Baby First Aid: How to Heal Cuts Fast
As your little one explores her environment, she’s bound to get some cuts, scrapes, bruises, and scars. These injuries might frighten worried parents, but as long as you administer first aid, they aren’t likely to be dangerous. Here's how to heal cuts fast after your tot takes a tumble.
1. Put on the Pressure
Baby skin is very vascular, with lots of little blood vessels at the surface, so don’t freak out if wounds bleed heavily. Then "hold firm pressure directly over the area for 15 minutes with a clean cloth," says Kristina Collins, M.D., dermatologic surgeon at Vitalogy Skincare in Austin, TX. If the bleeding does not stop at that point, contact a doctor for further guidance.
- RELATED: How to Stop Bleeding
2. Cleanse the Cut
Allison Hanlon, M.D., a surgeon and assistant professor in the department of dermatology at Yale School Of Medicine recommends gently washing the area with a non-fragranced soap or non-soap cleanser and water. If debris remains in the cut after this process, consider a trip to the M.D.
Dr. Hanlon also advises against cleaning with hydrogen peroxide: "There is a misconception that applying hydrogen peroxide will prevent infection and aid in wound healing. Hydrogen peroxide can actually be toxic to the healthy cells needed for the wound to heal," he says.
3. Be Cautious About Antibiotics
"Antibiotic ointments and sprays are popular for wound care, but they’re not necessary for clean wounds," Dr. Hanlon says. "Studies have shown that in surgical wounds treated with petrolatum or topical antibiotics, there was no difference in infection rates."
OTC topical antibiotics have other downsides as well: First, they commonly cause allergic contact dermatitis (a red itchy rash) in children. Second, unnecessary use can contribute to the growing problem of drug-resistant bacteria.
So what should you do? Skip the meds and watch for signs of infection. These include “increased tenderness and drainage or redness tracking away from the wound, usually occurring a few days after the cut or scrape,” says Dr. Hanlon. “If the site shows signs of infection, notify your pediatrician or dermatologist for further evaluation."
4. Lubricate the Wound
"It is definitely a myth that the wound should be allowed to air or scab," Dr. Collins says. Research has shown that keeping a scrape well lubricated—not dry—actually speeds up and promotes wound healing. To help the healing along, Dr. Hanlon likes to apply a thin layer of white petrolatum ointment 1-2 times a day with dressing changes until the skin has closed.
5. Apply Bandages (But Limit Choking Hazards)
Getting a colorful bandage can help quell the trauma of a cut. However, bandages can be a choking hazard in babies under the age of 1, especially if the cut is on their finger. Alternatives include non-stick covers such as Telfa (which is readily accessible at your local drugstore) and paper tape.
6. Prevent Scars
As the cut begins to resolve, the area can turn pink, purple, or even brown. This discoloration, called post-inflammatory hyper-pigmentation, generally goes away after a few weeks or months, and represents an expected response to skin injury. You can ward off this post-inflammatory hyper-pigmentation by applying a broad spectrum SPF 30 sunscreen containing titanium dioxide or zinc oxide every two hours. (Ultraviolet light can tends to make skin discoloration last longer.)
If your little one got a scar, though, it will not fade. These permanent marks can be either be flat or thickened like keloids. In general, you should worry more about a deeper cut. "Scrapes or cuts that are on the top layer of skin usually do not heal with a scar," Dr. Hanlon says. "Wounds that penetrate the deeper layers of skin may result in scarring."
To promote healing and reduce scarring, Anthony Rossi, M.D., a dermatologic surgeon at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital in NYC, likes a prescription cream called Biafine. It has an alginate (a natural wound dressing derived from different types of algae and seaweeds) that speeds things up. Dr. Collins also suggests silicone strips to reduce the thickness and appearance of scars.