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Hydrocolloid Bandages for Eczema: Do They Work?

Medically reviewed by Jazmin N. McSwain, PharmD, BCPS
Posted on September 15, 2023

Weeping blisters and painful open skin wounds can be among the most challenging symptoms of eczema. Finding effective relief is essential to maintaining a good quality of life. Hydrocolloid bandages are a potential remedy for these symptoms.

Hydrocolloid bandages are water-resistant adhesive dressings that keep wounds moist and help the healing process. They’re used for a variety of skin conditions, including blisters and acne.

In this article, we’ll explore how hydrocolloid bandages work and their potential benefits for eczema. We’ll also discuss risks and precautions, as well as steps to take if you’re interested in trying these products.

What Are Hydrocolloid Bandages?

Hydrocolloid bandages are a type of wound dressing made of a gel-like material containing hydrocolloid agents. The material forms a gel when exposed to moisture such as pus or blood. This gel maintains a moist environment on the wound while protecting it from further trauma.

Initially, these bandages were designed to treat open or oozing wounds, such as ulcers, sores, and burns. However, more recently, these bandages have become popular in the skin care world for a variety of skin conditions.

How Do Hydrocolloid Bandages Work?

When applied to the skin, the bandages lock in moisture from the wound or surrounding skin, which helps create a moist healing environment. Health experts believe this moist environment supports the body’s natural healing mechanisms, prevents scabbing, and reduces the chance of scarring.

Further, like all bandages, these dressings protect the skin from outside irritants, such as bacteria and allergens, which can worsen eczema symptoms and infect wounds.

Ingredients in Hydrocolloid Bandages

The materials in hydrocolloid bandages can vary slightly based on the brand, but they typically include:

  • Hydrocolloid agents (such as gelatin or pectin) — These absorb moisture and promote wound healing.
  • Adhesive border — This secures the bandage in place on the skin.
  • Outer layer — This protects the skin from external elements.

Proper Application

Follow the instructions provided with the bandages carefully. Ensure the skin is clean, dry, and free of any creams or lotions before application. Talk to your dermatology provider about how to use these bandages.

In most cases, the application process goes as follows:

  1. Wash your hands and put gloves on.
  2. Clean the area with saline (salt water) or another wound cleaner.
  3. Pat the area clean with gauze.
  4. Apply an eczema-safe moisturizer to the skin.
  5. Choose a bandage that is a bit larger than the area you wish to contain.
  6. Hold the hydrocolloid dressing between your hands to warm it up.
  7. Remove the dressing from its packaging and remove the backing.
  8. Fold the dressing in half, applying it starting from the center and smoothing it outward.
  9. Remove waste and wash your hands.

Hydrocolloid bandages usually last three to seven days, but if the edges of one start coming off, you should remove it and apply a new one.

Hydrocolloid Bandages and Eczema

Hydrocolloid bandages may be helpful for people with eczema in the following ways:

  • Moisture retention — Eczema-prone skin tends to be dry and easily irritated. The moist environment created by these bandages can help hydrate and soothe the skin, reducing inflammation and itching.
  • Protection — The bandages act as a physical barrier, shielding you from irritants and skin infections. Having a bandage will also prevent you from scratching or rubbing an itchy rash, speeding up the healing process.
  • Enhanced healing — By promoting a moist healing environment, hydrocolloid bandages can speed up the healing process, leading to faster recovery and less scarring.

There are several brands of hydrocolloid dressings, including extra-thin varieties such as Granuflex and DuoDerm. Many brands of hydrocolloid bandages can work for skin with eczema — ask your dermatologist for their recommendation.

Have Researchers Studied Hydrocolloid Bandages for Eczema?

Research is limited as to whether these types of bandages are effective in treating eczema. One observational study assessed the effectiveness of a DuoDerm Extra Thin hydrocolloid dressing face masks for three children with atopic dermatitis (the most common form of eczema). Researchers found that the masks lasted from one to four days. All of the children’s facial eczema symptoms disappeared, and they were all in remission (their symptoms didn’t return) for longer than three months afterward.

However, additional research on both children and adults is needed to see how effective hydrocolloid dressings can be on all parts of the body before this can be considered an effective treatment for eczema.

Types of Eczema That May Benefit From Hydrocolloid Bandages

While hydrocolloid bandages may be helpful for various types of eczema, they may be particularly beneficial for two types.

The first is dyshidrotic eczema, a type of eczema that often presents with blisters on the hands and feet. Keeping hand-eczema wounds covered with clothing can be difficult, so using hydrocolloid bandages can protect them from the elements. Hydrocolloid bandages can also help protect and soothe the affected areas, providing hydration and supporting healing.

The second type is weeping eczema, which causes oozing or weeping blisters. These can benefit from the moisture-absorbing properties of hydrocolloid bandages, preventing further irritation and promoting recovery.

Risks and Precautions for Using Hydrocolloid Bandages

While hydrocolloid bandages are generally safe to use and have few side effects, there are some risks to consider.

First, some people may be sensitive to the adhesive in hydrocolloid bandages, which can lead to skin irritation or an allergic reaction. It is essential to perform a patch test before applying the bandage to a wound or larger area of skin. One way to perform a patch test is to apply a small bandage to an area of your skin and leave it there for 48 hours. Then have a doctor inspect the area three to four days after you remove the bandage to determine if you had an allergic reaction.

If you do develop signs of an allergic reaction, such as itchy skin, a rash, or hives, don’t use the hydrocolloid bandages. Seek medical attention immediately if you develop signs of anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction), such as breathing difficulties or swelling of eyes and/or throat.

Second, if the bandage becomes soiled or dislodged, there’s a risk of infection. Ensure the skin is clean and dry before application. Change the bandage as often as is recommended on the package.

Importantly, although hydrocolloid bandages can provide relief and support healing, they are not a substitute for medical treatment. Consult your doctor to create an eczema treatment plan.

Next Steps for Trying Hydrocolloid Bandages

If you’re interested in using hydrocolloid bandages for your eczema, consider the following steps.

Consult a Health Care Professional

Before trying any new treatment, including hydrocolloid bandages, talk to your dermatologist or health care provider. They can assess your specific symptoms and provide personalized recommendations.

Monitor Your Progress

Keep track of how the bandages affect your eczema. If you notice any negative reactions or worsening of symptoms, discontinue use and speak with your doctor.

Hydrocolloid bandages can be a valuable tool to add to your eczema care plan, particularly if you develop blisters or open wounds. Using them cautiously is crucial, including consulting your dermatologist before starting them.

With the right approach and medical guidance, hydrocolloid bandages may offer much-needed relief and support for your eczema symptoms.

Talk With Others Who Understand

On MyEczemaTeam — the social network for people with eczema and their loved ones — more than 49,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with eczema.

Have you tried hydrocolloid bandages to manage your eczema? How did they affect your eczema symptoms? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

    Posted on September 15, 2023
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    Jazmin N. McSwain, PharmD, BCPS completed pharmacy school at the University of South Florida College of Pharmacy and residency training at Bay Pines Veterans Affairs. Learn more about her here.
    Scarlett Bergam, M.P.H. is a medical student at George Washington University and a former Fulbright research scholar in Durban, South Africa. Learn more about her here.

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