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What Is A Skin Tear?

*Some descriptions are graphic.*

If you have ever had or seen a skin tear, you know that it will never leave your mind.  The way that the skin literally peels away is incredible.  One scrape, one hit, even one touch can tear the skin of the most sensitive.

Mom’s worst skin tear was only the second one that she had.  It was about four or five inches in length and about two and a half inches wide at it’s largest point.  She had turned over in the middle of the night and hit her arm on the side table.  Her skin literally peeled away.  Thankfully it was not deep, but most true skin tears are not deep.  It is literally like carefully removing the top layer of skin, leaving the rest exposed.

Thankfully, I was with mom when she had her first skin tear.  She was ironically at the hospital for a test, and the bracelet got snagged on her rolling walker as she was playing with my son.  It was about one inch by one inch, so it was much smaller.  The funny thing is that the hospital nurse encouraged us to leave and go to her general doctor to have it repaired.  She was told that she would have to sit in the emergency room to have it repaired at the hospital, and they did not think it was smart for her to sit there waiting.  Also, it would cost her much more at the hospital, so we left the hospital and drove to her general doctor’s office.  They helped her fairly quickly.  The physician’s assistant showed me how to repair them as she was taking care of mom’s arm.

The bullet points to repair a skin tear are:

  1. Keep the area as sterile as possible.  Wash your hands before you start and wear gloves, if available.
  2. Clean with saline solution spray.  Even this spray can hurt, so be gentle.
  3. Cover the exposed area with the skin as much as possible.
  4. Use a generous amount of antibacterial ointment.
  5. Cover with a non-stick pad (hospital grade is best) and gauze.

It is important to remember the direction of the tear so that when you are redressing it, you don’t peel it back off.  Until you are comfortable with taking care of skin tears, you should consult with your doctor.

Now back to the large skin tear that mom had.  My parents were staying at my house at that time, so thankfully I was with her.  My father called my cell phone in the middle of the night to have me come downstairs to help.  I took one look and knew that I had to do something.  She was such an amazing woman.  I know that her pain tolerance was high, but it may have been higher than I even realized. She let me work with the skin until I had covered almost the entire tear.  There was only a small area (maybe a tenth of an inch) all the way around that the skin did not meet.  It was not easy!  There was quite a bit of praying going on too!

In this process we learned that the more of the tear that you can cover with the skin, the better. It will hurt less that the areas that are exposed, and it will heal better.

About a month later, she was visiting one of her doctors, and he noticed the scar.  He asked her if she’d had a skin graft.  She didn’t understand fully and explained what had happened.  At that time we learned that what I had done worked great.  He was amazed at how well it looked.

She had too many skin tears to count.  Most did not go back together as well as the big one, and many were created by the smallest amount of pressure. I remember one that was created by my baby girl’s elbow.  Another was made with the movement of a nurse’s gloved finger as she removed a tourniquet. It is not easy to see your loved one so easily hurt.  Skin tears are not easy to fix, so as a caregiver, probably the most important thing for you to remember is to remain calm.  The calmer you are, the better you can react and the more relaxed your loved one will be. Remember, you can do more than you think you can. Just be gentle and be calm.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • TracyCarnahan
    2 years ago

    It amazes me that after all these years of living with COPD that I still have much to !learn. I, thankfully only have to deal with skin tears when on oral steroids. My worst being the width of my arm and about four inches from the wrist up. Scraped the skin right off. It took a time to heal cause there was no skin to cover the wound. What bothers me most is even though there isn’t any scaring the area is rough too the touch now. I’m so glad I found this site. Your articles are written with a calm directness that take the fear and hype out and assures us that we can deal with whatever a life with COPD throws at us.

  • Tonya Hidalgo moderator author
    2 years ago

    I’m so sorry that you have to deal with this. It broke my heart when mom had to deal with them. Thank you for your sweet comments. Blessings.
    Tonya Hidalgo (moderator)

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    2 years ago

    Hi Tracy – I’m sorry you’re having the difficulties with skin tearing – fortunately, only when you’re on steroids, as you said. As you can see, you are definitely NOT alone with your concerns or this issue. We are glad to have you as part of our online community and appreciate your input.
    Stay well,
    Leon (site moderator)

  • buckybuck
    2 years ago

    I, too, thought it was only me. I especially am annoyed at how eseily I bruise. the fronts of my legs seem to retain the discoloration too so that they are dark all the time. But is it the COPD causing it or is it medication?
    Thank you for the instructions on how to care for the tears. I’m pretty much doing the right thing. But I sure would loke to be bruisless for once!

  • Tonya Hidalgo moderator author
    2 years ago

    Glad that you have already found what works for you in taking care of your tears. Mom hated the discoloration and bruising as well. I am not a physician, so I cannot speak of specifics concerning the causes for you. It would definitely be a good topic of discussion with your doctor. You are not alone in this. I think sometimes just knowing that helps in a small way.
    Tonya Hidalgo (moderator)

  • Paula
    3 years ago

    The usual response we all seem to have – I thought it was only me!!! Rub against such silly things then look down to see blood dripping off your fingertip and you’re off trying to remember what you did to have such a wound. OK, I’ve never had one that bled that much but y’all know what I’m talking about – blood coming out of nowhere all of a sudden. I can’t tell you how many things I’ve learned since I found this site! Thank you for sharing.

  • Tonya Hidalgo moderator author
    3 years ago

    We are so glad that you have found our content useful in your own journey. That is what we are all about! I am so sorry that you have your own experiences with skin tears. My heart goes out to you!!!
    Tonya (moderator)

  • Vanessa Smith
    4 years ago

    Hi Tonya,
    It was reassuring to read your desription of how to treat a skin tear. I have been treating my own in the way you describe – although I did it by instinct as I never knew if there was a correct way. The first time I had one it shook me as I had barely scraped my lower arm against the edge of a cupboard door as I reached inside to get my coffee mug! I noticed right away that while the wound was a couple of inches at it’s widest point, it wasn’t deep and was literally as if the skin had been neatly pleated back! I did a good job of stretching it back out across the wound – but on the first occassion had no suitable dressing to hand so had to improvise. I have since learned to have a good supply of non adhesive dressings of various sizes to hand. As you mentioned the scars are barely visible done this way. Thankfully I have not yet had any major ones – 2 or 3 inches being the max so far. Thanks for the article – I often see discussions about bruising, but not skin tears.

  • josho
    3 years ago

    Thank you for this article! I get bruises and skin tears all the time. Sometimes I know exactly what I have done and other times I have no idea. I sometimes just notice blood on my shirts or pants that has come from my arm or hands. Sometimes I even feel the blood running down my arm or hand. The good thing is if you fix the tears the way you described, they usually heal quickly but with a small scar.

  • Tonya Hidalgo moderator author
    4 years ago

    Isn’t amazing how sometimes our instincts give us the answers we need. I am truly sorry that you have to go through skin tears. I still tear up when I think of my mom’s. Thank you for your comment and for being a part of our community!

  • Jamca7064
    2 years ago

    Tonya, I have skin tears a lot but I also have low blood platelets so I am assuming there’s nothing I can do about mine except try to be careful about what I am around .

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