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What’s the Best Antiseptic for Open Wounds? Iodine, Peroxides, and More

The safest and best over-the-counter (OTC) antiseptics for moderately severe open wounds are biguanides, peroxides, and iodine.

Chemical solutions known as antiseptics are applied topically to the skin or wounds to inhibit the growth of pathogenic bacteria, viruses, or fungi.

Typical OTC antiseptic varieties include:
  • iodine
  • peroxides
  • alcohols, such as isopropyl alcohol
  • biguanides, such as chlorhexidine
  • halogenated phenols
Mild wounds may usually be cleaned with water and antibacterial soap, but deeper cuts might need to be treated by a doctor. Here are some things to know regarding the safety of using antiseptics.


Are antiseptics safe to use on open wounds?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) views certain antiseptics as safe to apply to open wounds, while it views chemicals in other over-the-counter (OTC) products as potentially dangerous.

The FDA has published a list of 24 potentially dangerous antiseptic chemicals. Only one, though, is currently used as an active component in products sold as medical antiseptics. The FDA now believes that using triclosan may be dangerous.

There isn't enough data to support the use of these substances, and it's unclear what their long-term impacts will be—even if scientists haven't conclusively shown that they are harmful.

According to a study published in 2022, even antiseptics that are thought to be harmless, such as isopropyl alcohol, might impede healing when used repeatedly because they can destroy healthy cells in the lesion. Experts advise against using antiseptics unless required or when there is a real risk of infection due to their strong nature.

Remember that antibacterial soap will be enough to disinfect the area after minor cuts and scrapes, so no antiseptic is needed to help it heal.

It is considerably safer to seek medical attention if your wound is larger or more serious; more on that later.


When to seek medical care

Antiseptics should not be used in deeper or more severe wounds, such as:
  • burns or severe cuts that are deeper than a quarter of an inch
  • significant burns or wounds (i.e., ones that might require suturing shut)
  • wounds that bleed excessively or continue to bleed even after applying pressure for approximately five minutes
  • any circumstance in which a foreign object—especially rust—is entrenched in the skin
  • any wound that exhibits symptoms (such as redness, discomfort, or pus) of a serious infection
  • animal bites or scratches
  • eye wounds
Seek medical attention as soon as possible if normal antiseptic treatment and care don't seem to be healing your wound.


What are the best over-the-counter antiseptics for open wounds?

Antiseptics of all kinds work to sanitise skin. Nonetheless, a handful are FDA-approved and designed particularly to heal open wounds, such as:
  • Biguanides: Chlorhexidine is one of these (Corsodyl, Covonia, Dermol, etc.). These are available over-the-counter, and they can be used to stop open wounds from getting infected. They have been utilised in clinical settings for more than 30 years, and they are frequently employed in hand washes of medical grade, for cleansing wounds, or to prepare the skin for surgery.
  • Additionally, they're perfect for treating skin infections, sore throats, and oral infections. They are available as mouthwashes, dental gels, skin creams, and lotions in addition to lozenges.
  • Peroxides: These are gentle antiseptics that can be applied to small cuts, scrapes, and burns to stop infection. Examples of these include hydrogen peroxide. They can also occasionally be used as a mouthwash to address conditions like cold sores. They are insufficient, nevertheless, for serious wounds.
  • Iodine combined with povidone (like Betadine): For more than a century, this has been recognised as one of the best antiseptics for lowering the risk of infection. It is an effective disinfectant for the majority of mild to severe wounds because of its potent antibacterial action and minimal toxicity.
Alcohol and other antiseptics can be used in an emergency, but they can be overly harsh and may cause long-term healing delays.


What is the fastest way to heal an open wound?

Here's how to treat and heal an open wound as quickly as possible:
  1. Either use sanitised, disposable gloves or wash your hands with antibacterial soap.
  2. To remove filth and debris, rinse the wound with fresh water or a water/saline solution.
  3. Use water and a mild antibacterial soap to clean the wound. If any material remains, remove it with tweezers if needed.
  4. If required, use an antiseptic to disinfect the wound. Soap and water may be enough to disinfect the area in cases of lesser wounds. Before applying antiseptic, gently wipe the area around the wound with a clean cotton pad or piece of wound gauze. Unless a doctor instructs you otherwise, you don't need to apply the solution directly to the wound.
  5. To cover and seal the wound, apply ointment. For added antibacterial action, apply an antibiotic cream such as Neosporin; nevertheless, petroleum jelly-based products like Vaseline will also aid in site protection.
  6. Cover the wound with a dressing and tape or an adhesive bandage to prevent bacteria from getting inside. Keep in mind that sutures may be necessary for deeper wounds. Refrain from bandaging the wound if it is infected or seems to be (i.e., swollen) to allow it to breathe.
  7. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advise repeating the procedure at least once every day. Every time, look for any indications of an infection, such as discomfort, swelling, or redness. Refrain from picking at any scabs to encourage healing and minimise scarring.

Keep learning about first aid

In an emergency, being informed and ready can go a long way. See the following articles to gain additional knowledge about first aid:
  • Introduction to First Aid
  • How to Stop Blood From Wounds, Cuts, and Other Injuries
  • Step-by-Step Guide to Treating a Bleeding Cut on Your Finger
  • First Aid for Burns: Appropriate Reaction and Management
  • How to Do CPR: Mouth-to-Mouth and Hands-Only


Takeaway

Biguanides, peroxide, and iodine are safe and effective over-the-counter antiseptics that can be used to heal wounds at home.

Generally, mild wounds can be successfully disinfected with soap and water and don't require the use of antiseptics. More serious injuries—that is, more than a quarter-inch deep—need medical assistance.

See your physician, clinic, or other healthcare provider if your wound seems infected or isn't healing.

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