Adhesive bandage strips recognized by kids everywhere are well known for protecting cuts and scrapes from the elements. With roots in homemade fabrics and gauzes, innovations in plastics helped adhesive bandages—and later liquid bandages—become staples in medicine cabinets and first-aid kits across the country.
Bandages in the early 1920s were made predominately of cotton, gauze and a bandage adhesive: a plastic-based glue that adheres to skin, keeping dirt and bacteria away from the wound. This was plastics’ first contribution to modern bandages. The adhesive is pressure sensitive, so it bonds to skin with light pressure and lasts temporarily. It’s also breathable – air can penetrate to help keep skin from dehydrating.
However, the cotton-based bandages didn’t stand up well to movement and perspiration and often would peel from the wound.
Plastic Bandages Debut
In the 1950s, various flexible plastic strips were introduced. The durable plastic bandages stood up better to stretching and sweating while protecting the wound. And later, this plastic surface enabled all sorts of designs, from cartoon characters to bacon strip images.
These days bandage adhesive and plastic bandages also are used to help keep in place transdermal patches, such as birth control or nicotine patches.
The Latest Innovation: Liquid Bandages
Plastics play an important role in a more recent, innovative wound care technology: liquid bandages. These bandages are made from various plastics and a solvent such as water or alcohol. When applied to the wound, the solvent evaporates, leaving a thin plastic barrier designed to keep out dirt and debris and to reduce pain by covering nerve endings. As the wound heals, the plastic of the liquid bandage sloughs off with the old skin cells.
Over-the-counter liquid bandage products are widely available for minor injuries, and our military is increasingly using them to cover wounds until full medical care is available. In addition, liquid bandages often are used to replace traditional sutures and staples in surgery–they cause less trauma and do not need to be removed.