Skin Tear (Skin Avulsion)

A skin tear (skin avulsion) is a tearing of the top layer of skin. This commonly happens after a fall or other injury. This is especially true if you have thinner skin, are an older adult, or have taken steroids for long periods of time.

Home care

These guidelines will help you care for your wound at home:

  • Keep the wound clean and dry for the first 24 to 48 hours, or as your healthcare provider advises.

  • If there is a dressing or bandage, change it when it gets wet or dirty. Otherwise, leave it on for the first 24 hours, then change it once a day or as often as the healthcare provider says.

  • If stitches or staples were used, check the wound every day.

  • After taking off the dressing, wash the area gently with soap and water. Clean as close to the stitches as you can. Don't wash or rub the stitches directly.

  • After 3 days you can keep the bandages off the wound, unless told otherwise, or there is continued drainage.  Allow the wound to be open to the air.

  • Keep a thin layer of antibiotic ointment on the cut. This will keep the wound clean, make it easier to remove the stitches, and reduce scarring.

  • If your wound is oozing, put ointment and a nonstick dressing over it. Then, reapply the bandage or dressing as you were told. Be careful not to let the bandage stick to the oozing wound. More tears can occur when trying to remove a bandage that is stuck on.

  • You can shower as usual after the first 24 hours. But don't soak the area in water (no baths or swimming) until the stitches or staples are taken out and your provider says it's OK.

  • If surgical tape was used, keep the area clean and dry. If it becomes wet, blot it dry with a clean towel.

  • Be very careful when removing tape or other dressings, or you may cause more skin tears. Soaking the dressing in the shower for a few minutes will often loosen it and make it easier to remove.

  • If skin glue was used, don't put any creams, lotions, or antibiotic ointments on it. These can dissolve the glue. Usually, the glue will flake off in about 5 to 10 days by itself. Try to resist picking it off before that so the wound doesn't open up. When it gets wet, pat it dry.

Here is some information about medicine:

  • You may use over-the-counter medicine, such as acetaminophen, naproxen, or ibuprofen, to control pain, unless another pain medicine was given. Talk with your healthcare provider before using these medicines if you have chronic liver or kidney disease. Also talk with your provider if you've ever had a stomach ulcer or digestive tract bleeding.

  • If you were given antibiotics, take them until they're all used up. It's important to finish the antibiotics even if the wound looks better. This will help to make sure that the infection has cleared.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised.

  • Watch for any signs of infection, such as increasing redness, swelling, or pus coming out of the wound. If this happens, don't wait for your scheduled visit. Instead see your provider right away.

  • Stitches or staples are usually taken out in 5 to 14 days. This varies depending on what part of your body they're on, and the type of wound. Your provider will tell you how long stitches or staples should be left in. 

  • If surgical tape was used, it's usually best to leave it on until it falls off. Trying to remove the tape may cause more skin tears. Left alone, the surgical tape will fall off on its own over time.

  • As mentioned above, skin glue will flake off by itself in 5 to 10 days. So you don't need to pull it off.

If any X-rays were done, you'll be told of any changes that may affect your care.

When to get medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Increasing pain in the wound

  • Redness, swelling, or pus coming from the wound

  • Fever of 100.4ºF (38ºC) or higher, or as directed by your provider

  • Stitches or staples come apart or fall out before your next appointment, and the wound edges look as if they will reopen

  • Surgical tape closures fall off before 7 days, and the wound edges look as if they will reopen

  • Bleeding not controlled by direct pressure

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