Is It Healthy to Let Cuts Air out?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Antibiotic ointment can be applied to a cut before it is bandaged.
Antibiotic ointment can be applied to a cut before it is bandaged.

There’s an ongoing debate about whether letting cuts air out is healthier and promotes faster healing time than bandaging cuts and using antibiotic ointment. In general, the medical community tends to encourage protecting cuts, and using antibiotic ointment, particularly to keep wounds from scarring and getting infected. It largely depends on the size of the cut. A tiny scrape may merely require a little cleaning, since these can heal virtually overnight. It may be riskier to let cuts air out that are much larger.

Most medical practitioners agree that letting cuts air out without protective bandaging leads to a greater risk of infection.
Most medical practitioners agree that letting cuts air out without protective bandaging leads to a greater risk of infection.

The principal risks of small cuts are infection and scarring. There are greater risks if you have conditions like diabetes and suffer small cuts to feet, since circulation to the lower extremities is impaired. If you suffer from diabetes, be sure to get instruction from your physician about care of any injuries to the feet.

In general, it is medically accepted that cleaning cuts, treating them with antibiotic ointment and then covering them with a bandage will reduce risk of scarring and infection. If you want to protect yourself from scarring from small cuts, you shouldn’t expose cuts to air. There’s more debate about whether antibiotic ointment is useful or effective.

If a scab breaks open, it might be wise to add additional bandaging.
If a scab breaks open, it might be wise to add additional bandaging.

In most cases, antibiotic ointment may not harm, but won’t accelerate wound healing. It can prevent some but not all infections. Many medical practitioners suggest its use only when cuts are severe. Most agree, however that to let cuts air out without protective bandaging tends to create greater risk of reinjury and infection. After washing a cut, using an appropriate sterile bandage to cover it, will reduce the chance of breaking the cut open again, and will help keep it from getting dirty. Bandages should be changed at least once a day, unless a physician otherwise instructs you. If you plan to do any work like gardening or cooking, and you have a cut on your hands or fingers, consider wearing protective gloves too.

Most doctors agree that letting a cut air out can increase risk of further injury or infection.
Most doctors agree that letting a cut air out can increase risk of further injury or infection.

The body does create its own protection of cuts or openings of the skin by forming scabs. When these scabs first form, they’re fairly vulnerable, and can easily be dislodged. After a few days, a scab hardens, and is a natural bandage. At this point, to let cuts air out is generally fine, since a scab protects your skin. If the cut is very large, though, or in an area of the body where the scab might break open, such as at a knee joint or elbow, it might be a good idea to keep providing the extra protection of a bandage.

Plastic bandages can offer protection from water and dirt.
Plastic bandages can offer protection from water and dirt.

Very small abrasions that cover an uneven surface area, as from a rug burn or a fall on asphalt, are extremely hard to cover with bandages. If you’ve got tiny scrapes all over a knee or shin, bandages can hurt more than they help, since you may have to attach part of the adhesive to the injured skin. Pulling these off can be painful and re-damage the injured area.

It can be a good idea to provide extra bandaging when a scab is on a joint like the knee.
It can be a good idea to provide extra bandaging when a scab is on a joint like the knee.

As long as these are surface cuts, to let cuts air out is usually fine after the area has been appropriately cleaned. If you’d like to use an antiseptic or antibiotic spray, these are both fine choices, and dry quicker than an antibiotic ointment. Many also have a mild topical pain reliever, which can reduce discomfort of these types of cuts.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments

doppler

@abiane - I really don't like gauze. Even though the packaging may state that it won't stick to open wounds it always does with me and I really hate that because it just opens the wound right back up. I will hang tight with my "air out factor" until I can find a better solution.

abiane

@doppler - I am on the other side of the spectrum, I think. While airing out cuts might seems like a good idea, I think that you could get the same effect with a breathable gauze bandage that would allow the cut to "breathe" so to speak.

doppler

I wholeheartedly believe that letting cuts air out is a good thing. When you bandage a cut right away you end up locking in moisture and it just looks gross. Especially if you are concerned with an infection, it's a great idea to let the cut air for at least one day. You shouldn't keep it bandaged up in the shower, either.

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    • Antibiotic ointment can be applied to a cut before it is bandaged.
      Antibiotic ointment can be applied to a cut before it is bandaged.
    • Most medical practitioners agree that letting cuts air out without protective bandaging leads to a greater risk of infection.
      Most medical practitioners agree that letting cuts air out without protective bandaging leads to a greater risk of infection.
    • If a scab breaks open, it might be wise to add additional bandaging.
      If a scab breaks open, it might be wise to add additional bandaging.
    • Most doctors agree that letting a cut air out can increase risk of further injury or infection.
      Most doctors agree that letting a cut air out can increase risk of further injury or infection.
    • Plastic bandages can offer protection from water and dirt.
      Plastic bandages can offer protection from water and dirt.
    • It can be a good idea to provide extra bandaging when a scab is on a joint like the knee.
      It can be a good idea to provide extra bandaging when a scab is on a joint like the knee.
    • The medical community tends to encourage protecting cuts.
      The medical community tends to encourage protecting cuts.