How to Superglue a Cut

Preppers often wonder if they can superglue a cut, likely due to the easy access nature of superglue around the world. While it is possible to use standard superglue on a cut in an emergency situation, it is not always the right course of action depending on your access to emergency services and how severe the wound is.

Superglue, commonly known is a tradename of cyanoacrylate (CA), is an acrylic resin. Initially developed by Kodak in 1942, it was quickly utilised on the battlefield in an attempt to make high quality and clear acrylics for use in gun sights for the army.

Soldiers quickly realised however that acrylate rapidly hardened when in the presence of moisture or water, such as is the case when applying superglue to the skin or a wound. Because of this property, it became very popular during the Vietnam War, where it was used in field surgeries with positive reports coming back from the battlefield.

Modernising Superglue

Despite rave reviews and significant use during the Vietnam War, the United States Food and Drug Administration paused production of this compound for battlefield use. Once the war was over, the FDA started to review superglue in clinical trials to see how well it performed on patients outside of the emergency room.

Although superglue had proven its use in life or death situations, the FDA found that using it released cyano acetate and the more well-known formaldehyde.

Formaldehyde is the chemical which is used to preserve their bodies, and is also found in cigarette smoke. These chemicals irritated eyes, nose, throat and lungs of both the victim being treated and the medical personnel applying the treatment.

Analysis of wounds treated with superglue also showed that there was tissue damage surrounding the area which appeared to come from heat released by superglue.

It was found that when superglue made contact with moisture the chemical process which hardened the superglue released a great amount of heat in the process, disrupting the healing process of the wound.

Medical Superglue

After decades of ongoing research, a new form of cyano acrylate was approved by the FDA in 1998. Not only was it found to release less heat during hardening, it caused less skin irritation and in 2001 was approved as “a barrier against common bacteria including staphylococcus, pseudomonas and E. coli.”

This is great news for soldiers and preppers alike, as these bacteria are found on the skin and in the outdoor environment. They usually do not affect us, unless we ingest them as is usually the case with E. coli.

Any breaks to the skin however disrupt our natural barrier to these bacteria, and staphylococcus from our skin along with pseudomonas from the surrounding environment can into the bloodstream and make us sick.
Good Types of Superglue for Cuts

There are now two main groups of medical superglue that are suitable for use. The first is 2-octyl cyanoacrylate, a much more suitable alternative to original superglue in that it provides great flexibility and reduces irritation.

You’ll find this superglue is under the tradenames of Dermabond, derma plus flex QS, Flora seal and Surgiseal.

The second type of superglue is n-butyl cyanoacrylate. While very similar to glues like Dermabond, the important difference is that these butyl glues stick much more strongly to the wound, with the trade-off that they are less flexible than the alternative.

These glues available under the tradenames of Glustitch, Indermil,
Glushield and Periacryl (a dental adhesive).

Prepping on a Budget

The prices of these glues can vary, but is fairly high across the board due to the usual clinical use of these compounds. As they are medical items used on humans they must pass rigorous tests before being released to the public. This pushes up the price and for a handful of 5 ml vials it can cost a couple of hundred dollars.

For price conscious preppers, however, there are glues available which are chemically identical to those listed above but as they are licensed for animal use, rather than human use, their sale price is much lower.

If you’re looking for the more flexible 2-octyl cyanoacrylate then keep an eye out for Sergei Locke and Nexaband on veterinary websites.

For those who require a stronger glue or simply wish to prepare by having both available to hand, the stronger n-butyl cyanoacrylate is available under the tradenames of Vetglu, Vetbond and LiquiVet.
A Word of Warning

While these treatments may be referred to as superglue they are of course different from commercially available superglue used to bond things like wood and metal. The comparison can become confusing, and now hospital staff are encouraged not use the phrase superglue in treating patients.

A study released in the Journal of Emergency Medicine referred to a case of an eight-year-old boy who had to be referred to surgeons due to a small cut on his face

His father had attended the emergency room a year earlier and been told by staff at his wound was been sealed with superglue. When his son was in an accident father decided to use as an superglue to fix his sons laceration to save him from the bother of going to the emergency department.

When the wound did not seem to be healing, they finally sought medical help. When examined under anaesthetic not only had the wound not closed properly, it was found that glue was present all the way down to the bone and all the tissue around the glue was inflamed.

small hand cut

How to Safely Superglue a Cut: Step-by-step Guide Using Official Guidance

Incidents like these have led to guidance being released on the proper use of cyanoacrylate tissue adhesives for wound closure. This is the ideal method of treating wounds when you have all equipment and trained staff to hand.

1. If you want to use medical adhesive, the wound must be absolutely clean before you begin. If you are not able to clear the debris or clean the room sufficiently do not be tempted to use superglue, as in all cases this will always make the situation worse.

A small infection can become life threatening sealed in the superglue. After washing with warm water to remove larger bits of dirt and debris use a disinfectant such as alcohol or Dettol to ensure cleanliness.

2. Assess the size and the outline of the wound. Make your best attempt at seeing how deep the wound is as well. A wound more than .2 inches (or 5mm) in depth and more than 1.5 in – 2 in (4-5 cm) in length should be packed instead of sealed as previously mentioned.

3. The official guidance strongly recommends that haemostasis must be achieved, i.e. the bleeding is stopped before any attempt is made to use superglue. Do not panic and apply superglue to area that is heavily bleeding.

If it is an arterial bleed you need to get to hospital for sutures as applying pressure and glue will not stem the flow. If pressure on the wound does indeed form a clot, then you are free to go ahead and begin sticking the wound together.

4. Before applying superglue, the wound should be kept level and horizontal to prevent run-off of the adhesive.

5. Using your fingers gently bring the edges of the wound together, the wound edges must be able to meet with only the slightest bit of pressure. Do not over pinch as when you let go this will increase the level of tension on the glue, and slow down the wound healing process.

6. If you cannot make the edges meet, do not go ahead regardless. Deep sutures underneath the skin may be required to take tension off the wound edges so that they can be closed at all. It will be very hard for someone to suture a deep wound if you have already filled it with glue.

7. Use the smallest amount of glue possible each time. Simply pouring it on or applying too much may introduce large volumes of glue into the wound even if you have pinched it. This will of course irritate the skin and reduce the effectiveness of the treatment. By adding small amounts, each layer will dry quickly creating a more stable adhesion.

8. Any adhesive applied to opposing edges should act as a bridge across the wound. If it does not fully cross the wound, then a seal will not be formed, leaving the treatment essentially useless.

9. Do not touch the superglue. After the superglue has dried, do not be tempted to pick at it or try to peel it off yourself. The great thing about the use of medical adhesives is that you know when the treatment is completed as the superglue naturally drops off by itself.

Trying to remove it yourself or absentmindedly picking at it will either damage any healing process or introduce unwanted bacteria to the wound.

Remember, medical adhesive superglue is best used for small simple and clean cuts when seeking medical attention is not necessary. Never use superglue as a way to avoid attending hospital if you have an infected or complex wound, simply covering it all up with glue will of course not help things in the future.

The larger the wound, the more adhesive that needs to be applied which in turn increases the risk of side effects and things going wrong.

10. As a last point, if you feel you have applied too much or it is seeping into the wound, do not use acetone (nail polish remover) to remove it. Acetone is highly irritating and will make the wound sting, so if this is the case for you seek proper medical attention to avoid further damage.

A Clinical Note

Use of these medical adhesives has spread throughout the world. As well as wound closure there is now an evolving case for alternative uses. The compound appears to be a reliable waterproof as well as antimicrobial barrier.

The medical community now advises that these adhesives can be used as dressings for burns, minor cuts, abrasions and mouth ulcers. Over time it has been shown to speed up wound healing and the growth of new cells.
When Not to Use Medical Superglue

Knowing when not to use medical adhesives is perhaps more important than knowing when to use them. As these adhesives tend to typically be strong, application in the wrong way can lead to further damage and complications down the line.

The following list is not exhaustive. As you can see, it essentially covers wounds which will not stay together or where application of the glue could potentially be damaging or increase the risk of infection.

Deep Wounds

Applying to deep wounds will cause a space under the seal were bacteria can thrive, potentially causing an abscess and requiring the wound to be reopened at a later date for treatment.

Sensitive Areas

Never apply any adhesive near the eyes, lips or genital area for obvious reasons. Adhesion or irritation of these areas is likely to cause pain, dysfunction and discomfort.

Dirty Wounds

If the wound has not been cleaned before applying glue, you are trapping potentially nasty bacteria in their perfect growing environment. Human bodies are warm, moist and contain plenty of food for bacteria in which to thrive and reproduce. Sealing in these bacteria could potentially cause sepsis, were bacteria enter the bloodstream and make you systemically unwell. This could lead to a medical emergency.

Long or Irregular Wounds

Application of any adhesive to these types of wounds is unlikely to be of benefit, and will simply complicate the situation further down the line when the wound is being cared for properly. It may be best to pack these wounds with something sterile such as vaseline or a salt water soaked clean cloth.

Mobile Skin

Skin stretched over a joint that moves, such as the knee or elbow, or even skin that stretches thin such as in the case of your forehead is unlikely to benefit from medical adhesive.

The takeaway from this is that small wounds that are almost close by themselves will benefit most from medical adhesives. For larger and more complex wounds that are strongly advised that these wounds are sutured, preferably by someone with experience such as a medical professional.

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About Shane Jackson (Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery)

Shane Jackson (Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery)
Shane is a medical doctor with over 8 years experience in both hospital medicine and surgery. He's completed over 2 years of surgical work focusing on trauma & orthopaedics alongside maxillofacial surgery. He has been involved in education since medical school and have written courses and taught classes. Having trained in Advanced Trauma and Life Support he is at the forefront of practical, out-of-hospital medicine which can be applied by the public to save lives.

One comment

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    I used normal supaglue on my dog once. She had been running around and sliced a very neat cut open on her face just below the eye when she rushed past a pallet of steel. We have no vet close by, the cut was clean and straight and while down to the cheek bone, not very deep. Used a dab of glue along the middle leaving both ends open to drain and it healed really well. She just has a white haired scar along her face now. Don’t know what I’d have done if it was in a more mobile, fleshy area. I do have sutures but don’t think she would have sat still for that.
    My daughter on the other hand had her cut hand glued up by an MD with very poor results and very large scars because she was sent back to work straight away even though she worked in an abattoir.
    Haven’t been able to source any of the medical varieties locally but might try online now I know what they are. Thanks for that Shane.

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