Whether you or someone you care about has a minor cut or a major incision, it’s vital to ensure that the healing process is fast and effective. Therefore, choosing the right wound care dressing is critical.

The secret to understanding the various types of wound dressings is to learn the main properties of the different categories of dressings. There are more than 3,000 types of wound dressings available on the market today; making it easy to become overwhelmed by the options.

In the guide below, we break down the ideal dressings for treating different kinds of wounds and describe what the most commonly used wound dressings should be used for.

What Is a Wound Care Dressing?

A dressing is used to help a wound heal and prevent further issues like infection or other complications. Dressings are designed to be in direct contact with the wound, which is different from a bandage that holds the dressing in place.

Aside from the significant function of reducing the risk of infection, dressings are also important to help:

  • Stop bleeding and start clotting so the wound can heal
  • Absorb any excess blood, plasma or other fluids
  • Wound debridement (the removal of dead tissue which may impede healing)
  • Begin the healing process

1. Cloth

Traditionally, cloth or gauze wound dressings were made from woven or nonwoven gauze. Gauze dressings continue to be the most readily available wound dressings in use today.  Gauze is highly permeable and relatively non-occlusive (meaning blood, air, and other matter can pass through). It can be used as a primary or secondary wound dressing suitable for minor injuries such as grazes, cuts or areas of delicate skin. Cloth dressings are inexpensive for one-time or short-term use and come in many forms: squares, sheets, rolls, and packing strips.

2. Hydrocolloid

Hydrocolloid dressings provide a moist and insulating healing environment that protects uninfected wounds while allowing the body’s enzymes to help heal them. These dressings are unique because they don’t have to be changed as often as some other wound dressings and are easy to apply.

Hydrocolloid dressings:

  • Contain gel-forming agents inside a wafer of dressing
  • Have a waterproof backing, often made of polyurethane
  • Are available in a variety of shapes and thicknesses
  • Come with or without an adhesive border
  • Are made especially for difficult-to-dress wound areas such as elbows and heels

Hydrocolloids are made from flexible, comfortable material that can be worn by even the most sensitive skin types.

3. Hydrogel

Hydrogel dressings are best for second-degree burns or higher, painful or infected wounds or those with little drainage. Their high moisture content serves to rehydrate wound tissue. Hydrogels are primarily used for partial- and full-thickness wounds, wounds with necrosis, minor burns, and radiation tissue damage.

Hydrogel dressings maximize patient comfort and decrease pain while helping to heal wounds. They provide moisture or absorb exudate (blood, plasma, or other fluids) depending on the state of the injury, thereby sustaining a moist environment. This encourages autolysis (self-digestion of the cells) or debridement of dead tissue from the healthy wound.

4. Alginate

Alginate dressings are designed to provide effective protection for wounds that have high amounts of liquid drainage, burns, and ulcers. Containing sodium and seaweed fibres, these dressings can absorb high amounts of fluid, plus they are biodegradable after use.

Alginate dressings are formed from calcium alginate, a component of seaweed. In the early 1800s, seaweed was discovered to be very effective in treating the wounds of sailors who had been injured in sea battles.

Alginate dressings require changing around every two days, sometimes more, due to the amount of liquid that they absorb and the nature of the wound. Changing them too often could cause too much dryness or could lead to bacteria penetrating the wound.

5. Collagen

Collagen wound dressings are gels, pads, particles, pastes, powders, sheets or solutions derived from bovine, equine, porcine, or avian sources. At times, they interact with wound exudate to form a gel and are indicated for:

  • Partial- and full-thickness pressure ulcers
  • Venous ulcers
  • Donor sites
  • Surgical wounds
  • Vascular and diabetic ulcers
  • Second-degree burns
  • Abrasions and traumatic wounds

Collagen dressings encourage the wound healing process in a range of ways, including:

  • Helping to remove dead tissue
  • Aiding the growth of new blood vessels
  • Helping to bring the wound edges together to speed up the healing process

6. Foam

Foam dressings are sheets and other shapes of foamed polymer solutions (most commonly polyurethane) with small, open cells capable of holding fluids. For wounds of varying degrees of severity as well as those that have odors, foam dressings can be very effective. Foam dressings absorb drainage liquids from the wound’s surface, creating an environment that promotes faster healing.

Foam dressings allow water vapor to enter, keeping the wound moist, but prevent bacteria from entering the affected area. These dressings come in various sizes and shapes, as well as in a range of adhesive and non-adhesive options.

7. Transparent

Transparent dressings are made of polymer membranes of varying thickness coated on one side with an adhesive. They are very useful for monitoring wound healing as they cover the wound with a clear film. Transparent dressings make identifying potential complications such as infection easier to notice at an earlier time.

Transparent dressings are breathable but impermeable to liquid, water, and bacteria, but permeable to moisture and atmospheric gases. This helps keep the wound clean and dry and prevents infection. They are also flexible, which makes them comfortable to wear and are often used on surgical incision sites, abrasions, burns and ulcers, and on IV sites.

Consult Your Doctor

Dressing selection is a complex process. Therefore, it is essential to consult your physician for guidance when deciding on which wound dressing to apply. It is also important to keep in mind that a wound dressing does not heal the wound but provides the optimum environment for healing to take place. While this list is not exhaustive, it does represent the more common dressings.

If you have any additional wound care questions or concerns, please feel free to contact us.