What Is a Skin Tear?

How you treat these wounds may depend on the type

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A skin tear is a type of injury where the skin is torn from the body (avulsion). The tears usually affect thin, fragile skin.

Unlike supple skin that stretches to keep it from breaking, weak skin can rip easily. For some people, just bumping into a bookshelf or taking off a bandage too fast can tear their skin.

This article covers what skin tears are and who is at risk for them. It also discusses how skin tears are treated, ways you can prevent them, and when you should see your doctor if you have one.

Medical professional wrapping an injured arm with gauze


Skin Tear Types

There are three categories of skin tears and a few subcategories. The main difference between skin tear types is whether the skin flap can be reattached to the body and heal well.

Category 1

In a category 1 skin tear, the skin flap is complete enough that all the edges can close. This kind of skin tear might heal if you put the skin flap back where it belongs and wrap the wound in a light dressing.

Category 1a means the skin flap is pink and healthy. Category 1b means the skin flap is pale, blue, or purple, which means it probably will not heal.

Category 2

In a category 2 skin tear, the skin flap is damaged and will not close properly. In this case, the tear will not heal right because the flap cannot reach the edges of the wound.

Category 2a means the flap is pink. Category 2b means the flap is pale or blue.

Category 3

In a category 3 skin tear, the skin flap is completely gone. This type of skin tear will take the longest to heal.

Skin Tear Causes and Risk Factors

Any person can get a skin tear but there are some risk factors that make skin tears more likely to happen.


Skin tears become more common with age. As you get older, the blood vessels in your skin start to feed less moisture and nutrients to your skin tissue.

Older people, particularly if they are frail and need help moving around, are likely to get skin tears.

Thinner skin means you lack the cushion you had when you were younger. Even a slight bump can tear the skin and make blood vessels break open and cause a bruise.

Infants and young kids are also more likely to get skin tears boucle they’re more likely to fall and run into things. 

People who have gone through menopause also tend to have thinner, more fragile skin because they no longer have the hormone estrogen.

Limited Mobility

People with impaired mobility can be more prone to falls and accidental injuries that can lead to skin tears.

People with cognitive impairment or dementia may get agitated and accidentally injure themselves. 

Skin Conditions

People who have had skin tears before, or have chronically dry skin or thin skin (e.g., from the long-term use of certain medications, such as topical cortisone creams) can be more likely to have skin tears


Certain medications such as aspirin, anticoagulants, antibiotics, corticosteroids, and diuretics can make you more prone to skin problems like dryness and bruising.

How to Treat a Skin Tear

There are three main goals of treatment: to prevent infection, protect the surrounding skin and tissues, and keep the area moist to support healing.

Should I Put Antibiotic Cream on a Skin Tear?

Neosporin or another antibiotic cream can be used for a skin tear as long as you’re not allergic to the medication. However, do not use antibiotic creams if your wound was closed with skin glue because they will make the adhesive dissolve.

For mild tears that are not infected, an antibiotic is probably not needed.

If the skin flap is still attached (categories 1 and 2), try to preserve it. The skin flap should be placed as close to its original position as possible without it stretching too much.

Before you start, wash your hands well with soap and put on gloves if you have them. When you’re ready, follow these steps to dress a skin tear:

  1. If the wound is bleeding, apply pressure and elevate it as much as possible.
  2. Rinse the skin tear with tap water or a saline solution. Be careful not to tear the skin more. Do not use hydrogen peroxide or anything else to clean the tear—water or saline is enough. 
  3. Either let the skin tear air dry or pat it dry very carefully. Do not rub it.
  4. If there is a flap of skin, gently lay it back in place or as close as possible. Do not stretch it too far or force it.
  5. Cover the skin tear with a dressing that is appropriate for skin tears.

Some skin tears can be severe and may need a provider’s care. If you are uncomfortable treating a skin tear yourself at home or see signs of infection, call your provider. If your provider is not available, try an urgent care clinic or the ER.

How Long a Skin Tear Takes to Heal

The length of time that it takes for a skin tear to heal depends on the type of skin tear and your overall health. 

Most skin tears can resolve within four weeks. Chronic skin tears are those that do not heal within four weeks or that keep re-tearing.

Dressings for Skin Tears

Several types of dressings work for skin tears, including film dressings (e.g., Tegaderm) and petroleum jelly gauze.

If you have delicate skin or have had skin tears in the past, consider keeping these products on hand.

Film dressings are see-through, which allows you to watch for healing and infection in a skin tear without having to take off the dressing.

If the dressing gets dirty, remove it, clean the skin tear, and dress the wound again. If the skin tear shows any signs of infection, contact your provider. 

Removing Dressing From a Skin Tear

Be very careful when removing film dressing. Pull it off in the same direction as the skin flap. If you pull it in the reverse direction, you could re-open the tear.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

You should see a provider for a skin tear that isn’t healing or that keeps coming back. You should also get medical treatment if you have signs of an infected skin tear, including redness and pus, and a fever. 


Skin tears should be treated as soon as possible to prevent complications. 

Untreated skin tears can get infected. In some cases, the infection can get worse and bacteria may infect the wound (cellulitis). Skin tears that are infected and do not get treated could lead to a life-threatening condition (sepsis).

Improperly dressed skin tears may not heal. If a skin tear healed poorly, it could easily re-tear or become chronic.

Preventing Skin Tears

There are several steps you can take to try and prevent skin tears. You should talk to your provider about what they would recommend if you have risk factors for skin tears or if they’re a chronic problem for you. 

Keep Your Skin Moist

The best thing you can do to prevent skin tears is to hydrate your skin. 

Avoid soaps that make your skin dry. At least twice per day, put on a quality moisturizer. 

If a certain area of your skin is extra fragile, cover it with barrier films or creams. You can also wrap the area in bandages.

Create a Safe Environment

Skin tears are most common in older adults and are often caused by simple accidents like bumping into furniture or even a scratch from a wedding ring. 

Simple changes around the home can be of great help, including:

  • Keeping walkways clear of clutter so you don't bump into things. 
  • Removing rugs or other items that you could trip over. 
  • Padding sharp edges around the house and being mindful of any rough fabrics on furniture that can scrape the skin.

Wear Protective Clothing

You can often prevent skin tears by wearing clothes that protect your skin. Often, a single layer of your normal clothes is enough. If you can, choose long pants and sleeves and long socks.

Take care when changing your clothes. Be mindful of zippers, buttons, and other things that can "grab" your skin.

Hydrate and Eat a Nutritious Diet

Dry skin has a higher risk of tearing. If you are dehydrated, your skin will be, too. Make sure you’re drinking plenty of water throughout the day. 

It's also important to eat a nutritious diet that has the nutrients your body needs for healthy skin. 

To keep your skin strong and promote healing if a skin tear happens, fill your diet with lots of fruits and vegetables that contain vitamin C.

You can support collagen production in your skin by adding more high-protein foods to your diet, such as fish, eggs, and beans.

Avoid Adhesives

Try to avoid using adhesive bandages or medical tape unless you have no other option. These sticky bandages can cause fragile skin to tear.

If you have to dress a skin tear, wrap the wound in a petroleum-based gauze wrap that is non-adhesive. Then, secure the wrap with medical tape.


Skin tears happen when the skin fully or partly rips away from the body. They are more likely to happen to people with dry, thin, and weak skin. Older adults, infants, and young children are prone to skin tears.

You can prevent skin tears by wearing long sleeves, staying hydrated, and taking steps to avoid falls. 

If your skin tears, clean and dress it well to prevent infection. See your provider right away if you notice any signs of infection or if the skin tear does not heal within four weeks.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Rod Brouhard, EMT-P
Rod Brouhard is an emergency medical technician paramedic (EMT-P), journalist, educator, and advocate for emergency medical service providers and patients.