although skin tears are most common in older adults because the skin becomes more delicate with age.
You can prevent skin tears by wearing long-sleeved clothing, staying hydrated, and taking steps to avoid falls. If your skin does tear, it needs to be cleaned and dressed to prevent infection. Seek immediate medical attention if you notice any signs of infection or skin tears that do not heal within 4 weeks.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I put Neosporin on my skin tear?
Yes, Neosporin or other antibiotic creams can be used for skin tears as long as you are not allergic to the drug. However, if your wound is closed with topical skin adhesives (skin glues), do not use them as they will dissolve the adhesive. However, antibiotics may not be needed for mild tears without infection.
Why do older people bruise so easily?
Skin gets thinner as you age, so you lack the cushion of youth, and even a slight bump can damage blood vessels and cause bruising. Medications like aspirin, anticoagulants, antibiotics, and corticosteroids can also make you more likely to bruise.
A skin tear can be very painful, and some people take more time to heal than others. The best way to prevent skin tears is to prevent them. If you know you’re in danger, create a safer environment where you’re less likely to fall or hit things. Take steps to strengthen and protect your skin. If an accident occurs, try not to panic. With proper wound care, most skin tears can heal without infection or chronic re-tear.