If, like myself, you frequently enjoy trampling in forests and repeatedly hitting trees with sharp slabs of steel, at one point or another you’re going to get a cut or two. Many of these will be no more than scrapes, tiny love bites from recently acquired folding knives or nature’s little reminders of the adventures you’ve had together. Other cuts, however, will be much more serious.
In this guide, I lay out the three most typical methods of dealing with minor injuries – stitches, bandages, and super glue – explaining when it is and isn’t appropriate to use them. Note that this guide is not in any way exhaustive. It is rather meant to give a brief overview of typical situations where stitches, bandages, or super glue may be helpful.
Note: If you get a cut and are at unsure of what to do, are worried about possible infection, or are concerned over it for any other reason, don’t hesitate: seek medical help.
- Any cut larger than 3/4 of an inch should be met with a visit to your local clinic for stitches as longer cuts frequently re-open through everyday activities. The longer the wound is open the higher the chance of infection.
- If you are capable of stitching yourself up, make sure the area is properly disinfected first, and make sure you use medical grade thread as well as sterile tools. Your environment needs to be sterile as well, otherwise you might have a serious case of infection on your hands.
- If you are immunocompromised in any way, go straight to a professional: do NOT do this at home.
- The scalp and the forehead have a lot of blood vessels. As a general rule, cuts on these parts of your body will require stitches to stop blood flow. Likely, you won’t be able to do these stitches for yourself, so it’s a good idea to engage the help of a trusted friend or go straight to a professional. Again, if you do these yourself or let someone else stitch you back up, make sure the environment and equipment used is medical grade and sterile.
- Needles + excess adrenaline tend to provide a perfect storm for accidents to turn into even bigger accidents. If you’re not sure about doing stitches yourself or getting a friend to do them for you, go to a professional.
- Don’t get stitches if you have been bitten by a dog or other animal as the risk of infection is high. If you seek professional help, make sure you mention the fact that the cut came from an animal bite. In such a case, the vast majority of doctors would simply bandage the cut and prescribe antibiotics whilst keeping an eye on the healing for signs of infection.
- Do not use tissue adhesives (frequently used as a replacement/alternative for stitches) on wounds located on parts of your body that move a lot. Areas like the forehead and calf are fine, but the knee or elbow move way too much for tissue adhesives to be effective: the more movement, the more likely the tissue adhesive won’t create a tight seal (like sutures would).
Use bandages when facing abrasions instead of lacerations, for example in the case of a scraped knee.
- Even if you’re only bandaging, always clean the area well by irrigating with clean water, and using some sort of anti-bacterial agent like iodine or alcohol. Need more help with this step? Learn how to clean a wound properly here.
- If you suffered an avulsion, meaning that a large chunk of your skin has been ripped off, be very thorough when cleaning the area. Rush to your local clinic at the first sign of an infection, as infections can be serious.
- Don’t cheap out with dollar store band-aids. There’s a reason the bigger (and much more expensive) brands are still in business: and it’s not just advertising. New advances in bandages feature breathable, yet waterproof material, as well as silver based ointments designed to reduce bacterial infection and encourage accelerated healing. Totally worth the extra few dollars you’d end up paying.
- Don’t use the same bandage for extended periods of time, as this creates the perfect environment for bacteria to develop. Change your bandages frequently, as you see fit.
- Use super glue instead of bandages with shallow lacerations sub 3/4 of an inch in length, but only if the flow of blood is minor. Nicks and light cuts from sharp knives benefit from super glue over the use of band-aids, and usually heal completely overnight.
- Preferably, buy medical grade super glue like Vetbond. In my personal experience, Krazy Glue works fine also; I’ve had to use it quite a bit with the sheer number of cuts I get from testing out the volume of knives I own.
- Don’t use a whole tub of super glue on your finger just because you got a papercut. Whilst superglue does inhibit bacterial growth, it also stops your skin from being able to breathe. Use as little as possible while still covering the entire cut and ensuring it isn’t likely to come off.
- Don’t use super glue as the answer for everything. If bleeding is persistent, don’t think more super glue will magically heal you back up. If the cut gets infected, the doctor in charge of cleaning you up will not be impressed with your dubious first aid skills.
- Don’t ever drown your wound in super glue, I am saying this twice because it bares repeating. It’s a horrible idea. Just enough glue to get the laceration shut.
- Do not use super glue if the cut might be infected. It’s a terrible idea. All you’d be doing is locking in the infection. If you even remotely suspect your cut might be infected, go see a professional.
- Don’t use super glue if the cut isn’t clean (i.e. if the cut is jagged or rough, don’t use super glue). If the skin is in any way torn, or if the cut started off as a puncture and then tore away, stitches may be the better option for aesthetic reasons. Super glue is only ideal for small cuts, like those you’d get from a folding knife, as super glue seals the wound quickly, and scars in those cases usually clean up nicely (mine are basically invisible). If your cut is not clean, however, the super glue might not bond the edges of the skin properly, which would typically result in a much larger than necessary scar.
More First Aid Resources
When it comes to first aid, you need two important things to help you on your quest to keep yourself and those around you safe & healthy: knowledge and (to a lesser extent) supplies. To tackle the prior, take a look through our list of the top 22 emergency & survival first aid books and grab those that you think will best help you gain the knowledge you’ll need. For the latter, take a look at our Ultimate First Aid Supplies List to see if there’s anything you should be adding to your at-home first aid supplies stockpile, or if there’s something you’ve forgotten to add to one of your first aid kits.
Do you know how to tell if a cut is infected, whether to use Advil, Tylenol, or Aspirin, and how to quickly assess and address emergency situations? Did you know you that Imodium is an excellent tool for survival?
If you have some time, you can also quickly browse through short descriptions of all the first aid articles we have on this blog, to see if there’s anything valuable you’ve yet to learn on the topics we’ve written about.
Your Experiences with Stitches, Bandages, and Super Glue?
What have your experiences been like with using stitches, bandages, and super glue on cuts? Does anyone regularly use super glue to close up small knife cuts like I do? Let me know in the comments.