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How to prevent and care for skin tears

A skin tear results from friction, shearing or injury to the skin. As we age changes in the skin increase our risk of skin tears. Older adults commonly experience skin tears on the arms, hands and lower legs.

Skin tears often occur whilst transferring, using a wheelchair or after a fall. Skin tears can be difficult to prevent and treat. 

In this article:


What is a skin tear?

A skin tear occurs when the epidermis (top layer) of the skin becomes separated from the underlying layer (dermis).

Skin can become very fragile with age. Even the simplest movement, bump or knock can cause damage.

Skin tears often occur in people who are dependent on others for showering, dressing, and transferring. The use of lifting equipment and assistive devices increases the risk of skin tears.

People with confusion, poor vision and problems wandering can often bump into furniture or not recognise hazardous objects. Skin tears will often be sustained on the arms, lower legs or hands.

Complications from skin tears include infection. See your doctor or community nurse if skin shows any signs of inflammation or the skin appears painful, swollen and hot to touch. 


Preventing skin tears

Residents living in aged care facilities are at greater risk of developing skin tears.  Improper handling and lifting techniques often contribute to skin tears. Aged care staff must take caution when assisting residents with activities of daily living.

Keeping residents well hydrated and moisturising the skin daily can help keep skin supple and prevent damage. Wearing protective sleeves and bandages can also help prevent skin tears from trauma. 

  •  Keep skin hydrated by moisturising daily after a shower
  •  Pat skin dry, do not rub
  •  Increase fluid intake
  •  Wear long sleeves or pants
  •  Encourage the use of arm and leg protectors
  •  Support dependent legs or arms with pillows
  •  Cushion sharp furniture corners
  •  Avoid grabbing a person by the arms
  •  Avoid pulling clothing over elbows or lower calves
  •  Use sheepskin padding on wheelchair arms and legs
  •  Place bed protectors over bedrails to avoid limbs getting caught between rails
  •  Ensure environment is well lit
  •  Dress skin tears with a non-adherent (non stick) dressing and take off under the shower
  •  Avoid transferring or lifting a person by dragging them. Ask a community nurse to show you how to safely move a person without causing friction and shearing of the skin. 


How can I protect the skin from damage?

Arm and leg protectors are garments designed to fit around the arms or legs providing protection against injury, relieving pressure between bony prominences and keeping limbs warm.

Some arm and leg protectors are lightly padded and fit snugly over the limbs with Velcro fastening. Others fit like a thick sock over the limb. Avoid any product that constricts the limb. Ask a community nurse or doctor for advice if you cannot get good clinical advice from a supplier.

Arm and leg protectors can be worn under clothes, in bed and wheelchairs or over dressings. 


Dressing a skin tear

  • Wash hands thoroughly and wear gloves if possible
  • Clean the wound with normal saline or under a shower 
  • Apply a sterile non-stick dressing
  • Secure the dressing and protect the wound with a bandage
  • For complicated dressings see a doctor or community nurse
  • Observe the wound for signs of infection including swelling, pain, ooze and redness 



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England and Scotland Information wrote 4 days 1 hour ago
Heyya i'm for the first time here. I came across this board andd I find It truly usefyl & itt helped mme out a lot. I hope to give something back and aid others like you aided me.
Julia Kendall wrote 49 weeks 2 hours ago
I am 65 years old and never have taken corticosteroids.I am on a perscription cortizone cream for my psorisis.If I just bump the top of my hands lightly,I get a skin tear and they hurt and burn!I am using an over the counter antibiotic that seems to work well.My question is there anything I can use or take to make my skin stronger? Thank you,Julia Kendall
Phil wrote 1 year 22 weeks ago
Hi, I am 44 years old and been on oral corticosteroids for 15years now. I have been getting skin tears for the last 5 years from the smallest bumps. I have been getting bad bruises from just firm handshakes. It’s quite embarrassing I have bruises everywhere and they takes months to go, only to be replaced by more. I wear long sleeves and long pants everywhere even on the hottest days. I still get skin tears through the jeans if i get a small touch against anything on the shins. I shave my arms and legs in case I get a skin tear so no hair goes in it when i put the skin back and moisturise twice a day. I carry a first aid kit that i made up everywhere, I have one in the car and one at home. Is there anything at all that I can do to thicken my skin? I was thinking of trying to get Human growth hormone? Any advise would be great.
Emma Hamilton wrote 1 year 19 weeks ago Aged care nurse
Sorry Phil, Can't offer any advice about Human Growth Hormone or actually thickening skin. Looks like your doing all you can to protect your skin form skin tears practically. Best to ask your doctor.
Di wrote 1 year 32 weeks ago
Hi. I'm 60, fair skinned, often active and have frequent skin tears on the back of my hands. Two tears, one on each hand, show signs of mild infection, and one keeps getting bumped and opens up again. It's December. I guess wearing light fingerless gloves will help prevent this damage. What's the best way to treat the infection?

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